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Nigerians want oil on road to peace

  • Story Highlights
  • Niger Delta locals angry they do not see benefits from the region's oil
  • Armed groups and peaceful protesters see development as road to peace
  • 70 percent of Delta population live on less than $1 a day
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From Christian Purefoy
CNN
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Oil profits and poverty have mixed in Nigeria to deadly effect where multinational companies collide with locals living on less than $1 a day. CNN's Christian Purefoy visits the town of Rumuekpe where some locals have taken up arms, while others look for different solutions.

RUMUEKPE, Nigeria (CNN) -- Residents of this small town in Nigeria's oil-rich delta region fled after fighting over scant resources reduced their homes to rubble and turned their neighbors into foes.

Some young Nigerians in the Delta region believe they have no option but to take up arms.

Oil from the Niger Delta can be seen as the problem and the solution.

As we approached an outpost on the outskirts of town a group of armed Nigerians at the makeshift roadblock fired warning shots.

Guarding one of the many creeks in the thick jungle here, the eight young men and boys have taken up arms against their government and multinational oil companies.

After negotiations, the young men -- calling themselves the Rumuekpe Youth Council -- allowed us to enter but kept a tight grip on their weapons.

Their young leader, who wished to remain anonymous, waved his gun at the crude shelter they had made for themselves.

He explained that the group's armed struggle is the only choice to force foreign oil companies and the government to listen to their demands for development.

"This is what caused the problem in the community," he said, speaking in English. "No development, lack of work, no better education -- while we have four major multinational oil companies in our community."

The Niger Delta is the main oil-producing region in Nigeria, the fifth largest exporter of oil to the United States, but nearly 70 percent of the local population still struggles on less than a dollar a day.

The Rumuekpe Youth Council argues that neither the government nor the foreign oil companies have helped develop the town, aggravating tensions over the only source of profit from the oil industry -- land ownership and the rents paid to the individuals who own the land.

Those tensions have erupted into bloody conflicts between rival factions in Rumuekpe, located in Rivers State, resulting in the deaths of more than 200 people in the last five years.

Residents destroyed their own homes in the battle over land ownership, turning Rumuekpe into a ghost town.

The oil companies argue that they are paying rents only to the rightful landowners.

Humphrey Nsirim, a local pastor, is working to bring peace to conflict communities like Rumuekpe through his organization, "Hope for the Hopeless."

Neglect by the Nigerian government and oil companies has caused similar problems across the region, he said.

"As I'm talking to you now, the oil is flowing. From here it's going to wherever it's supposed to go," Nsirim said. "They are making their millions. They are making their money but they don't care about the community.

"That's the problem of the Niger Delta."

Nsirim has succeeded in bringing all of Rumuekpe's factions to the negotiating table, but no cease-fire has been signed and their hometown still lies abandoned.

Nsirim took us to meet another of Rumuekpe's factions, the Rumuekpe Justice Fighters, which has been exiled to Port Harcourt, the regional capital of the Niger Delta.

It was a stark contrast to the ragtag group of armed men and boys manning the outpost outside Rumuekpe.

Shaking our hands, these men dressed in brightly colored shirts -- with no guns in sight -- spoke of peace. "We are not meant to kill ourselves," one man said.

But they are demanding that oil companies stop paying money to individual landlords, and invest in the entire community instead.

Honest Ughenwo, leader of the Rumuekpe Justice Fighters, accuses the Nigerian government and the foreign oil companies of trying to divide and conquer the local populace.

"These multinational oil companies, they should stop intimidating us, otherwise this time around it's not going to be easy for them," Ughenwo said.

As Nigeria's oil is shared with the world - these young men want to make sure the profits are shared at home.

All About NigeriaOil Production and RefiningNiger Delta

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