A three-year-old British toddler who was kidnapped last week in Nigeria's oil-rich Rivers state has been released and reunited with her family. Gilbert da Costa reports that Margaret Hill's abduction provoked a huge outcry.
Rivers state government spokesman Emmanuel Orkar says no ransom was paid for the release of Margaret Hill. He says her abductors had initially demanded a ransom payment of about $400,000.
"Clearly, the Rivers state government decided to make it very clear that they were not going to pay a dime to anybody," he said. "Negotiations began and initially they were asking for 50 million naira [about $400,000], and they kept going down. ... It now came to a point where they agreed and asked the SSS [State Security Service] to come and pick the baby at Ogbakiri."
Gunmen intercepted a car carrying Margaret to school on Thursday and kidnapped her, the first abduction of a foreign child in Nigeria's unruly oil region.
Her snatching triggered a storm of protests from many Nigerians, including President Umaru Yar'Adua, who dispatched the country's police chief to the region to help secure Margaret's release.
More than a dozen foreigners are being held by gunmen motivated by ransom, including five kidnapped last week from an offshore oil rig.
About 200 foreign workers have been abducted since the end of 2005, making criminal kidnapping widespread in Nigeria's main oil producing region.
Journalist Ibiba Don Pedro in Port Harcourt says a high-level complicity involving state officials is driving the kidnapping-for-ransom culture.
"The people have not even begun to learn to devise strategies to handle this situation as a people because it is clearly beyond them," he said. "The very people in power are the people at the center of this crisis."
Sunday, Nigerian television reported the kidnapping of three foreigners, believed to be either Lebanese or Chinese, from a compound in Port Harcourt.