As the Nigerian military tries to quell the religious and ethnic violence in Jos in Plateau State, the situation in the Niger Delta is very different. The oil-rich region known for its violence and kidnappings is now relatively peaceful.
VOA reporter Chinedu Offor is on assignment in Nigeria. From Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State, he says, “A dramatic improvement when it comes to security. The Nigerian security forces say they have, in their words, pacified the Niger Delta.”
As a result, there are fewer military operations. “Most of the militants have turned in their weapons and most of the commanders. And (they’re) now working with the government on the amnesty program,” Offor says.
Son of the Delta
In addition to military operations and an amnesty program for militants, Offor says there is another key factor in bringing peace to the Niger Delta.
“The president of Nigeria at this moment, Mr. Goodluck Jonathan, is from the Niger Delta. And the militants and every other person in the Delta see that as an opportunity. They want to extend the hand of cooperation to him. They want to work with him. He has promised he is going to bring several projects into the Niger Delta.”
The biggest perhaps is the proposed trans-Niger Delta highway, connecting the region to other parts of the country.
Offor says, “[President Jonathan has] also put a lot of resources in retraining militants who have turned in their arms. He’s also promised to bring other development projects to the Niger Delta.”
Many dignitaries are visiting Port Harcourt Wednesday. More than 30 governors, along with the country’s vice president and influential business people, are in the city.
“They are all here,” says Offor, “for the declaration for the re-election of the state governor, who is of the (ruling) PDP. Prior to now, because of security problems, such a crowd would not converge in this city.”
Cleaning up the delta
For many years, the region has been plagued by oil and gas pollution. Agricultural land has been destroyed, many rivers are too contaminated to fish and some communities have lost a clean source of drinking water. The pollution has been a major cause of violence against oil companies and the government over the years. But while the Delta is more peaceful now, the pollution remains.
“That’s a major issue,” says Offor, “but it’s one government authorities say they cannot handle on their own. So they have an equivalent of the American agency that oversees oil spills and also issues concerning the environment. But most of it is paid for by the oil companies.”
The government levies fines against oil and gas companies for spills and environmental damage.
“The government says it’s trying to do as much as it can to hold all the companies accountable and to have them put in place relevant operations to ensure that the spills are reduced to the…minimum,” says Offor.
But quick progress is not expected in the effort to reverse decades of environmental damage.