| YENAGOA, Nigeria
YENAGOA, Nigeria Former militant leaders in Nigeria's Niger Delta oil region have urged the government to pay out delayed stipends granted under a 2009 amnesty or face protests, a statement said on Thursday.
An uneasy peace is currently being kept in Nigeria's oil-producing heartland, which was rocked last year by militant attacks that cut crude production by as much as a third.
Failure to pay off former militants under the amnesty could jeopardise the relative stability in the region and even result in oil production again being choked off.
"We are calling for the immediate release of the balance sum of the 2016 supplementary budgetary allocation ... to avert any situation that will warrant beneficiaries of the programme going to the streets to protest and barricade roads," the former militants said in a statement.
The government is now in talks with militants to end the attacks which cut Nigeria's output by 700,000 barrels a day (bpd) for several months last year, reducing total production at that time to about 1.2 million bpd. It has since rebounded.
Under the amnesty programme, each former militant is entitled to 65,000 naira ($213.68) a month plus job training. But last week a special adviser to Nigeria's president said the programme was facing a cash crunch.
Authorities had originally cut the budget for cash payments to militants to end corruption. They later resumed payments to keep pipeline attacks from crippling vital oil revenues.
Two months of stipends were paid out in January, but the amnesty office said foreign schools fees and other allowances had not been sent by the federal government yet.
The damage from attacks on Nigeria's oil industry has exacerbated a downturn in Africa's largest economy, which slipped into recession in 2016 for the first time in 25 years, largely due to low oil prices.
Crude oil sales make up around two thirds of government revenue.
(Reporting by Tife Owolabi; writing by Ulf Laessing and Paul Carsten; editing by David Clarke and David Evans)