Abduction of Oil Workers


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Abduction of Oil Workers: Matters Arising


February 9, 2006 culled from The Guardian

It was indeed a great relief for Nigerians and the entire world, as militants in the Niger Delta finally released four foreign oil workers taken and held in captivity for 19 days. A source of the relief is firstly that no one was killed in the saga. The episode presents a chance for deep reflection by the Federal Government as well as restive youths in the oil producing areas on how best to address the recurring problems associated with the geographical enclave.   Hostage taking, as a means of expressing grievances, is detestable as it constitutes an extreme measure. It is in this light that most Nigerians who spoke during the period of the workers' captivity expressed displeasure at the action of the hostage-takers. We cannot agree more with them. Besides, the Federal Government might have been forced to adopt drastic measures in tackling the issue, which could have aggravated a tense situation. The lives of the hostages could have been seriously endangered, while the country stood to lose face in the international community as an entity that has no respect for law and order.  


Nevertheless, the best way to look at the unfortunate incident is from the perspective of a serious problem that has been left to linger for too long. It has consequently degenerated into a dastardly phase of kidnapping. The whole country stands to blame in this regard, but the government must take greater responsibility. It would seem that all along, the Federal Government had relaxed and felt accomplished in actions taken in the last six years to placate people of the Niger Delta whose lamentation over degradation of their environment has nonetheless increased.  


Militants operating in the Niger Delta attacked an oil company's offshore platform on January 11 this year and captured four foreigners who work for Royal Dutch Shell. The group, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), later demanded, as conditions for releasing the workers, the release of Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF) leader, Alhaji Mujahid Asari-Dokubo, who is currently facing treason charges. Similarly, MEND demanded the release of former governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha who is in Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) custody over money-laundering charges and bail jumping in the United Kingdom. The group also demanded that Shell should pay $1.5 billion in compensation for local communities affected by oil spills.   Although the hostage-takers said they were letting the captives go on "humanitarian grounds", the release itself was brokered by a team of government officials from the Niger Delta, led by the new Bayelsa State Governor, Goodluck Jonathan who brought the hostages to Abuja. President Olusegun Obasanjo had, while receiving the workers pledged not to succumb to undue pressure, warning the abductors, who he called "criminals", against over-stretching government's patience.   The president should do more than scolding the militants.
He should not view them as having "no genuine complaints". We do not believe that the militants would go to the extreme extent they did, if they truly had no genuine complaint. What the situation calls for is a reappraisal of the measures already in place in the Niger Delta including the full disbursement of derivation fund to oil producing states and adequate funding of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).   Clearly, the measures are not working as they should. It will be simplistic to dismiss the militants' action as arising only from greed. There is a fundamental problem that has not been effectively addressed, namely the neglect and marginalisation of the Niger Delta as the major source of the country's revenue. It can be emotionally and economically devastating for the region producing oil to be the least developed in the country.   There should be a proper attempt at redressing these problems.


Using force as the government often does or taking hostages by the militants can only worsen the situation. Already, soldiers are reported to have been killed in the region. We must not allow a situation whereby more innocent souls, be they foreigners or Nigerians, are wasted. We expect new measures to be put in place to include an effective monitoring of how money derived directly or indirectly from oil goes into the Niger Delta. At the moment, it appears there is duplication in the work being done by the states and the NDDC. This can be avoided with a more targeted function for the NDDC. Some states are probably not spending their derivation funds on projects that will benefit the people. Niger Delta governors should therefore, realise that they have even greater role to play in uplifting their people from poverty and squalor.   The hostage episode presents an opportunity for a new and concerted effort towards redressing the problems in the area. This effort which must necessarily include all stakeholders should attempt a clearer definition of
roles and responsibilities for all concerned parties. These should include the federal and state governments, local governments, NDDC, oil companies, the NNPC and the people. A new initiative for instance could also consider some form of equity participation of the states in oil producing activities in the area. When the people are directly involved in running their own affairs and taking crucial decisions, they will be less inclined to blame others or resort to extreme measures.


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