Nigeria’s Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, has said the spiralling violence in the country’s Niger Delta oil region was being fuelled by smugglers as well as those who are stealing the country’s crude oil.
Dr, Jonathan, who spoke as the two-day meeting of the Honorary International Investor Council (HIIC) got underway in the capital city of Abuja Monday, expressed regret that the genuine agitations by the people of Niger Delta had been hijacked by ”criminals”.
Violence in the oil region, which has slashed Nigeria’s crude oil production, has taken a turn for the worse in recent times as the militants stepped up their attacks on oil facilities.
In the worst of such violence, the 200,000bpd offshore Bonga oil field was attacked by the region’s main militants, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), last month, forcing a temporary shutdown of the Shell-operated facility.
But the Nigerian VP said the situation in the oil region had not always been like that.
“Naturally, at the beginning, people were quite friendly with the oil companies, no security was deployed to guard the oil facilities. Over the period, people began to believe they were not getting enough.
“What is happening today is that genuine agitation has been taken advantage of by people who want to make money through stealing and smuggling of crude oil. Those people who are interested in stealing and smuggling crude oil sponsor most of the aggressive activities in the area. People are now exploiting it and making big money,” he said.
The federal government has set in motion plans to hold a stakeholders’ summit to address the violence, but that seems to have been bogged down in controversy over the leadership of the committee set up to plan the conference.
The appointment of UN official and former Nigeria’s foreign minister Ibrahim Gambari has been rejected by groups in the oil region, who have vowed to boycott the summit.
Meanwhile, the VP has blamed the oil companies operating in the Niger Delta for their failure to invest in the production of their inputs in the oil producing communities.
He said if the companies had established industries for the production of their inputs locally, the youths in their areas of operation would not be free to engage in militancy.
“it is unfortunate that all the inputs in the oil industry are imported. The bulk of their materials are imported. How do you stimulate the local economy? If the operators can invest in the manufacturing of some of the inputs in the oil industry locally, that would generate a number of employment opportunities. We must look for ways to reduce the number of free men that can be used for militant activities,” he said.
Speaking on the HIIC forum, the VP said it “is part of government’s efforts towards economic regeneration”, adding that Nigeria would continue to use the Council efficiently and effectively, given its significance to the achievement of this administration’s vision 2020 and the government’s seven-point agenda.
The VP noted that the nation’s goal to be among the first 20 of the strongest economies in the world by the year 2020 might not be possible unless the economy “is stimulated with enough investment that will in turn create wealth to occupy teeming unemployed youths, who presently are vulnerable due to joblessness.”