- Nigerian President, Umar Yar'Adua, has been urged to "act decisively to keep violence in the oil-rich Niger Delta from escalating and spreading."
This is contained in a report "Nigeria: Ending Unrest in the Niger Delta" put together by International Crisis Group.
The report examines steps needed to address the conflict's root causes and stop the region from slipping back into chaos.
The group hailed the achievement of peace generated by the inauguration of new federal and state governments. It was however alarmed by attacks on oil installations by militants and kidnappings by criminals are again on the rise.
“Hostage-taking has turned into a lucrative, criminally-driven enterprise”, says Nnamdi Obasi, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst. “This practice is threatening to spread beyond the core Niger Delta to other parts of the country”, he said, concuring that Yar’Adua’s early statements and actions had raised hopes in the Delta.
As soon as he ascended to power, Nigerian leader had initiated consultations with ethnic and militant organisations and endorsed the regional development plan launched by his predecessor, Olusegun Obasanjo, in March.
But it is evident that Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) is not at ease with the government's failure to address the region's core demands and therefore resumed attacks on oil installations and hostage-taking.
There are fears that the area's security situation, which has already been aggravated by clashes between politically-sponsored criminal gangs in River State in August, could be worsened by deepening splits with the Delta;s major militant groups.
The crisis group warned that the repeated postponements of the region's summit and lack of clarity over its participants, methods and goals, are eroding confidence. Besides, it said the government's ambiguity about how much of the Delta money it seeks in the 2008 budget for economic development has shaken its faith.
"Yar’Adua must go beyond drawn-out consultations with militants and ethnic leaders and quickly translate his promises into credible policies addressing violence and the region’s legitimate demands," the group said, adding that the federal legislature needs to urgently commence the process of providing constitutional solutions for the political,economic and environmental grievances which have been at the root of ethnic and communal agitation for decades.
The government of River State, whose territory has seen the worst and most recent violence, has been warned to act with restraint in its proposed demolition of Port Harcourt’s waterfront shanties to avoid aggravating strained relations between ethnic groups.
“The months since the April elections have seen increasingly incendiary threats from MEND and continued volatility in the creeks”, says François Grignon, Crisis Group’s Africa Program Director. “The Yar’Adua government must urgently come to grips with the core issues that have defined the agitation and conflicts in the region for two decades”.
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