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The Washington Post: Nigerian oil delta gets VP but will it get peace?

By Estelle Shirbon
Reuters
Tuesday, April 24, 2007; 6:31 AM

YENAGOA, Nigeria (Reuters) – The people of the oil-rich Niger Delta see the rise of one of their own to vice president as an opportunity to reduce poverty and violence although activists say time is tight.

Goodluck Jonathan, governor of Bayelsa State in the delta and running mate of president-elect Umaru Yar’Adua, will carry the hopes of many in a region troubled by militancy when he assumes his new role on May 29.

“We are happy about it. He will bring development to the Niger Delta,” said Nickson Ogoniba, who sells generator parts in the state capital Yenagoa, where there is almost no electricity.

“If the youths could find work, they would stop terrorizing us,” he said as he washed clothes in a bucket in a mud alleyway.

Ogoniba lives in central Yenagoa, where militants fought with troops for two hours on the eve of an election that gave Yar’Adua and Jonathan their mandates — a poll so flawed it was not credible, according to European observers.

Bayelsa is one of three major oil-producing states in the delta that generated $40 billion for the Nigerian government last year and hundreds of billions over the past five decades.

Yet most of the 10 million inhabitants in the three states have no job prospects, no electricity, no clean water and have to live with potholed roads, derelict schools and empty clinics.

This breeds anger towards government and foreign oil majors. An increasing number of armed groups demanding jobs, benefits or control of oil revenues have attacked industry facilities, kidnapped expatriate staff and fought with security forces.

Nigeria has lost 600,000 barrels per day in oil production since the rebel Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) attacked oilfields in the western delta in February 2006.

Oil prices climbed further above $68 on Tuesday as traders eyed the possibility of further disruptions to Nigerian output after the contested election results.

In the build-up to the election, Nigerian government sources said Royal Dutch Shell would reopen the fields in May, in what could be a quick dividend from Jonathan’s victory.

However, the MEND says it has low expectations of Jonathan.

“Nothing changes. Goodluck to us is a member of the Nigerian government that continues to oppress the people of the Niger Delta,” MEND spokesman Jomo Gbomo said in an email to Reuters.
 
Despite such rhetoric, rights campaigner Oronto Douglas, named last year as a mediator by the MEND, said Jonathan would have a chance to open new lines of dialogue with the militants.

“Immediately after the inauguration there will be a grace period. But if the new government doesn’t move fast to ensure that the fundamental issues are addressed, we will slide back deeper into conflict,” he said.

Jonathan’s rise to national prominence could go some way towards addressing a long-standing grievance among his ethnic group, the Ijaw, who make up the majority in the delta. Many Ijaw feel they have been marginalized from national politics even though oil from their lands is Nigeria’s lifeline.

But some Ijaw activists said Jonathan was politically weak and untested, raising doubts about how much clout he would have in complex national politics. He has been governor only since December 2005, when the previous man was impeached.

Some also said the widespread vote-rigging during the elections had undermined the prospect for positive change.

“Militancy has reached epidemic proportions and we foresee that it will escalate because the people have been further disempowered,” said Sofiri Joab-Peterside of the Centre for Advanced Social Science in Port Harcourt, the delta’s main city.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/24/AR2007042400376_2.html

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