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Niger Delta Leaders Say Acting President Must Show Commitment to Security


Acting President Goodluck Jonathan has just over one year before voters choose a new leader, or far less if President Umaru Yar'Adua recovers from a heart condition and resumes the powers of the presidency.

Leaders in Nigeria's troubled Niger Delta believe Acting President Goodluck Jonathan can make progress on resolving a rebellion over oil profits and environmental damage if he moves quickly to demonstrate his political commitment.

Acting President Jonathan says ending violence in the Niger Delta is one of the biggest priorities for his new administration. He has restructured the management of an amnesty plan for former fighters and says the first class of job training will begin this month.

But at the most, he has just over one year before voters choose a new leader. Or far less if President Umaru Yar'Adua recovers from a heart condition and resumes the powers of the presidency. So Mr. Jonathan is realistic about what he can accomplish in so short a time.

"These are issues that you cannot really say you are going to conclude in a year, because the issue of young men who have taken arms to fight the system and some of them the capacity is quite low," he explained. "So it takes a lot of time to train them, even for them to be in position to make a living."

Mr. Jonathan says he is clearly focused on the problem and assures Nigerians that they will see progress.

So what do people in the Niger Delta think?

"Any project succeeding depends on the people who are the heads. Because if the head is bad, nothing can go well. If they really apply themselves to their jobs, something good will come out of it," explained Simeon Efundu, a former secretary in the Delta state government and a member of the region's elders' forum.

Efundu says Mr. Jonathan must closely watch how money for the Delta is being spent.

"There are some people who want to play politics of the stomach," he added. "All they are thinking about is how I can be rich without caring what the masses are suffering."

Human rights activist Oke Joseph says Mr. Jonathan can bring peace to the Niger Delta if he shows the political will to follow through on developing the region.

"We don't need politics this time. We need commitment," noted Joseph. "It depends on him. Political will. If he has it, he can do it. Anybody who has the political will can do it. But are they ready? That is the thing."

Chief Mike Ofere says Mr. Jonathan's decision to personally supervise the power ministry in his new cabinet shows he is serious about improving electricity for the Delta.

"He wants to make sure that power comes into place. We have been suffering darkness whereas in many places they are having light," said Ofere.

Chief Gabriel Gegbekpo says replacing President Yar'Adua's Cabinet gives Mr. Jonathan the opportunity to make real progress.

"With the change of Cabinet, there is going to be good things in this country," said Gegbekpo. "There is going to be a perfect reform as far as this country is concerned politically, economically, and socially."

Acting President Jonathan says he will build on President Yar'Adua's Niger Delta amnesty plan under which thousands of gunmen turned in their weapons for a monthly stipend and the promise of job opportunities. The amnesty turned around what had been nearly four years of declining petroleum output because of kidnappings and sabotage in the Niger Delta.

Additional reporting for this story provided by Hilary Uguru in Nigeria.

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