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Foreign Oil Workers in Nigeria Worry About Attacks, Abductions

  • Gilbert da Costa

Foreign oil workers in Nigeria have every reason to be worried, amid mounting attacks and abductions by militants hoping to pressure the government into sharing more of the country's oil wealth with the impoverished region. Some oil companies are reviewing their operations in the troubled region.

Nigeria is Africa's leading oil producer, and derives about 95 percent of its export earnings and 40 percent of its gross domestic product from oil sales.

The current wave of attacks on the oil industry by militants in the Niger Delta has the potential of crippling the national economy.

Already, oil production is down by at least 500,000 barrels per day, and, now, foreign workers, who play a very important role in the sector, are being targeted, raising serious concerns about their personal safety.

Kelvin Ebiri, a journalist in Port Harcourt, a leading oil city in the delta, with a large expatriate community, says most foreign oil workers are jittery about the growing violence.

"There is this fear among the expatriate community, because several people have been kidnapped, and up till now, nobody has been able to say precisely where they are being kept," he said. "Last week, Wednesday, or so, they kidnapped a German, on Friday they kidnapped three Philippines, and, just yesterday, a Moroccan and a Belgian. And, up till now, nobody knows their whereabouts. This thing is raising cause for concern, and some of the white men I spoke to, they are really jittery."

At least one international oil company has announced plans to pull out of its Nigeria operations because of the violence. Others are reviewing security procedures.

The government's initiative to address years of neglect in the region has received very little support in the impoverished Niger Delta. Daniel Ebahor, head of the Niger Delta Peace Foundation, a non-governmental group, says the authorities should consider other options in dealing with the crisis.

"The issue in the Niger Delta goes beyond what people look at, it is more of a political problem," he said. "Government just has to be proactive in ensuring that people are engaged. The youths need to be engaged, and the government, too, needs to carry out a kind of reformative policy, in terms of the reorientation of the Niger Delta youths."

More than 30 oil workers have been kidnapped this year. All of them have been released after ransom was paid.

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