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Analysis: Nigeria seeks international help

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Carmen Gentile
Abuja, Nigeria (UPI) Jul 07, 2008
Nigeria needs the international community to intervene in the conflict-ravaged and oil-rich Niger Delta in order for full capacity petroleum production to resume, a prominent Nigerian leader said at a world energy forum this week.

The governor of Bayelsa state, among those comprising the delta, called on foreign leaders to play a role in helping end the hostilities that have crippled oil production in the region for decades and rose sharply since the advent of the militant group known as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta in 2005.

MEND has called for a more equitable distribution of oil revenue in the delta, where the vast majority of residents live on less than a dollar a day and in squalid conditions.

"If all George Bush and (former British Prime Minister) Tony Blair could achieve after their visits to Saudi Arabia was commitment to produce an additional 250,000 barrels per day to OPEC supplies, perhaps they should visit the Niger Delta to settle the problems there where over 1 million barrels of oil production remain shut-in," Gov. Timipre Sylva said earlier this week during the World Petroleum Congress in Madrid, Spain.

The governor said that the problems of the delta and violence perpetuated by groups like MEND, whose increased attacks on oil installations and pipelines in recent months caused Nigeria to lose its place as Africa's top petroleum producer in Africa to Angola, were global issues that deserved the attention of the international community.

Global oil prices have often risen following reports of a major pipeline attack in the delta, which until a few years ago could be counted on to produce about 2.5 million bpd. However, according to a report by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Nigeria's production is down to 1.81 million bpd, while Angola's output has expanded to 1.87 million bpd.

This isn't the first time Nigerian leaders have appealed to international leaders, particular those from the United States, to play a role in trying to resolve the delta's ongoing woes.

In May, MEND leaders called on former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to mediate talks between rebels and the government aimed to end hostilities in the delta.

"We are ready to call off all hostilities and hold a temporary cease-fire in honor of President Carter should the Nigerian Government accept," read a statement purportedly from MEND.

The former president has yet to play a role in any talks between the Nigerian government and MEND, a dialogue that has been stalled in recent days despite efforts to hold a peace summit in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

Militants contend that the Nigerian government, along with the foreign oil companies operating in the delta, have benefited enormously over the years from the sale of the nation's oil and gas reserves, though they have done little to help the residents of the region who live in abject poverty.

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. But 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 some of the region's youth and incited them to take up arms.

The Nigerian government and foreign oil companies meanwhile appear perplexed about how to quell the violence and get production back online.

"There's no immediate solution to this situation," London-based analyst for Global Insight Simon Wardell told United Press International. "And we don't expect Nigerian oil production to come back online in the foreseeable future."

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