- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 19, 2005

Victor Attah of Nigeria, the governor of the oil-rich Niger Delta state of Akwa Ibom, is eager to bring diversification to a state dominated by oil, with Exxon Mobil as the main player in the region.

Despite the wealth that the vital resource creates for Nigeria’s federal government, the people of Akwa Ibom live in a degraded environment and lack the resources needed to build an adequate infrastructure for diversification and take care of basic social needs, the governor said during a visit to Washington.

Akwa Ibom, which means “large domain” in the local Ibibio language, is one of the newer of Nigeria’s 36 states. It was created when the former Southeastern State was subdivided into Cross Rivers and Akwa Ibom.

Despite the misery that exists alongside the wealth in the state, Mr. Attah said he is hostile neither to the oil interests, nor to the federal government.

Like other oil companies dotting Nigeria’s Gulf of Guinea shoreline, Exxon Mobil responds to criticism that it is not doing enough for the local inhabitants by stressing that it is doing business strictly within the law.

“It’s one thing to be legally responsible. It’s another thing to be socially responsible,” Mr. Attah said.

In response to the government’s firm grip on the nation’s oil wealth in the Niger Delta, Mr. Attah is promoting the concept of shared resource control.

“We do not want to live by government handouts. We want a measure of control over our most precious resource — oil,” he said.

Although his approach would transfer a great deal of power to the individual states, Mr. Attah said he favors a strong central government.

Sources close to the governor said one reason he is making the rounds in Washington is to promote Nigeria as a permanent member of an expanded U.N. Security Council.

He is carrying that message to Bush administration officials and will follow up with a trip to the United Nations to make Nigeria’s case there.

Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa with about 140 million inhabitants and is one of the continent’s wealthiest nations. But its development has been stunted by years of military rule and ethnic tensions.

In most African countries, the ethnic rivalries involve relatively small numbers. In Nigeria, they involve massive ethnic blocs. For example, the Yoruba, with more than 50 million people, boast a population nearly as large as that of France.

When ethnic interests clash, there is always the risk of a major war, not just a low-intensity conflict. This happened in 1967, when the Ibo moved to secede, triggering the bloody four-year Biafra war.

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