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Reuters: Nigeria to build highway, create jobs in oil delta

Nigeria to build highway, create jobs in oil delta
18 Apr 2006 16:05:30 GMTSource: Reuters

By Camillus Eboh
ABUJA, April 18 (Reuters) – Nigeria will build a $1.8 billion highway and create 20,000 new jobs to address a crisis in the Niger Delta, where militant attacks have halted a quarter of oil output, President Olusegun Obasanjo said on Tuesday.
A mediator appointed by the militants, whose four-month campaign of sabotage and kidnapping has shut down 550,000 barrels a day of crude exports, dismissed the proposals as insufficient to end the crisis.
Obasanjo announced the measures, which also include dredging of the River Niger, at the inaugural meeting of a new council designed to speed development in the delta states, which pump almost all Nigeria's oil but where most people live in poverty.
“We have a wonderful opportunity for a new beginning,” Obasanjo told delegates in the presidential villa, adding that the government of the world's eighth largest oil exporter had made mistakes.
Obasanjo listed a series of projects to be undertaken by the federal government — including a $1.8 billion East-West highway and 20,000 new jobs in the military, police, state oil company, and teaching — and called on state governors to come up with plans of their own for the next council meeting on July 18.
“The announcement from Abuja is not exciting enough to compel a positive response,” Oronto Douglas, an activist nominated by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) to mediate with the government, told Reuters.
“The struggle has gone beyond just development,” he added.
MEND has demanded greater local control over oil revenues, the release of two jailed leaders from the delta and compensation for oil spills from Royal Dutch Shell <RDSa.L>.
The demands were echoed by the Ijaw National Congress, a lobby group representing the largest tribe in the vast wetlands region, in a statement published over the weekend.
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Many prominent delta activists stayed away from the Abuja meeting, dismissing it as a “jamboree”.
MEND has been threatening another attack on the oil industry since February, but has yet to carry it out. The group released the last of its foreign oil worker hostages at the end of March.
Obasanjo insisted the council should come up with concrete measures with detailed timelines. Saying the region's problems were not tribal, he called on governors to deal with armed groups in their states.
“You cannot carry weapons in one hand and expect that you will have a warm handshake with the other hand,” Obasanjo said.
Many inhabitants of the delta, a region almost the size of England dominated by mangrove-lined creeks, feel cheated out of the huge riches being extracted from their ancestral lands.
Their bitterness against government and Western oil companies fuels insecurity in a region awash with small arms and riven by internecine conflict.
Analysts say the conflict is linked to elections next year, when various zones are vying for the ruling party ticket.
Oil is Nigeria's economic lifeline and the government is keen for the main operator, Royal Dutch Shell, to resume production from areas it abandoned after the militant attacks.
Shell is reluctant to return to the oilfields until violence eases. The prolonged loss of high-quality Nigerian crude, most of it pumped by Shell, has helped push world oil prices towards new highs.

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