'Peace returning to Nigeria'

2009-10-21 16:08

London - Peace is being restored in southern Nigeria's oil producing regions where attacks by separatist rebels have led to a sharp fall in exports, the country's oil minister said Wednesday.

"Peace is coming back in the oil producing areas," minister Rilwanu Lukman said during an oil conference here sponsored by the International Herald Tribune.

"I am confident (the peace process) is in a good way and I hope it will hold and is implemented properly."

He cited in particular an offer of amnesty from Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua to militants in the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or Mend, who have been demanding that local communities benefit from the region's oil wealth.

Reports on Monday said Nigeria planned to offer inhabitants of the oil-producing Niger Delta region 10 percent of oil and gas ventures in a bid to end the rebellion.

Mend's three-year campaign has slashed oil output in Nigeria, the world's eighth largest producer, by a third.

Business-like fashion

"We hope operations will come up (in the Delta) and that we will be able to embark on the path of developing our resources in a more business-like fashion," Lukman said.

"I hope Mend doesn't resume attacks on our facilities," he added.

Yar' Adua on Monday held his first-ever meeting with Mend leader Henry Okah at the president's villa in Abuja, with the presidency describing the session as "very fruitful".

Lukman said Nigeria was currently producing 1.6-1.7 million barrels of oil a day, consistent with its quota set by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

The country is also turning out 600 000 barrels a day of condensates, hydrocarbons that condense to form a liquid as they come to the surface and are not covered by OPEC quotas.

Lukman, who said Nigeria enjoyed good relations with international oil companies, said his government was looking for prices of between $60 and $70 a barrel.

But he stressed: "We are not complaining." The price of a barrel of oil rose above $80 on Monday for the first time in a year.