Pouring oil on Delta's troubled waters? The kidnappings and violence in Nigeria's main oil producing region, the Delta, remains a running sore in the country's body politic. New president, Umaru Yar'Adua, has called for talks to try and end the stalemate. Will he succeed? Report by Neil Ford.

Author:Ford, Neil
Position:NIGERIA
 
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Now that the dust has settled after the Nigerian elections and Umaru Yar'Adua settles into his job as Nigerian president, attention is once again turning to the future of the Niger Delta.

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The activities of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) and other insurgent groups have not subsided as many predicted and oil exports have been cut by their activities. Aside from the need to pacify its most troubled region, the government must tackle the unrest in order to ensure continued investment into the oil sector and to provide a safe working environment for the oil workers whose activities generate such a large proportion of the country's wealth.

The problems of Nigeria's main oil producing region are well known: the huge wealth that is generated in the Delta contrasts sharply with the ingrained poverty of most of its people. That economic development does not even look likely deepens the despair, while the problems of oil and gas sector pollution are exacerbated by the activities of criminal gangs who steal oil and the use of oil leaks by the poor as a source of cooking fuel. Attempts by the oil companies to fund local projects merely seem to have fuelled disputes between neighbouring ethnic groups and encouraged increasingly violent protests by people who have a genuine grievance.

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It is difficult to argue with the fact that the problems of the Delta are a microcosm of Nigeria's failings: the contrast of extreme wealth and desperate poverty; the obsession with oil at the expense of the rest of the economy; plus the lack of links between the oil sector and wider economy within which it operates.

The country's underdeveloped non-oil economy means that the best route to wealth is political power. Many Nigerian governors and other politicians, particularly in the Delta, have accrued vast wealth during their time in office, spending money that was meant for economic development, and others are keen to follow suit. Any appeal to the rebels in the Delta to think of the impact that their kidnappings have upon the wider Nigerian economy will therefore be regarded as something of a joke.

Challenging such a situation would be difficult for any politician, but upon assuming power, President Yar'Adua said that calming the situation in the Niger Delta was his greatest priority and offered to hold talks with the militant groups. It is estimated that kidnappings and attacks on oil sector...

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