Nigeria approves new projects for restive oil region


ABUJA (AFP) – Nigeria on Wednesday approved dozens of projects aimed at easing tensions in the oil-rich Niger Delta, where unrest in the past three years has hurt the country's lucrative oil industry.

Information Minister Dora Akunyili told reporters some 45 projects had been approved by the federal cabinet for the region.

"Following deliberations between the Niger Delta stakeholders and the federal government, the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) was mandated to establish a Federal Polytechnic of Oil and Gas in Ekowe, Bayelsa state," she said.

She said the school would cost 14.9 bilion naira (100 million dollars).

The minister said the cabinet also approved about 179 billion naira for 44 other projects for the region.

Akunyili said the cabinet's approval "is in tandem with the promise of President Umaru Yar'Adua to fast-track the provision of concrete infrastructure in the Niger Delta region."

She said the existing Petroleum Training Institute in southern Delta state -- established to address the problem of a lack of local middle-level technical manpower in the oil and gas industry -- would be upgraded at the cost of 5.7 billion naira.

Despite being home to Nigeria's multi-billion-dollar oil and gas industry, inhabitants of the Niger Delta remain poor, triggering an armed struggle which has reduced the country's oil production by one-third in the past three years.

Following a recent government amnesty for the region's militants to lay down their arms and embrace peace, the country's oil output has risen to around 1.7 million barrels per day against a low of 1.3 million barrels two months ago.