Armed gangs have abducted four foreign oil contractors in a fresh wave of kidnappings in the troubled Niger Delta. Nigeria now faces the prospect of a long-term drop in oil production.
An unknown group on Friday seized three Philippine workers near the Bonny oil and gas facility in Southern Nigeria. A German contractor had been kidnapped less than 24 hours earlier in nearby Port Harcourt.
The abduction of oil workers in the Niger Delta has become the main strategy of militants fighting for local control of the region's oil wealth. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, has carried out a series of attacks on the oil industry since the beginning of this year. But MEND has denied any involvement in the latest incidents.
George Onah, a journalist in Port Harcourt, says criminal gangs with no direct links to the Delta agitation are behind the abductions. "Those who are doing these are just some miscreants, some people who just want money,” said Ohah. “And I have a feeling that it is not the real people who have been doing all the kidnappings, certainly not, because here in Port Harcourt for instance, the heart of the city, these people do not kidnap people within the city but maybe some village boys somewhere went for this German, they picked him up and they are now demanding some money. It is a sign of hunger, if you allow that, poverty and all that."
Oil production in Nigeria, Africa's largest producer, has now been cut by about 800,000 barrels a day, worth $63 million. This is a huge loss for the West African country, which suffers from poverty and underdevelopment despite being a leading oil and gas producer.
Industry watchers say the emergence of criminal gangs who target foreign oil workers for money could complicate insecurity in the region and compound the problems of the already struggling oil industry.
An armed group that had invaded an oil flow station left only last Monday after being paid more than $200,000 by the Italian owner of the facility.
The Niger Delta is the source of Nigeria's oil and gas, but most of its people live in poverty. Angry militants have vowed to compel the Nigerian authorities to accept its demand for at least 50 percent of the oil revenue.
Oil communities currently receive a 13 percent share of the oil revenue.