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UN backs Nigerian delta activists on oil wealth

By Felix Onuah
ABUJA (Reuters) - A United Nations report on Nigeria's oil producing Niger Delta has backed a call by local activists for the region to receive a greater share of its vast oil wealth.
President Olusegun Obasanjo launched the report on Tuesday to coincide with a government initiative to address a rising wave of violence in the wetlands region which accounts for all of the OPEC nation's oil output.
''The report calls for improved revenue allocation to the Niger Delta, echoing a long-standing demand in the region that is now torn by conflicts, sabotage and violence,'' the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said.
Nigeria's oil-producing states already receive up to six times more national revenue than other states under a scheme known as ''derivation'', which allows them to keep 13 percent of their locally-generated petrodollars.
But delta activists and militants, angry at poverty and neglect in a region that produces most of the country's wealth, call for total control over their resources.
Analysts say this demand masks the fact that much of the extra money the region already receives is stolen by elected officials.
The UNDP report also recommends making ''local government effective and responsive to the needs of the people''.
Obasanjo launched the report at the third meeting of a new committee set up to address the problems of the Niger Delta after militant attacks in February forced Royal Dutch Shell to reduce the nation's output by a quarter.
''SIEGE MENTALITY''
Federal and state government officials gave updates on several schemes to speed development in the delta, including new roads, jobs, power lines, schools and health centres.
But the report made grim reading for Obasanjo, who is nearing the end of two four-year terms as president of Africa's top oil producer.
''Long years of neglect and conflict have fostered a siege mentality, especially among youths who feel they are condemned to a future without hope, and see conflict as a strategy to escape deprivation,'' the report said.
Many delta activists, including the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) whose attacks have crippled the oil industry, have rejected the committee as a waste of time.
James Ibori, governor of Delta state where most of Shell's abandoned oilfields are located, said several new education, road and transport projects were being directed towards the Gbaramatu region of the state, where many attacks occurred.
''We also consciously decided to take some roads in the Gbaramatu kingdom, which is the same kingdom ... where you have already intervened with the primary and secondary school, and we hope this intervention will soften the hearts of our brothers there and allow Shell to move back into the western swamps fully,'' Ibori said.
The MEND has threatened to execute any oil worker returning to previously abandoned installations, and said it aims to bring Nigerian oil output to a total halt.
It insists on its demands for greater local control of oil wealth, oil spill compensation for delta villages and the release of two jailed leaders from the region.#

Reuters 2006.

Posted Date: 
2 September 2006 - 12:18pm