A U.N. report released Tuesday says Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta region deserves a greater share of its vast oil wealth. Local residents and militants have been angry at what they say is neglect of the impoverished region by the Nigerian government.
In its report on the situation in Nigeria's southern Niger Delta, the U.N. Development Program called for urgent intervention to alleviate what it described as endemic poverty in the region.
Local activists have been agitating for a greater share of the delta's enormous oil wealth.
U.N. Development Program Director Alfred Fawundu, who presented the 67-page report, painted a grim picture of life in the delta.
"The region presents a paradox of perverse poverty in the midst of plenty," he said. "So much water and yet little to drink. The region that contributes significantly to global energy has significant energy problems. The vast resources generated from oil barely impact on local poverty. The region faces formidable challenges in terms of severe environmental degradation, limited access to safe drinking water, electricity, and roads."
Nigeria's oil producing states receive 13 percent of the nation's oil revenues, but militants are calling for at least a 50 percent share. Fawundu said a more equitable distribution of the oil wealth would ensure long term stability in the region and ease tension.
"First recommendation is that there must be a credible and equitable revenue allocation formula to lessen tension in the region and reduce the perception of unfairness," he added. "Communities and states should be given, as recommended in other parts of the world, a stake-holding in oil exploration, such as it has happened elsewhere in Alaska or Canada and even in Kuwait."
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo discussed the issue Tuesday at a forum on the rising wave of violence in the delta. He told governors, federal ministers, oil industry leaders, donors, and community leaders in the Delta region collective action is needed to ease poverty and neglect.
"We know that Niger Delta is an opportunity, Niger Delta is a possibility, Niger Delta is a reality. That is what we are saying. But if we do not do at the individual level, at the family level, at the community level, at the local government level, at the state level, at the federal government level, at the oil company level, of course what is an opportunity can turn into something else," said Mr. Obasanjo.
Angry militants and activists have persistently accused the central government of deliberate neglect.
Many Delta activists, including the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, whose activities have crippled the oil industry, have refused to participate in such government-sponsored forums.
Oil output in Nigeria, Africa's leading oil producer, has been slashed by a quarter since February, when militants launched attacks on the oil industry.