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Nigeria Criticized for Decreased Niger Delta Spending

Groups in Nigeria's Niger Delta have criticized the Yar'Adua administration for the proposed spending for the region next year. President Umaru Yar'Adua proposed a slight decrease in government expenditure in the Niger Delta, despite a clamor for massive government intervention in the region.

Among government plans for next year, nearly $700 million, out of a national budget of $23 billion, will be spent on improving electricity supply in Nigeria and $600 million will go to the Niger Delta's oil producing region.

A Niger Delta analyst who is a member of a panel set up by the government to consider ways to end the Delta unrest, Tony Uranta, says the proposal was rather provocative.

"We believe that the budget, rather than been seen as a budget of caution is a budget of provocation to the Niger Delta. The Niger Delta Development Commission had 84 billion [naira] [about $650 million] to it in the last budget. And yet the NDDC [Niger Delta Development Commission] and the Niger Delta ministry, put together, now have only 77 billion naira [about $600 million], which is less than the 84 billion budgeted to them."

Groups in the Niger Delta have denounced the proposed budget as reflecting a lack of political will to resolve the Delta crisis. Attacks by militants on oil facilities in the Niger Delta, home to Africa's biggest oil and gas industry, have shut down about a fifth of Nigeria's output since early 2006.

Militants say they are fighting for a greater share of the oil wealth for people in the Niger Delta, where more than 70 percent of the population survives on less than one dollar a day.

Analysts say continued insecurity in the Niger Delta could derail Nigeria's projected oil production of more than 2.25 million barrels per day for 2009. Any significant production shortfall could drive down revenues for Nigeria.

Uranta says restoring peace to the Niger Delta could have positive implications for the performance of the 2009 budget. He recommends the release of a rebel leader from the region and the withdrawal of government troops.

"Restiveness in the Niger Delta can be curbed if the president sincerely begins a process of confidence building by granting Henry Okah open and free trial and bail," said Uranta. "The issue of unrest is being exacerbated by the presence of the military in the region."

The federal government has said it is pursuing a "master plan for infrastructure development" in the Niger Delta, but militant groups say there has been no visible progress.