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Community Leader Demands Speedy Development of the Niger Delta

A prominent leader in the restive Niger Delta says the Nigerian government must take concrete measures to boost development in the oil-rich region if is to prevent militants from forcing the complete shutdown of its oil industry. Gilbert da Costa has more in this report from Abuja.

The recent collapse of Nigeria's oil crisis summit has prompted concerns that the government pledge to channel billions of development funds to the oil-rich region could be delayed or thwarted.

The Nigerian government was forced to call off the peace conference following protests by groups in the region who dismissed the initiative as a distraction.

President Umaru YarAdua made the Niger Delta, with its huge oil and gas riches, one of his priorities when he came to power more than a year ago, but it remains as violent and poverty stricken as when he arrived.

One of the region's prominent leaders, Chief Edwin Clark, shared his thoughts with VOA on how best to address Nigeria's oil crisis.

"Reclaim the whole place, build houses; massive development like the Marshall Plan of 1945," he said. "Then, what do we find? [Another] committee ... there was one they called Ibori's committee, made up of governors and so on. They submitted a report, nothing came out of it. And we are saying that collate all these reports, including the latest one. And if there are new ideas let a committee of technocrats meet to do it. That is the way forward."

Across the Niger Delta, residents are coming believe President YarAdua's tenure may not bring the tangible benefits they had hoped for, as it was with his predecessors.

The Niger Delta receives 13 percent of Nigeria's oil revenues, a far cry from the 100 percent other regions in the 1960s and '70s received from the peanut, palm oil and cocoa revenues the country depended on.

A Delta militant, Tom Polo, reiterates rebels' agitation for a greater share of oil wealth for people in the Niger Delta, where more than 70 percent of the population lives on less than one dollar a day.

Oil communities must assume direct control over oil exploitation and only pay taxes to the Nigerian government, he says, in Pidgin English.

Oil production in the Niger Delta has recently been hard hit by militant attacks on petroleum facilities, causing Nigeria to lose its position as Africa's biggest oil producer.