Money, patronage and power stoke tensions in Niger Delta region

By Aderogba Obisesan ,AFP

LAGOS, Nigeria — It is a classic Nigerian dispute, combining powerful politicians, patronage, personal rivalries, wider claims of corruption and bickering over lucrative oil revenue. But rising tensions in the southern state of Rivers in the Niger Delta region are setting it up to be a key battleground as general elections approach next year. Where once it was the feared, heavily armed vigilantes patrolling the creeks who dominated headlines, now a stand-off between the state governor and the country’s president is grabbing attention. At the heart of the spat between Rotimi Amaechi and Goodluck Jonathan are claims Rivers has lost out on revenue from a disputed oil well as well as federal development and infrastructure schemes.

“There are some things that the federal government is doing that are not in the interest of the people of Rivers state,” said Amaechi’s spokesman, David Iyofor.

“These include the federal government ceding the Soku oil well, belonging to Rivers State, to Bayelsa (Jonathan’s neighboring home state),” he told AFP.

“The lack of federal presence in the state and failure to refund the state the 105 billion naira (US$658 million, 482 million euros) it spent on federal roads in the state is another major nagging issue.”

Vocal Criticism The plain-speaking Amaechi, who is vaunting his own progress on driving up living standards, health and education in the state, has claimed Rivers has “nothing to show” for Jonathan’s time in power.

But he is also a key figure in a national-level dispute that has plunged Jonathan’s ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) into crisis and seen it lose its parliamentary majority. Amaechi, 48, was one of five influential state governors to quit the PDP for the main opposition in November last year, prompting 37 lawmakers in the lower chamber National Assembly to follow suit. They accuse Jonathan of ignoring an unwritten party rule to rotate the presidency between the largely Muslim north and the mainly Christian south and reneging on a claim only to serve one term. But Amaechi’s gripe also centers around the Soku oil well and the re-allocation of its three-billion-naira monthly revenue to Jonathan’s home state. Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil producer, pumped out about two million barrels of crude oil per day in 2013, according to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Revenue is shared between states, although Amaechi has been vocal in claiming that tens of billions of dollars have been siphoned off by the federal government.

Claims of unfair redistribution fuelled violence that gripped the Delta region until an amnesty, seeing installations attacked and oil workers kidnapped.