Lagos - Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari vowed Sunday to keep and "re-engineer" a controversial amnesty programme for Niger delta militants designed to stem attacks that have slashed oil exports but set to be scrapped.
The announcement, made in a televised speech marking his first year in office, is an apparent reversal from earlier this year when his government pledged to end the scheme by 2018.
The costly programme introduced in 2009 after years of violence by separatist militants pays monthly stipends to 30,000 former militants as well as offering them training opportunities.
A wave of recent attacks on Nigeria's oil infrastructure has seen the country's oil output drop to the lowest level in two decades, putting pressure on the Nigerian government to restore peace in the southern swamplands.
"The recent spate of attacks by militants disrupting oil and power installations will not distract us from engaging leaders in the region," Buhari said.
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"Re-engineering the amnesty programmes is an example of this."
This week militant group Niger Delta Avengers claimed responsibility for three separate attacks targeting oil giants Chevron and Shell as well as the Nigerian National Petroleum Company.
Faced with a looming recession and depleted cash reserves, Buhari has limited options to deal with rebels having already cut back spending on the amnesty programme.
Experts have said that increased amnesty payments could be the most realistic way to secure a ceasefire.
"If the Avengers continue to raise havoc in the onshore oil sector, and the military response falls short or backfires, the administration may eventually need to consider ramping up its amnesty budget as the lesser of evils," Philippe de Pontet, sub-Saharan Africa analyst at risk advisory firm Eurasia Group, said in a recent report.
Falling production of crude exports, which Nigeria depends on for 70 per cent of state revenue, has hampered growth in Africa's largest economy.