A vocational training centre in Lagos for the rehabilitation of former Niger Delta militants has been reopened after a looming protest by some of the beneficiaries forced it to shut down.
The Fouzz Fashion Institute in Igando was closed last week following a series of complaints about the lack of training materials and poor living conditions.
A director at the institute, Beril Bunuzigha, told PREMIUM TIMES on Saturday that the centre was not closed by the Presidential Amnesty Office but by the company to forestall an outbreak of violence.
“It’s not the Office that shut it down, it’s we that shut it down after they disturbed the classes of other people,” Mr Bunuzigha said.
“We had to actually shut down because of their aggressiveness.”
Punishment By Expulsion
On December 13, 2018, the special adviser to the president on Amnesty, Charles Dokubo, officially inaugurated the training of 72 beneficiaries of the programme in such skills as tailoring, leatherworks, ICT, and bag-making.
But a few weeks into the training, some of the beneficiaries began to complain about lack of equipment as well as the poor condition of their living environment.
For instance, although the ICT training began around December last year the computers meant for the programme arrived on January 16 this year.
After some of the beneficiaries invited a PREMIUM TIMES journalist to air their grievances, with an additional intention to take their complaints to television stations, the organisers swooped on them with armed police officers.
They were bundled to Abuja, with the aid of soldiers, queried at the Amnesty Office and later expelled from the training.
Confidence Oyile, the spokesperson of the aggrieved group, confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that five of them had been told to leave the programme.
He named those affected, in addition to himself, to include James Tamunonegiye, Stephen Roberts, Bright Simeon, and Murphy Bobra.
“The reason is because we did an open publication,” said Mr Oyile, 30.
He said the condition he was given for his reinstatement was to make another publication commending the founder of the centre for her efforts “to put things in place.”
“Which I disagreed with them because that’s nonsense, means I am encouraging evil,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.
“As an agent of change who believes in the vision of President Buhari that change begins with me, I can’t do that. It’s as if I’m selling myself to them so they use me as they please.”
Mr Bobra said he left Lagos immediately he learnt about his expulsion to avoid being harmed.
“She (Enetimi Bunuzigha, the owner of the centre) said na me go fight her with journalist, make I comot for her training ground,” said Mr Bobra, 39, who arrived in December from Bayelsa State to acquire a skill on leatherworks.
“She said I will not be forgiven.”
The operators of the training centre painted a picture of a group of blackmailers who, when their demands were not met, resorted to disruption of activities at the place.
Mr Bunuzigha said when the “troublemakers” were taken to Abuja, their allies at the training centre began to disrupt the activities there.
“So classes were going on and they disrupted the classes, they stopped people from going to classes until those boys come back and they hear from the boys.”
Mr Bunuzigha said part of the reasons the ex-militants were not kept in hotels but in a residential building was because of their undue aggression.
“With that character, hotels even refuse to collect them, and with the amount the government is paying how much do you want to pay the hotel?
“If you have a hotel are you going to put ex-agitators inside your hotel to stop your business? No, because we’ve done it. And they stopped… all the people that we’ve had dealings with, because of their behaviour they stopped it. So we tried to make that place as conducive as we can.
“We have 130 people in that place and there were five people that were expelled and those five people came on the 7th of January and we’ve been training since November.”
Mrs Bunuzigha, who owns Fouzz Fashion Institute, denied that the centre was shut down last week.
She also denied claims by the expelled trainees that she had padded the list of beneficiaries in her centre with ghost names.
“There is nothing like that. I’m going to the media, I’m going to AIT, STV, Vanguard, and all the national newspapers,” Mrs Bunuzigha told PREMIUM TIMES.
“Those are children who said I should give them six months upfront feeding, if not I will have problems in my centre.”
But Messrs Bobra and Oyile denied the allegation, with the latter saying they were expelled so they would not tell the public about the corruption in the centre.
“I really want to learn ICT, me and the woman (Mrs Bunuzigha) had several conversations and I never ever demanded for N1,” Mr Oyile said.
“I said they should change the training facility, send me to the APTECH Computer that the government sent me, and upgrade our living condition. That has been my demand right from time.”