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Nigeria Intensifies Search for Kidnapped Chinese Workers

The search for five Chinese telecommunication workers kidnapped Friday in Southern Nigeria has been intensified following President Olusegun Obasanjo's pledge to get them released as soon as possible. For VOA, Gilbert da Costa in Abuja reports that the rising violence in the Niger Delta is also having a huge impact on national revenues.

The Nigerian police say they have made little progress in tracking the kidnappers of the five Chinese in the troubled Niger Delta.

President Olusegun Obasanjo had assured the Chinese ambassador in Nigeria that he would take personal responsibility for the early release of the hostages.

Rivers state Police Commissioner Felix Ogbaudu told VOA that a huge manhunt for the Chinese has, so far, not produced sufficient result. He also denied reports that the kidnappers have made a ransom demand.

"We've not found them yet. We're still working; we've not found them yet. A lot of rumors are flying all over the place," he said. "All such information, all such rumors and, all such things.... we are aware, but nothing positive has come out of them."

The government announced Monday that Nigeria lost more than $4 billion in revenue last year as a result of incessant attacks on the oil industry.

Thousands of soldiers and special police units have been deployed in the region to curb the growing militancy.

Ogbaudu says security personnel in the region on duty in the oil rich region are now under instruction to remain combat ready at all times.

"The boys [militants] have their men loitering around the place and the moment they know the security men are not at alert, they spring surprises on them and do what they do," he said. "So, we keep on talking to the boys [troops] to make sure they are alert at all times. So that nobody springs a surprise on them. If there is an attack they should be able to repel it."

Several kidnappings of foreign oil workers and killings of Nigerian troops took place in the Niger Delta in 2006.

Armed militants in the region are holding nine foreigners hostage, including the five Chinese.

Nigeria, Africa's largest oil producer, relies on oil for more than 95 percent of its foreign exchange earnings.