By Ulf Laessing
ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria plans to train as many as 10,000 youths a year for skilled work in the Delta region to try to stop them attacking and stealing oil from pipelines, the minister for the Niger Delta, Usani Uguru Usani, said on Monday.
Attacks on oil and gas facilities have become more frequent since authorities issued an arrest warrant for a popular former militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo - Tompolo - who had led gangs of "boys" fighting for a bigger share of oil revenues.
To help address those grievances, the government plans to build nine vocational centers, Usani told Reuters.
"Between 5,000 and 10,000 will be trained yearly," he said.
The first centers would train young people in leather goods manufacturing, mobile phone assembly and e-commerce. Some would also find work at a new processing plant for cassava, part of the government's plan to boost the agricultural sector, he said.
He gave no launch date for the centers.
Buhari was elected in 2015 on an anti-corruption ticket and promised to end Nigeria's dependency on oil by attracting investment for sectors such as farming and infrastructure.
But slumping oil prices have forced him to seek loans from the World Bank, China and international capital markets to meet those promises.
He has also extended a 2009 amnesty, brought in by his predecessor, under which some 30,000 former militants were to be retrained. Widespread corruption saw the funds disappearing or ending up as cash benefits for the "boys", critics say.
Usani said authorities were doing their best to boost security in the Delta but that the task was difficult because the swampy terrain meant that the pipelines were hard to access.
"The terrain on which the (oil) flows are running is challenging and may not always be attack proof," he said. "(But) ... effective action has been taken."
He also told Reuters that the government was planning to build roads and hospitals in the Delta, where previous projects have not made it beyond the drawing board, but he said the scope was unclear due to uncertainty over the budget.
Buhari was forced to withdraw his 2016 draft budget because ministers could not agree on revised public spending plans.
(Additional reporting by Felix Onuah; Editing by Louise Ireland)