Sunday, April 12, 2009

Nigeria: "Holistic" approach needed to resolve Niger Delta unrest

The chairman of a presidential committee on Nigeria's volatile Niger Delta region said the government should adopt a "holistic" approach to resolve the crisis in the oil-producing region. The group said Nigeria lost about 1,000 people and $23 billion revenue in the first nine months of 2008.

President Umaru Yar'Adua recently said his government was willing to grant amnesty to rebels in the oil-rich Delta region if they disarm.

Ledum Mitee is chairman of the presidential panel of former ministers, activists and academics who are looking for ways to resolve the crisis in the Niger Delta. He told VOA that while the amnesty offer was a step in the right direction, a more comprehensive approach could yield better results.

"It is a step but amnesty should be within a process - a holistic process that addresses issues of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. And there are good practices, international best practices on what needs to be done. So I think it is a step in a process and that gives me a sense of optimism," he said.

Nigeria's biggest armed group dismissed the amnesty offer as "unrealistic." The Niger Delta Presidential Technical Committee, in a recent report to the government, said Nigeria lost at least $23 billion to oil theft and sabotage in the first nine months of 2008. The report said about 1,000 people were killed within the same period and another 300 taken hostage.

Mitee, who is a political leader and rights activist in the troubled Niger Delta, said the violence was far from over despite a noticeable decline in attacks in recent months.

"Generally, the attacks are decreasing. But I don't know whether it is a structured thing or its silence. Because what I'm saying is, is it that people are granted amnesty, are there guns being taken out from people or are there people may be who are incarcerated or whatever? When you do not see the end result then you become a little bit skeptical about even the silence that you see around. I want it to be more holistic that people can see," he said.

Violence in Nigeria's oil region has drastically reduced oil output in Africa's most populous country, with daily production currently standing at around 1.78 million barrels, compared to 2.6 million barrels in 2006.

Heavily armed militants have launched attacks on the oil industry since 2006, saying they are fighting for greater local control of the oil wealth.

Published with the permission of Voice of America
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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