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Nigeria: Seized Oil Workers May Be Released Soon

  • Gilbert da Costa

Nigerian officials involved in talks to release two foreign oil workers kidnapped Thursday say they expect the men to be released soon.

According to Ekiyon Wilson, spokesman for the governor of Nigeria's southern state of Bayelsa, the seized men could be released as early as Friday.

The men, a Briton and an American, were abducted from a Norwegian ship off the coast of Bayelsa. This is the latest in the wave of kidnappings and violence against the oil industry.

The state government is leading mediation efforts. Mr. Wilson told VOA that the kidnappers, on behalf of the communities in the area, are demanding that the government provide better services in return for freeing the two men.

"Hopefully, they will be released today, hopefully," he said. "We are on it right now. They are demanding for amenities in their community. They want water, they want light, they want this, and they want that. It is a community problem. It is not even militants problem. It is a community who are demanding for development."

The current wave of attacks on foreigners in the world's eighth largest oil exporter has forced the withdrawal of hundreds of workers and a production decline of at least 500,000 barrels a day.

The violence has continued despite the recent pledge by Nigeria's president, Olusegun Obasanjo, to crack down on armed groups in the region.

Sam Oyadoho, a journalist in Bayelsa state, says the payment of ransom to obtain freedom for kidnapped oil workers is responsible for the increasing attacks on foreign workers.

"The whole thing is like a business venture for these boys now," he said. "Most times when they say kidnap, kidnap, the next thing government officials will go and negotiate on behalf of the hostages. They will trouble-shoot on behalf of the hostages and get them released. Most times, they will tell us they didn't pay ransom. But if they were not paying ransom don't think this thing [kidnappings] will be so rampant. So, people on the street, you ask them, they see this whole thing as these boys taking advantage of seizing these people to get money."

Niger Delta groups say they are fighting for a greater share of the oil wealth. They say the inhabitants remain impoverished despite years of oil production, which has also damaged the environment.

Several foreigners have been kidnapped this year in the troubled region.

Armed groups in the delta say they are planning massive attacks against oil facilities in the next few days.

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