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Nigeria's Oil Unions Suggest Ways to End Delta Crisis

Nigeria's two main oil unions have backed down on threats to go on strike over debilitating insecurity in the oil-rich Niger Delta. Instead, the unions have issued what they called a "blueprint for resolving the crisis." Gilbert da Costa has this report for VOA.

The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria and National Union of Petroleum and Gas Workers of Nigeria want a more comprehensive solution to the escalating violence in the delta.

The unions presented a proposal to President Olusegun Obasanjo seeking the development of high-tech security strategies, including the use of helicopters and surveillance cameras in the Niger Delta.

More importantly, the unions want the government to urgently devise a plan to develop the Niger Delta in the same manner the glittering capital, Abuja, was built - from scratch using billions of dollars from oil revenues.

"We stated the fact that there should be an emergency declared in that area for development, development emergency, like Abuja," said Peter Esele, head of the PENGASSEN oil union.

The delta accounts for all of Nigeria's oil production but the region has been trapped in poverty, due to years of neglect.

Presidential spokesperson Remi Oyo says the government is committed to what she called, a carrot-and-stick approach despite fears that the current insecurity may worsen in the run-up to April's general elections.

"The very fact that the carrot and stick mechanism is being adopted shows the level of responsibility that the President has brought to bear on these matters to ensure that lives are not lost. I will also like to dove-tail into what I read in one of the newspapers that the president might not want the situation in the Niger Delta to end," said Oyo. "I think, that is irresponsible, I think that is not a nice thing to say, I think it is something that is not backed with any facts whatsoever. I believe the president is just as worried as anyone."

The authorities have acknowledged that poverty and neglect are the root causes of many of the delta's problems. Last year, President Obasanjo announced a number of initiatives to speed up development in the region.

But discontent in the delta has continued, prompting widespread concerns about the Nigerian oil industry.