Residents of Nigeria's restive oil-rich Niger Delta region are reportedly hailing as a step in the right direction the creation Wednesday of a new Niger Delta ministry by President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua's administration. The residents say the move could help quell the escalating violence in the Niger delta region and boost the country's oil production which has reportedly taken a significant hit after rebels in the area intensified violent attacks on both foreign and local workers employed by oil companies in the area. The creation of the new ministry for the Niger Delta region is a key demand by the various armed groups in the area, claiming it would help reduce the violence and bring about development.
VOA's Chinedu Offor is monitoring the situation. He tells reporter Peter Clottey from Nigeria's capital, Abuja that expectations are high after the creation of the new ministry.
"Today Thursday, prominent politicians and personalities of the Niger Delta are expressing support for President Umaru Yar'Adua's decision to create a ministry for the Niger Delta. What this essentially means is the Niger Delta would no longer be handled as a part of a particular ministry, but would now have a full ministry that would take care of infrastructural development, political development, environmental problems and the issue of hostage taking and reconciliation," Offor said.
He said the creation of the new ministry is a significant step towards resolving the instability in the restive, but oil rich Niger Delta region.
"This is one of the demands made by several people in that area, especially the militant groups that they need a separate ministry to take care of their affairs. And it appears that with this decision, President Umaru Yar'Adua has kicked started the government's effort to once more resolve the Niger Delta problem permanently," he pointed out.
He said the creation of the new ministry could potentially boost oil production in the area once violence there has been reduced.
"Remember, the oil companies are fleeing from that region because of these problems. They say the militant attacks have gotten to an extent that they can no longer operate efficiently, and their experts are feeling from that area. And of course Nigeria's oil production has been reduced by about 20 or 30 percent, depending on whom you are talking to," he said.
Offor said the creation of the new ministry is one of many demands made by rebels in the restive Delta region.
"This is a key demand by the militants, and with the government acceding to this demand, there is every hope that at least the main militant groups would see this as an olive branch from the Nigerian government, and would reduce the incidence of militant attacks and hostage taking. And after that when the violence is reduced to the barest minimum, the oil companies can come back, then people can get to the table and talk about other issues. But I think with this decision the government would want to first reduce the violence before any other issue can be discussed," Offor noted.
He said the government seems to be bent on ensuring peace in the Niger Delta region.
"I think that is true because apart from the creation of this new ministry of the Niger Delta, the government particularly, the Vice President Jonathan Goodluck on Tuesday inaugurated what he called a technical committee to look at the issue of the Niger Delta. Again remember that there was a time where there was supposed to be a peace conference, but that peace conference did not hold because the Niger Delta people refused to recognize the government's representative, especially the chairman, former Nigerian representative to the United Nations Alhaji Gambari, whom they said was a stranger to what is happening in the Niger Delta," he said.