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Nigeria: Group Blames Government, Oil Companies for Hostage Crisis

A kidnapped British oil worker, one of seven taken hostage this week, was reportedly killed yesterday when Nigerian security forces carried out a rescue operation in the troubled Niger Delta region. He was the first foreign oil worker to be killed since militants in the oil-rich region began taking hostages this year. Another hostage said to be an Italian, was reportedly injured during the operation. The surviving hostages were said to have been freed.

Mark Olefe is the director of administration for the Niger Delta People’s Salvation Front, the political wing of the Niger Delta struggle. He said the Nigerian government and multi-national oil companies in the region should be held accountable for the hostage taking.

“My group is not in any way responsible for taking of hostages. I think hostage taking has be done predominantly by youths of aggrieved communities in the Niger Delta, communities that are faced with direct effects of oil exploitation by way of environmental degradation on the part of the operating companies. Be that as it may, I think the focus should be on the oil industry to call on the government of Nigeria to implement the international standards for operations within affected areas,” he said.

Olefe said the Niger Delta People’s Salvation Front has in the past been able to negotiate the release of hostages. But he said the Nigerian government has misinterpreted this gesture.

“Of course, we can tell them not to take the hostages, which we have told them on some occasions, and they have released these persons because of our own plead. But in some cases, our own plead has been misconstrued for weakness by the Nigerian state. And to that extent, we feel that it is not our duty to start telling people not to air their grievances in their own way,” Olefe said.

He cited the example of Alhaji Mujuhid Dokubo Asari, the imprisoned leader of the Niger Delta separatist group, who he said arranged the release of hostages only for the Nigerian government to turn around and accuse him of being involved in the hostages’ seizure.

Olefe said the Niger Delta People’s Salvation Front want the immediate release of Dokubo Asari from further detention.

“It has always been our position that a man held unjustly should be released and apologized to, and damages should be paid to him,” Olefe said.

In an interview earlier this week with the VOA, Nigeria information Minister Frank Nweke compared the Niger Delta militants to terrorists. But Olefe said his group is not a terrorist organization.

“He is entitled to his opinion, and as I told you, my organization and even the leaders of the Niger Delta struggle are not involved in hostage taking. Our project is one of educating our people, calling on progressive forces all over the world to join us in demanding for environmental justice, social economic justice, and total liberation for our people,” Olefe said.

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