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Niger Delta Militants, Villagers Plead For Help From Incoming Administration


Militants and villagers in Nigeria's restive, oil-rich and lawless Niger Delta are pleading for help from the incoming government that takes power next week. They say dialogue and development are needed, rather than the security crackdown that has created more violence, and a large number of groups conducting criminal business. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from the creeks around Okrika island, near Port Harcourt.

Militants whiz by on speedboats in oil-rich creeks trying to avoid security forces and rival gangs, all of which compete in oil bunkering and other illegal activities.

Speaking from a safe place on Okrika Island, Commander Marcus Appolos, from the militant Ijaw Youth Council, says the incoming president and new state governors should break from past policies.

"Whatever has passed, if really they want to serve the people, they should take corrections of the past and bring everybody together, and put people in places where they are supposed to be, to take a new dimension, a better emancipation for the people," he said.

The 28-year-old commander says it is just not fair for so many people to suffer, while so much oil is being taken from their region, making money for just a few officials and foreign-owned oil companies and their shareholders.

"The government has all the money. We do not have the money," he said. "We have the resources but we do not have anything to do with it. So the government uses their own money to oppress us. So that is just the difficulties."

The sounds of a small market are interrupted by the arrival of members from a rival militant group, the Niger Delta Vigilante.

The group's second in command, Ebel Tomma Amakiri, also known by his nickname Kpottoi, which means bad noise, says the government's first priority should be establishing dialogue between armed groups.

"Without any peace, without any cooperation, there is nothing you can do. So that the best thing that we have to agree on a point is that there should be peace. Without peace, you cannot progress, you cannot do anything."

In fishing villages across the water, villagers complain of a lack of piped water, electricity, schools, hospitals and being at the receiving end of violence from rival gangs trying to control different areas.

One fisherman, Samuel Tamuno, says he was recently attacked by a gang known as the Germans.

"All my things are lost. My house is burned, my canoe, all the nets are finished. I just stay empty. I do not have anything to manage, to get money. I just struggle," he said.

Another fisherman, Emmanuel, speaking in Okrika through an interpreter, explains oil has made his life much worse.

"Look at ships, the ships are very close to them," he said. "Sometimes, they are polluting the water. There is no fish here in the sea. Things are very difficult for them. They need the incoming government to assist them to alleviate their suffering."

Asked to comment on the allegations, oil companies said they were too busy dealing with the dozen foreign oil workers currently being held hostage for ransom by militants.

Newly-elected ruling party officials were returning from Abuja, where they concluded a seminar on better governance, including for places like here.

Labor unions have called for a stay at home strike to coincide with the swearing-in of the next president, Musa Yar'Adua and new governors on May 29, following elections marred by fraud and violence.

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