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Nigerian President Pledges 'Constructive Engagement' in Niger Delta


Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua says his two-pronged strategy to stem the violence in the oil-rich Niger Delta is the best for the country. Yar'Adua also assured Nigerians that the economy was a on a 'strong footing," boosted by high international oil prices. For VOA, Gilbert da Costa has more from Abuja.

In a brief televised address to mark Nigeria's 48th independence anniversary, President Umaru Yar'Adua said he was committed to an infrastructural development plan to address the grievances of the Delta's impoverished communities, while continuing negotiations with those he described as major stakeholders.

"In order to properly focus our efforts at fashioning out a durable solution to the crisis in the Niger Delta region, we have sustained constructive engagement with the major stakeholders. More critically, we have set up a Niger Delta Ministry to anchor in a holistic manner, the execution of the Niger Delta Development Master Plan," said President Yar'Adua. "We are confident that this is the way to go in meaningfully addressing the physical infrastructure and human capital development challenges which the region presents."

Mr. Yar'Adua has failed to pacify the Niger Delta where attacks on oil industry targets continue unabated.

The government has announced several crackdowns on the violence. But the people of the Delta say they have seen many promises of development go unfulfilled, and the military response does not seem to be working.

Security forces have arrested hundreds of suspected insurgents in military raids that began last week after militants ended a string of attacks and declared a ceasefire September 21.

Buoyed by huge revenues from high international oil prices, President Yar'Adua says the Nigerian economy is on a sound footing.

"Fellow Nigerians, our economy is on a strong footing with an average growth rate of about 6.9 percent, a single digit inflation rate, external reserves of about $63 billion, and the Naira appreciating steadily against the major currencies," he added. "This is a consequence of our policies aimed at maintaining relative stability and predictability in Nigeria's macro-economic environment."

Sworn in 15 months ago pledging reforms and respect for the rule of law, Mr. Yar'Adua has struggled to deliver on his promises, in terms of better roads, better security and, most of all, more electricity.

With a population three times as big as South Africa, Nigeria has about 20 times less electricity.

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