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Analysis: Billions pumped into Niger Delta

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by Carmen Gentile
Port Harcourt, Nigeria (UPI) Nov 21, 2007
Nigeria will invest $75 billion over the next five years to improve the oil and gas sectors with the help of foreign investors, the country's Ministry of Petroleum announced.

Odein Ajumogobia, Nigeria's petroleum minister, said the $15 billion annual investment would fund exploration both on and offshore the oil-rich Niger Delta and improve current joint projects with foreign oil firms.

The announcement comes at a time Nigeria appears to be wresting greater control of its petroleum assets, the greatest in Africa, from multinational oil companies that dominate extraction in the delta.

Last month a former high-ranking Nigerian official called for Nigeria to review all deals with foreign petroleum companies.

"We have to look at what is on (the) ground now and see which way we can improve the conditions so that our relationship will be even more beneficial to both sides," said Rilwanu Lukman, who called agreements between the government and energy companies "generous."

"When the time comes, they (agreements with foreign energy companies) will be renegotiated and reconsider some of our generous terms to ensure we get value in what ever form of restructuring we carry out," he said.

Although Lukman does not have an official role in the Nigerian government, his opinion carries some weight as he is a former secretary-general of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (1995-2000) and is on the board of Afren Plc, a leading independent exploration and production company with operations in Nigeria and several other African oil-producing nations.

He was also Nigerian minister of petroleum resources from 1986-1989 and is from Kaduna, one of the eight oil-producing states that are part of the Niger Delta.

In his remarks to reporters, Lukman also called for a reduction of world oil prices, saying current levels could prompt consumers to cut back consumption.

"We don't want prices too high so that consumers don't cut down on their rate of consumption. We want healthy growth for the international economy," he said.

While he appeared to be posturing on the behalf of the Nigerian government, with whom he maintains close ties, some suggest his opinions are not a reflection of those of President Umaru Yar'Adua.

The president expressed earlier this week his growing concerns about rising global oil costs and warned that prices reaching $100 a barrel would eventually hurt both the Nigerian oil sector and the world markets.

But some analysts question his apparent concern about oil prices, saying rising oil costs could buy his administration more time to grapple with chronic militancy and gang violence in the delta.

Attacks on oil installations by militant groups such as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta have been blamed for Nigeria's 20 percent reduction in productivity in recent years.

Before stepped-up hostilities by militant and other armed groups in the Niger Delta began in late 2005, Nigeria claimed to be producing about 2.5 million barrels per day.

The militants have called for a more equitable distribution of the country's oil wealth.

Since the 1970s, Nigeria, Africa's No. 1 oil producer, has pumped more than $300 billion worth of crude from the southern delta states, according to estimates. High unemployment in the delta, environmental degradation due to oil and gas extraction, and a lack of basic resources such as fresh water and electricity have angered the region's youth, who have taken up arms, many times supplied by political leaders, and formed militant groups and local gangs.

Lower oil prices on the world market, said Eurasia Group analyst Sebastian Spio-Garbrah, would force the Yar'Adua administration to make peace with the militants sooner rather than later in hopes of getting full production back online. Talks between the militant leaders and government officials have stalled in recent weeks resulting in an increase in attacks and kidnapping of oil workers.

"If oil prices begin to fall, then the government would be under pressure to reach a deal quickly the militants," Spio-Garbrah told United Press International.

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China a big, but not only, contributor to record oil prices: analysts
Beijing (AFP) Nov 21, 2007
China's unquenchable thirst for oil is contributing to sustained high prices, but it is not the main factor in crude's latest surge toward new records, analysts said Wednesday.

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