Nigeria violence no direct threat to oil for now

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 18, 2011 3:17 PM
Nigeria violence no direct threat to oil for now

By Joseph Penney

YENAGOA, Nigeria (Reuters) - Post-election unrest in northern Nigeria is far from its oil industry and poses no immediate threat to output, but neither is President Goodluck Jonathan's poll victory any guarantee of long-term peace there.

Results showed Jonathan, the first head of state from the Niger Delta oil region, as the clear victor in Saturday's election with close to 23 million votes to just over 12 million for his nearest rival, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari.

Supporters of Buhari, who is from the predominantly Muslim north, accused the ruling party of rigging, triggering riots across northern cities in which angry youths torched houses, churches and cars and set up burning barricades.

But hundreds of kilometers (miles) away in the southern Niger Delta there was a sense of jubilation -- and high expectation -- over the first ever election of an Ijaw man, the region's biggest ethnic group, to the Nigeria's highest office.

Members of Jonathan's family threw a party for thousands of supporters near his home village of Otuoke, attended by youths, traditional elders and dignitaries including a star from the local Nollywood film industry.

"The president is from this area so there is no way he will not make things happen for his people. There's no way he can leave his people behind," said Peter Okoba, a former militant fighter who accepted a 2009 amnesty brokered by Jonathan.

"Jonathan has said he will build oil refineries, coastal roads and railways in the Niger Delta. I do believe that Goodluck will do whatever he has said he will do," Okoba said.

Okoba was one of thousands of former gang members whose years of attacks on the oil and gas industry, Africa's biggest, cut the OPEC member's output and cost the country an estimated $1 billion a month in lost revenue at the peak of the violence.

The militants said they were fighting for a fairer share of the wealth in a region which, despite pumping more than 2 million barrels of oil a day, is one of Nigeria's poorest with multi-billion dollar oil installations nestled among stilted shacks over the crude-blackened water.

Former militant leaders met to discuss the unrest in the north and warned they would defend Jonathan's mandate.

"If a Niger Deltan cannot be accepted to legitimately govern Nigeria despite our contribution to the economic well-being of the country, we shall not allow a non-Niger Deltan to rule over our resources," a statement signed by the 24 ex-fighters said.

GOODWILL FOR GOODLUCK

Jonathan has pledged development for the region. The amnesty program -- under which Okoba and other ex-militants receive training and stipends of 65,000 naira ($420) a month -- has already brought a year and a half of relative peace.

But hopes of immediate new investment in the region once Jonathan begins a new administration may not be fulfilled.

"There is a sense of jubilation for now as far as the South-South is concerned," said one private security contractor, using the Nigerian term for the region.

"The problem is there'll now be pressure on the presidency to deliver the goodies."

Many Nigerians see politics as a game played by a wealthy elite whose outcome has little impact on their daily lives.

It is no different in the delta. Buoyed as they are by Jonathan's victory, the excitement of having one of their own in the presidency could soon wear off for the former militants.

There are already complaints about delays to the payment of amnesty stipends and a lack of jobs, highlighting the difficulties of weaning the thousands of ex-gunmen off their monthly payments while maintaining law and order.

"The amnesty program hasn't worked for me because I haven't been paid. I do only menial jobs and I've been sleeping in abandoned cars," said another ex-militant, Gunboat Izomebi.

"We have kept silent because we are waiting for the elections before seeing what steps we are going to take."

As the band played and the party got underway near Jonathan's family home, there was little sense of the crisis engulfing the northern part of the country.

"The northerners' issue is a political issue. My issue is that of a betrayed man in an amnesty program," said Izomebi, his breath heavy with gin.

(Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)