ONITSHA, Nigeria Oct 4 (Reuters) – A military exercise in Nigeria’s restive southern Niger Delta oil production hub is unnecessary and the government should focus on economic development, an organisation representing the region’s largest ethnic group said on Wednesday.
The Nigerian army on Monday said it would carry out a training exercise from Oct. 7 to Oct. 28 in the region, where attacks on oil installations last year cut the OPEC member’s crude production by around a third.
A military deployment in the Delta last year saw communities accuse troops of intimidating locals in raids aimed at capturing militants who said they wanted a greater share of energy wealth to go to the region. Crude sales make up two-thirds of government revenue.
The youth council of the Ijaw ethnic group said in an emailed statement that it “disagrees” that troops would be in the area for a “routine military training exercise”.
“We hold the strong view that a military exercise of whatsoever nature is not required in the region, rather we need practical steps to address the developmental challenges facing the region,” said Eric Omare, the Ijaw Youth Council’s president.
President Muhammadu Buhari, who took office in May 2015 and also ruled Africa’s most populous country as a military ruler in the early 1980s, on Sunday said the government was continuing talks with Delta communities to secure a lasting peace.
“We call on the Buhari administration to change its military approach to issues of the Niger Delta and adopt a development- driven approach,” said Omare in his statement.
A military operation launched in September in the nearby southeast region, to reduce violent crime and “secessionist agitations”, prompted claims that locals were harassed and that the home of a separatist leader was besieged, which the army denied.
Reporting by Anamesere Igboeroteonwu; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Richard Balmforth