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Disgruntled Groups Threaten More Kidnappings in Nigeria's Oil-Rich Delta


Youths in Southern Bayelsa state of Nigeria who freed eight foreign oil workers they held for three days on Sunday, say they may strike again if the understanding reached with the oil company is not implemented. Gilbert da Costa in this report for VOA takes a look at the tenuous relationship between oil companies in Nigeria and host communities.

Community leaders of Bilabiri kingdom of Bayelsa state say the uncompromising demands of Peak Oil Company led to the weekend kidnapping in the delta.

Angry villagers have accused the Nigerian-owned oil company of refusing to negotiate on a range of issues including development projects and employment for local people.

The company declined to engage the community because it claimed it was operating 40 miles offshore and therefore had no obligation to the Bilabiri community.

Johnny Igoniwari, spokesman for the Bayelsa state government, says the kidnapping could have been avoided.

"The government through the commissioner for environment invited the company and they refused bluntly to appear so they can settle the issue," he said. "This thing [kidnapping] wouldn't have happened. They failed to come. They refuse government's invitation every day, especially from Peak Oil. That is what is happening."

Abductions are a common tactic by disgruntled groups in the delta, a vast impoverished wetland that produces the bulk of Nigeria's 2.4 million barrels per day of crude oil.

Oil companies argue they pay their taxes and fulfill other obligations and that the communities are making demands that should be directed at the Nigerian government.

With the central government far away in Abuja, oil workers, particularly expatriates have become easy targets for aggrieved inhabitants of the Niger Delta as Bayo Fadakinte, of the oil workers union, PENGASSEN (Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Associations), explains.

"The expatriates will attract more attention, both local and foreign," he said. "Foreign embassies will get involved and so and so forth. So I think from that angle, they feel to kidnap a foreigner, they feel that would attract more attention."

As communities become increasingly desperate in the face of Nigeria's worsening economic difficulties, risks are mounting.

The night-time raid on an oil exploration rig, 40 miles off the coast of Nigeria, showed that even deep offshore facilities are no longer safe.

Since February, attacks by the militant Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND, have cut production by an estimated 500,000 barrels per day.

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