Peace in Niger Delta oil c’nities threatened

An aerial view shows oil-slicked waterways in the city of Port Harcourt, in Rivers State

An aerial view shows oil-slicked waterways in the city of Port Harcourt, in Rivers State

The Nigerian government’s efforts to secure peace in the oil heartlands of the Niger Delta are empty promises, community leaders say, threatening a return to violence that would derail any broader recovery in the crude-dependent economy.

With Africa’s biggest economy mired in recession, delegations including Acting President Yemi Osinbajo have held talks since February with community leaders in the restive oil-producing states in Nigeria’s southeast.

Oil exports are now set to exceed two million barrels per day (bpd) in August, the highest in 17 months, from as little as just over one million bpd at certain points last year.

That is due to a steady decline in attacks on pipelines, providing a much-needed injection of cash into Nigerian government coffers.

But ex-militants and local chieftains say that since those “town hall” discussions, little has been done – the government has not followed up on issues raised, is stalling on key demands and has not even appointed a full-time negotiating team.

If the Niger Delta people continue to feel Abuja is ignoring their needs, leaders say they will resort to the only tactic that has ever yielded results: attacks on oil facilities.

“The people of the Niger Delta can hold this government or any government to ransom because we are the people feeding the nation,” said Godspower Gbenekama, a chief in the Kingdom of Gbaramatu.

“This peace is a graveyard peace,” he said. “Nobody can assure anybody that nothing will happen in the Delta.”

A spokesman for the acting president rejected suggestions the government was not doing enough.

“The government has not reneged and will never renege on any agreement,” he said, pointing to more spending on an amnesty program for ex-militants and progress on a clean-up project.

He added it was just a matter of time for other agreements to come to fruition, such as the planned opening of a flagship university in October and of small-scale refineries with community ownership in the fourth quarter.

An inter-ministerial group met regularly with Osinbajo to discuss the Niger Delta and a “technical committee” liaised between the government and affected communities, he also said.

Some locals, however, are in no mood to wait. In a sign of their mounting frustration, groups such as the New Delta Avengers and the Niger Delta Marine Force have formed in recent months.

“Call for resuming attacks when the government is diligent in actualising the terms of the agreements and requests made will not help matters,” said the acting president’s spokesman. -Reuters

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