More Nigerian troops have arrived in the Niger Delta. Villagers, fearing a military reprisal after a recent wave of attacks on soldiers by members of an ethnic militia, are fleeing the area. Rights groups are worried about what they call the militarization of the delta.
More than 10 soldiers have been killed in recent attacks by suspected members of the ethnic Ijaw militia. The attacks have led to speculation that the authorities may be considering a major military offensive.
Human rights officials say they are particularly concerned about the presence of hundreds of soldiers in remote villages in the delta. Troops were accused of killing hundreds in the delta village of Odi in 1999 to avenge the killing of 12 policemen.
Stella Amadi of the Center for Democracy and Development in Abuja, says the military build-up reflects a lack of understanding of the dynamics of the problem in the Niger Delta.
"The situation in the delta is sad and we've always said in the human rights community that it is about governance, it is about developmental dividends," said Stella Amadi. "It is not about security. It is not about more military, more police people guarding the place. It is about how do we match the dividend of development with the huge resources accruing from that part of the country."
British and American diplomats have rejected the use of force to secure the release of four foreign workers being held by militants in the delta since January 11. President Olusegun Obasanjo has called the kidnapping as an act of criminality.
Mr. George Odah, secretary-general of Nigeria's largest labor group, the Nigeria Labor Congress, says the use of force may have severe adverse consequences.
"Our experience, not only in Nigeria but around the world, have shown that the use of force is fraught with a lot of dangers to the lives of the hostages themselves," said George Odah. "So, our first option, our preference is that we we should intensify dialogue and try to solve this through dialogue."
The Nigeria government is under pressure to bring the standoff to a quick end. It is also aware that it has to act carefully or risk worsening the present state of insecurity in the delta.