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Nigeria in Fresh Bid to Improve Power Output

Nigeria expects to generate 6,000 megawatts of electricity by December in a bid to improve power supply in Africa's most populous nation of 140 million people. Nigeria's economic growth has been hampered by a chronic scarcity of electricity. Stability in the oil-producing Niger Delta is vital to electricity supply in Nigeria.

President Umaru Yar'Adua promised to declare a state of emergency in the energy sector when he came to power in 2007, but he has yet to do it and Nigeria's 140 million people have less electricity now than two years ago.

Nigeria is rich in oil and gas, but currently produces around 2,000 megawatts of electricity, not enough to meet demand by its population. By comparison, South Africa produces more than 43,000 megawatts of electricity for a population a third the size of Nigeria.

The government has set a target of generating 6,000 megawatts by December, and Information Minister Dora Akunyili says the government has shown total commitment.

"We believe that we are going to deliver to the good people of this country, by the end of the year, our promise of 6,000 megawatts, said Akunyili. "The president and minister of energy they are working round the clock."

But the government says electricity generation has suffered from a drop in gas supply to thermal power stations. Pipelines carrying gas from the Niger Delta to feed power stations have come under attacks.

Akunyili says attempts to fix damaged pipelines and install new ones were being frustrated by local communities.

"We will find it difficult to do that [increase power generation] if we are not able to fix the gas pipes and if we are not able to install new ones," added Akunyili. "The vandalized gas pipes is costing us 1,400 megawatts of gas. That is what we are losing. The pipes that were vandalized that we are doing everything to fix is not working as fast as we want because the host communities are not giving access to the contractors."

Since the 1970s, Nigeria has pumped more than $300 billion-worth of crude from the Niger Delta, according to estimates. But high unemployment in the delta, environmental 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.

The Niger Delta has seen a drop in violence since the onset of a government amnesty program for the region. The government says the amnesty is the first step to bring peace to the region. But Nigeria's oil war looks like dragging on after insurgents in the Niger Delta declared they will resume their attacks when a 60-day cease-fire expires September 15.