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Niger Delta Philanthropist Seeks Better Deal for Oil Communities


Nigerian rebels who have waged an increasingly bold campaign in the oil-rich Niger Delta say they feel cheated out of the oil wealth being pumped out of their land. Residents are equally disappointed by the near-absence of schools in the Delta. A philanthropist in the region says education holds the key to the Niger Delta's future. Gilbert da Costa reports from Abuja.

Nigeria is expected to earn more than $60 billion from oil sales this year alone. Since the 1970s, Nigeria, Africa's number one oil producer, has produced more than $300 billion worth of crude from the southern Delta region, according to estimates.

In the polluted creeks and swamps of the Niger Delta, there is little evidence of petrodollars. High unemployment, environment degradation due to oil and gas extraction and a lack of basic resources such as fresh water and electricity have angered some of the region's youth and incited them to take up arms.

In the midst of the chaos and turmoil, one woman seems determined on making education accessible to as many Delta residents as possible.

Warri-based philanthropist, Ebimiere Okrika, says lack of education in the region breeds ignorance, desperation and more violence. Her charitable foundation has helped to set up schools in some of remote areas of the Nigeria, but more needs to be done as she told VOA.

"I have gone to places; I have gone to the interior villages where an engine boat cannot go," said Okrika. "We use hand pulley to go to those places. I have gone there and talked to them, they should release their children to come to school. And I'm sure this commission, SUPADEC [state oil producing communities commission], has tried. In areas where there had been no schools, they have started building schools. There is a little hope that education will be done in the areas and I hope to add more to it."

President Umaru Yar'Adua made the Niger Delta one of his priorities when he came to power 16 months ago. But it remains as violent and poverty stricken as when he arrived. Critics say the administration seems unwilling to pump billions of dollars of development funds into the province.

Ms. Okrika says the region's difficult terrain cannot be an excuse for its marginalization. "It is not even the terrain," she said. "It is just that we are being neglected. They don't pay attention to us."

"When you go to these oil-producing communities, there is no place where boats cannot go. But those that are taking the oil don't they go there? They will just build a house or so, they will stay there they will give them food and everything. So why is it that they cannot do the same thing for our people? They take our oil they take everything. So our resources' being taken without compensation is very bad," she added.

The petroleum sector remains the mainstay of the Nigerian economy, accounting for about 20 percent of annual GDP, 80 percent of government revenues and at least 90 percent of all foreign exchange earnings.

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