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. Analysis: Nigeria creates delta ministry

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by Carmen Gentile
Washington DC (UPI) Dec 24, 2008
Nigeria has named a new minister to tackle the problems of militancy and violence in the oil-rich Niger Delta.

As the head of the newly created Niger Delta Affairs Ministry, Ufot Ekaette is responsible for promoting development in the impoverished delta and combating the violence that has caused Nigeria's oil production to drop by at least 20 percent in recent years.

Ekaette, who hails from the delta state of Akwa-Ibom, is the latest oil-related appointee by President Umaru Yar'Adua, whose ongoing Cabinet reshuffle has some noting that the Nigerian leader appears intent on finally making good on his 2006 campaign promises to take on the militants in the delta.

Groups like the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta and armed gangs have been blamed for oil and gas production shortfalls in the delta and adding to the misery of its residents, most of whom live on less than $1 a day.

This month Yar'Adua also appointed a new petroleum minister in his apparent effort to shake up Nigeria's corrupt-as-usual politics.

So far, the new Delta Ministry has been tasked with handling the substantial funding for delta development, totaling about $350 million, but the budget has yet to be approved by Nigeria's Senate.

While some have lauded the choice of Ekaette, as well as Yar'Adua's seeming enthusiasm to improve the petroleum sector, others raised concerns as to whether the president's new appointee and his ministry can ameliorate the delta's woes.

"Doubts persist as to how far this would help in the implementation of the oil and gas industry reform process or stem the spiraling violence in the delta where over 1 million barrels of crude oil remain shut-in, owing to pipeline vandalism, kidnappings, arson and seizure of oil platforms, etc.," read a recent editorial in the pages of leading Nigerian newspaper Vanguard.

The challenges facing the Yar'Adua administration to tackle the delta's woes are great, considering Nigeria's oil industry has been plagued by corruption and violence for most of its 50 years.

Since the 1970s Nigeria has pumped more than $300 billion worth of crude from the southern delta states, according to estimates, though most residents live on less than $1 a day.

High unemployment in the delta, environmental degradation caused by spills during oil and gas extraction, and a lack of basic resources such as fresh water and electricity have angered some of the region's youth and incited them to take up arms, forming militant groups such as MEND.

Meanwhile, the increased violence has caused Nigerian oil output to decline by about 1 million barrels per day.

Hoping to put an end to the killings, kidnappings and vandalism in the region, Nigeria in November established a new "security panel" aimed at ridding the delta of gunmen and militants in the next three months.

The panel, made up of military officials, civilian authorities, government officials and intelligence officers, will embark on the ambitious effort of reducing violence in a region where armed attacks on both onshore and offshore oil facilities are all too frequent, military officials said.

Militants and gangs in the delta are blamed for tapping into oil pipelines, a practice commonly known as "bunkering," and the kidnapping of oil workers and other delta residents for ransom.

"We are all aware of the challenges we face in our maritime security," Air Chief Marshal Paul Dike said at the launch of the 12-person security panel earlier this week, Nigeria's Punch newspaper reported. "Recent developments in our waterways like illegal bunkering, kidnappings and hostage takings have become serious cause for concern to the government.

"These activities pose serious threats to national security," Dike added. "These acts of illegality, which include economic sabotage and armed smuggling, if not completely addressed, could undermine our national security interest."

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Analysis: Brazil oil bidding tepid
Miami (UPI) Dec 24, 2008
Brazil earned nearly $40 million from the first round of bidding for oil and gas exploration rights, with state-run Petrobras picking up 27 lots, a lackluster opening round of bids sum attributed to concerns about the global economic slowdown and falling oil prices.

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