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Fresh oil war threat for new Nigerian leader

Militants in the Niger Delta have threatened a fresh wave of potentially crippling attacks on Nigeria’s oil industry, giving the African country’s newly-installed president weeks to address their demands.

Goodluck Jonathan, a native of the delta, was sworn in last week within hours of the death of his predecessor Umaru Yar’Adua and the region’s largest militant group is pressing him to kick-start talks on their demands for local communities to benefit from a greater share of the oil wealth.

“We should be looking at weeks for Goodluck (Jonathan) to begin addressing an issue that has lingered for over 50 years,” Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta said in a statement.

“When he begins the process for resource control, then we will be sure he is serious… He has very little time to address the demands of this region before the fighting erupts,” said Mend.

In what was seen as his chief achievement as president, Yar’Adua last year granted amnesty to thousands of militants in the world’s eighth-largest oil producer in return for laying down their weapons.

But the process has unravelled as promised jobs, education, cash and infrastructure development failed to materialise quickly for the former militants.

Mend refused to take part in the amnesty, though some of its commanders did.

Angered at what it said was the slow implementation of the plan, it called off a three-month truce in January, and now promises to unleash a new wave of attacks on oil installations of the kind that last year slashed crude output by more than a third.

Joseph Eva, a leading activist for the Ijaw, the main ethnic group in the region, cautioned against expecting too much from Jonathan’s presidency.

“His coming to power does not translate to peace in the Niger Delta. If injustice persists, there will still not be peace. One year is not enough for him to turn Nigeria into the envy of Dubai, Ghana or South Africa,” he said.

“He is our kinsman and we are prepared to give him a chance to do what is right in Niger Delta but our patience is not elastic,” said Eva, coordinator of the Ijaw Monitoring Group rights body, in a telephone interview.

Without tackling the problems of resource distribution, environmental degradation, equal opportunities and jobs, “peace will be elusive in the region,” he said.

“Only time will tell if Jonathan is a blessing or a curse to the region… Jonathan has to prove himself with the actions and decisions he will be making in the coming days and weeks and that will help us determine if he is the Messiah or not,” Mend told AFP.

Yar’Adua’s death could hamper a peaceful resolution of the Niger Delta crisis, a Mend leader, Henry Okah, said last week.

Yar’Adua had a “good understanding of the problems of the region and was determined to address the injustice in the region,” he told AFP.

His death has dealt “a huge blow on a possible peaceful resolution of the situation in the Niger Delta.”

A lesser-known militant group in the region, the separatist Joint Revolutionary Council (JRC), has expressed support for a suggestion by Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi in March that Nigeria be split along religious and ethnic lines.

In a statement on Friday, JRC called on Jonathan to convene a sovereign national conference of all the ethnic groups in the country saying it is “the only peaceful way to the resolution of the crises in Nigeria.”– Sapa-AFP

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