Nigerian officials have begun negotiations with armed protesters who invaded an oil pumping station in southern Bayelsa State, in the troubled Niger Delta. Oil workers are threatening to resume a suspended strike about worsening insecurity in the region.
An unknown number of workers, including soldiers, are believed to have been taken hostage when gunmen invaded an oil pumping station in the Niger Delta. The facility is owned by Italian energy giant Agip. Another flow station, run by the same company, is being occupied by another group of protesters, with a number of demands.
The ease with which militants have attacked what were supposed to be well-guarded oil facilities is baffling some officials.
Bayelsa State spokesman Ekiyor Welson conveys the frustration of the state government.
"The military people are not helping us. The military people have a responsibility of protecting the integrity of this country. How can military people be in a location and small, small boys will just come there and take over facilities? It is becoming very embarrassing," said Welson. "But, as a state government, we are going into it from the point of view of dialogue and negotiations. We are starting that this morning."
Militant groups in Nigeria have attacked oil facilities and abducted oil workers in violence that has crippled oil production, reducing output by about 500,000 barrels per day, since February.
Nigeria's two main oil unions are threatening to resume a strike they called off in September, protesting deteriorating security in the Niger Delta.
Peter Esele, national president of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, tells VOA widespread insecurity has created a deep sense of apprehension among oil workers.
"In a city like Port Harcourt, we have expats who would come, when we finish work, and everybody goes to the club in the night and have some drink, catch some fun. The expatriates, when they are even going for shopping, they have gun-totting MOPOL [special police squads] behind them," he said. "So ,what you now do is, leave your house, go to the office, come back to your office under tight security and, if you want to shop, leave your house with security go shopping with security, come back to the house. So, there is a lot of apprehension."
Nigeria is the world's eighth-largest oil exporter. Despite the billions of dollars earned annually in oil revenues, most inhabitants of the oil-rich Niger Delta remain desperately poor.