Nigerian oil unions have declared a three-day 'warning strike' to protest worsening violence and kidnapping of workers in the Niger Delta. The unions are demanding steps to improve the situation or they may withdraw their members from the region, indefinitely.
Union officials say the warning strike underlines their frustration with the government's handling of the violence in the troubled Niger Delta.
At least 18 oil workers have been taken hostage in the delta, this month alone. A Nigerian oil worker was killed about two weeks ago, when troops attacked a boat carrying him and militants during an attempt to release him.
Peter Esele, national president of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association, says the government has failed to provide the necessary security guarantees, despite several appeals from oil workers. He says oil workers no longer feel safe in the region.
"The current insecurity in the Niger Delta [...] has been going on for a long while and our government has done nothing about it," he said. "Hostage taking of both foreigners and local workers and the entire Niger Delta is now... if you are doing your job, you are scared," he explained.
With oil production severely hampered by militants attacks, any further disruption could have serious implications for the the Nigerian economy, which depends largely on oil exports.
The unions have warned that they may declare an indefinite strike, if the authorities fail to resolve the security problems in the delta.
Esele says the government must address all sides of the problem in order to make it safe to do business in the region.
"We don't want anybody to suffer, but we also know that, considering the way we are going, we are postponing the evil day and some day we are going to have criminals and hooligans who do not have the interest of the country, just take over the country and start misbehaving," he added. "If anybody is against the law then bring the person to book. This is a democracy and not liberty for lawlessness."
Militancy in the delta is driven by a widespread feeling of injustice and neglect. Most of the region's 14 million inhabitants live in poverty and feel cheated out of profiting from the oil industry.
The exploitation of oil and gas in the region has also created serious environmental problems for the local communities.