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Nigeria's Pledge to Increase Niger Delta Spending Elicits Skeptical Response

The Nigerian government plans to increase federal spending on the volatile Niger Delta in 2008, in a bid to stem an insurgency that has curtailed output in the oil-rich region. For VOA, Gilbert da Costa reports that some of the region's powerful groups appear unimpressed.

President Musa Yar'Adua has allotted 20 percent of the country's $20-billion federal budget for 2008 for security in the Niger Delta and projects to ease social and infrastructural difficulties in the oil-rich mangrove.

The decision to spend a considerable amount of the 2008 budget on the delta could prove vital in the president's quest for a peaceful resolution of the intractable conflict.

But some of the region's influential groups say the president's gesture did not go far enough.

"Twenty percent of the budget for the Niger Delta is a welcome development, but what is worrisome is that 444 billion naira of the sum is being targeted toward security and lesser amount toward development," said Chris Ekoyil, the head of the Ijaw Youth Council, a powerful pressure group in the delta.

The delta's 20 million people survive in conditions of abject poverty and in a blighted environment.

Authorities acknowledge that poverty and neglect lie at the root of many of the delta's problems. President Yar'Adua, who was installed in May, has pledged to tackle these grievances. The Nigerian leader is seeking support for an inclusive delta conference to draw up a roadmap for the region's development.

Ekoyil says the president should first visit the delta to gain a personal insight into the crisis before any meaningful dialogue can ensue.

"We have asked Mr. President to visit the region. He will come, then we will take the next step, and when we begin to make progress then we will be considering the summit, which I also suggest must hold in the Niger Delta, not Abuja," he said.

Nigeria is the world's eighth largest oil exporter, but attacks by groups calling for a more equitable distribution of the oil wealth, have cut petroleum shipments by a fifth.

Oil revenue represents 80 percent of government income, and at least 90 percent of all foreign-exchange earnings.