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Nigerian Oil Rebels Urged to Sustain Peace Process

  • Gilbert da Costa

Nigeria's new acting president and commander in chief Goodluck Jonathan is pictured as he takes office in Abuja, 10 Feb 2010

Nigeria's new acting president and commander in chief Goodluck Jonathan is pictured as he takes office in Abuja, 10 Feb 2010

The security situation in Nigeria's troubled oil producing delta region remains fragile despite assurances by the acting president, Goodluck Jonathan, to revive an amnesty program in the region. Community leaders in the Niger Delta have appealed for restraint to allow the new leader to address the region's long-standing grievances.

Goodluck Jonathan is the first person from the unstable Niger Delta to ascend to the presidency in Africa's most populous country. He says maintaining stability in the Niger Delta is a priority.

Edwin Clark, a prominent community leader in the Niger Delta and a key ally of the interim president, is hopeful that Mr. Jonathan will deliver on his pledge to transform the Niger Delta.

"It is true Jonathan is from that area and in 2007, after they had been sworn-in, I took Jonathan to the creeks where he met some of the leaders and he is aware of their demands," said Clark. "He is aware of their aspirations, he is aware of everything, and the neglect of our people. So as far as I am concerned he will perform."

Violence in the Niger Delta has subsided over the past seven months after thousands of gunmen accepted a government unconditional pardon and disarmed.

Some armed groups, including the main militant group, are threatening to renew attacks on Africa's biggest oil and gas industry. They express frustration at delays to the amnesty program caused partly by the continued absence of ailing President Umaru Yar'Adua.

Clark, who also enjoys a cozy relationship with the rebels, says the Niger Delta stands to gain from the peace process.

"They [rebels] should be patient; they should listen to the voice of reason," Clark added. "By their actions Nigerians have recognized them. They now take a place in the history of country, wherever they go people will respect them. But they should not overdo it. The boys, I believe, should listen to the voice of reason and allow Jonathan to settle down. Once Jonathan has settled down he will meet their demands."

Nigeria, Africa's leading oil producer, derives more than 90 percent of its foreign exchange earnings from crude oil sales.

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