The Nigerian government has bowed to pressure from groups and ethnic leaders from the oil producing Niger Delta to suspend indefinitely a peace summit aimed at halting attacks on the petroleum industry. President Umaru Yar'Adua has failed to pacify the Niger Delta and now must come up with a new strategy to halt the violence. From Abuja, Gilbert da Costa reports for VOA.
Oil production in the Niger Delta has recently been hard hit by attacks by rebel groups on petroleum facilities, causing Nigeria to lose its position as Africa's biggest oil producer.
The year-old administration of President Umaru Yar'Adua has repeatedly promised to address the root causes of the violence. The peace summit was a key component of government's plan to halt the deteriorating security situation.
But most of the region's ethnic leaders dismissed the conference as a distraction and instead, urged the government to urgently respond to long-standing grievances of the impoverished residents of the Niger Delta.
Tom Pulo, a Niger Delta militant leader, says the Nigerian government must take concrete measures to boost development in the Niger Delta if it is to prevent militants forcing the complete shutdown of its oil industry.
"There is no equal rights and justice as far as we are concerned. You can't, for example, set up a Niger Delta Development Commission to empower them with money and you are not giving them this money to develop the Niger Delta. Then two, the federal government arranged a budget for development of Nigeria for the year. The one for power was given to power; the one for water was given to them for water. But the one for Niger Delta was not given to Niger Delta Development [Commission], they gave it to soldiers; army, navy to come and kill us," said Pulo.
Since the 1970s, Nigeria has pumped more than $300 billion worth of crude from the southern delta states, according to estimates. But high unemployment in the delta, environmental degradation due to oil and gas extraction and a lack of basic resources such as fresh water and electricity have angered some of the region's youth and incited them to take up arms.
The government says it is now exploring informal dialogue with Niger Delta leaders to propose recommendations on ending violence in the region. The government insists formal talks may resume in the future.
Since the beginning of 2006, attacks by militants in the restive region have cut by 25 percent oil production in Nigeria, the eighth largest world crude exporter.