Source: This Day (Lagos), 28 March 2006 

by Mike Oduniyi

Still counting the losses recorded from the crisis in the Niger Delta, which has already hit $1.4 billion (N180 billion), the Federal Government is set to unveil radical programmes for the development of the region, in a bid to end the specter of violent attacks on oil production facilities.

Disclosing this yesterday, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Edmund Daukoru, said the development programme, details of which were still under wraps, would ensure a comprehensive development of the Niger Delta.

The programmes, he added, would put in place an enduring structure that would end youth unrests in the oil producing region.

"Government has already moved to establish a committee that will execute this new developmental strategy for the Niger Delta. What we are looking at is more than the $1.5 billion compensation the youths are demanding," Daukoru told newsmen yesterday.

"For instance, the issue of employment generation will be taking serioiusly because this is one of the things the youths are asking for, and also the issue of infrastructural facilities will be addressed," he said.

The minister said what he expected from the youth was an articulate programme that they could discuss with government at all levels, as part of their inputs into the new plan for the region.

The militant youths under the group, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) had laid siege to the creeks of the Niger Delta, launching attacks on oil production facilities and taking oil workers hostage.

MEND released on Monday, the remaining three of the nine foreign oil workers they took hostage on February 18, 2006.

Attacks on oil facilities have however, cut down Nigeria's oil production by about 631,000 barrels per day (bpd).

The militants have also vowed not to allow resumption of oil production until the government meets a set of demands, including the release of their leader, Alhaji Asari Dokubo, and former Governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, as well as the payment of $1.5 billion compensation by Shell to Ijaw communities for environmental pollution.

Daukoru said that an estimated 24 million barrels of crude oil had been lost since the siege began, resulting to a revenue loss of about $1.4 billion to the Federal Government and its joint venture partners.

"That amounts to about nine percent of the $1.8 trillion budgeted for 2006," he added.

He said that following the release of the last set of the hostages, the Federal Government expected the Shell EA shallow water field to resume production of about 120,000 bpd, within the next one week when the loading facility would have been reconnected to the production platform. .

The remaining volume of the oil production, or about 500,000 bpd, he added, could be back in the next one month, after an assessment and evaluation of the damages done to the production facilities would have been ascertained.

The minister said that helicopter over-fly would be carried out to ascertain the extent of the damage, adding that the militant youths would have to be carried along not to misconstrue helicopter assessment for government planned attack on them.

He said that assurances would be given to the militants to calm nerves, build confidence and allow for resumption of full production in the affected areas.

He said that the Federal Government was determined to find lasting solutions to the problems in the Niger Delta and that the lists of demands by the youths were already being broken down to building blocks for the development agenda for the area.

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