Friday, April 07, 2006

Progress on the Delta?

Having US Naval vessels in the Gulf of Guinea, there to protect US oil interests in the region, must be highly motivating. A visit to the most oil-friendly White House ever must have a similar impact.

Late this Wednesday, Nigerian President Obasanjo held a meeting in the Nigerian capital of Abuja with representatives of the Niger Delta region to attempt to settle the differences that caused a locally led 26% drop in Delta oil production., which the oil corporations are unlikely to restart anytime soon (though they might want to).

But it is not clear that the meeting was anything more than "statement" or posturing. From the Voice of America:

The government called the meeting last week, a day after militants of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND, released the last three of nine hostages seized five weeks ago from an oil company's operations in the Delta.

Ledum Mitee, a leading Delta activist, says only a practical demonstration of the government's resolve to tackle the problems in the Delta will make any difference.

"I do not know about political will, what people in the Delta will want to see is not statement," said Mitee. "There is nothing that has been said that we have not heard before. What people want to see is what actions on the ground show a difference from what has been happening. So, it is not so much what has been said."

A number of prominent leaders from the Ijaw ethnic community, as well as radical Ijaw groups like MEND, dismissed the forum as a waste of time and resources, and stayed away. Instead, they are calling for direct talks with the government.

It is important to keep in mind that the Nigerian Government and the Obasanjo Administration's immediate issue is not peace in the Delta, but sufficient peace to guarantee the return of foreign oil companies to the oil fields abandoned in the wake of this year's violence:
The idea behind Wednesday's meeting was to negotiate a truce that could allow oil multi-nationals to resume pumping more than 500,000 additional barrels of oil from the Delta.

Shell and other oil companies say they have no plans to return to abandoned oil fields in the Delta until the government reaches an agreement with the militants.

The Nigerian elite sit on a lot of money. Historically, a drop in oil production means a drop in their share, not in the share of the rest of Nigeria's 120-150 million.

(Satellite image of Niger Delta from AAAS -- gas flare image from FOE)

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