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Nigeria Struggles with Sharing Huge Oil Profits

As oil prices and profits soar, Nigeria is struggling with how to share the wealth for the benefit of the country. For VOA, Gilbert da Costa reports from Abuja that a top Nigerian legislator is seeking a more judicious use of profits in Africa's largest petroleum producer.

Nigeria's constitution is silent on how its windfall oil profits should be divided, leaving a legal void that has fueled political wrangling in recent years.

Deputy Nigerian Senate President Ike Ekweremadu told VOA Nigeria cannot afford to squander its soaring oil revenues because the majority of Nigeria's 140 million population remains trapped in poverty.

The United Nations says nine out of 10 people in Nigeria live on less than $2 a day and the country faces huge infrastructure challenges.

Five years ago, in an effort to give Nigeria a financial cushion in leaner times, the country established an "excess crude account" to save revenues from sales above a benchmark oil price when world crude prices are high.

But cash-hungry state governors have challenged the legality of the account, insisting the money in it is as much theirs as the federal government's.

Deputy Senate President Ekweremadu defends the fund, but says fighting among Nigeria's tiers of government is harming efforts to help the Nigerian people.

"I believe that this oil boom, the high cost of oil at the international market, will not continue forever," he said. "So we have to ensure that two things will happen. First, to have savings for the future generation because they are entitled to the oil we are enjoying today. Secondly, we want to invest whatever we have now into more productive enterprise. Thirdly, this is an opportunity for us to develop our infrastructure."

The federal government plans to use $5.4 billion from the $16 billion excess crude account to fund the rehabilitation of Nigeria's crumbling power infrastructure. Nigeria has already paid out about $7 billion from the account, but that has raised fears the spending could add to inflationary pressures.

Surging crude prices have swelled government coffers, even as militant attacks on oil facilities have cut the country's two million barrels per day production.

The militants say they are agitating for more of the petroleum funds to be spent developing the impoverished six states comprising the southern Niger Delta.

Five decades of oil extraction from the delta have polluted its land and water, leaving villages impoverished while corrupt politicians and criminal gangs are accused of enriching themselves with a lucrative trade in stolen crude.