Russians escape but booming abduction business continues

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Following the escape of two Russian hostages, reportedly abducted by gunmen in the middle of the night at Ikot Abasi of the restive Niger Delta two months ago, many have questioned the rise in so called militant activities which have been wrought with criminal intentions. Both foriegn workers in the region’s oil industry and local residents have been targeted with one simple objective; money.

The two abductees are Russian employees of UC Rusal at the Alscon aluminium smelter escaped from their captors but could not reach safety as they got stranded in the Niger Delta creeks for five days before being rescued by Nigerian troops. This is said to be the first case of kidnapped expatriates escaping from their kidnappers who are yet to be identified.

Confirming the report, the Nigerian military spokeperson, Lt Col Sagir Musa, indicated that the two men had been able to escape from their abductors. More than 200 foreigners have been kidnapped by militants in the Niger Delta, the heart of the country’s oil industry, since 2006.

In recent times, doing business has become unbearable following the skyrocketing of costs to hire expatraite workers as well as a systematic refusal of experts to move to the area, owing to the deplorable level of insecurity. In consequence, officials have reported a halt in the placement of expatriates until they are sure that the region’s deplorable insecurity has been brought under control.

In the Niger Delta region, unemployed youths and guns are in abundance. This has given rise to numerous rebel groups, whose objectives have become as diverse as their numbers: violently attacking the oil business, the military, civilians as well as each other.

Militancy, armed robbery and criminal activity now go hand in glove in the Niger Delta. Abductions and extortions have become a real business industry. In a recent investigation, it was revealed that some of the brains behind the abductions shamelessly connive with some traditional rulers to share ransom fees paid by oil companies. Militants have in most cases warned companies not to reveal that they pay to get their abducted workers freed, threatening a bloody confrontation should they disobey.

The government under President Umaru Yar’ adua has tried to get key decision makers, including militants, to a summit where they hope a solution can be agreed to the problems of the Niger Delta and a special ministry was created for this purpose but little progress has been made. Top of the list of things the Ministry wanted to achieve, observers say, is an agreement from militants to put their weapons down.

But it is also believed that militant groups have increased in number, most of them (if not all) with criminal intentions, and getting them to put down their guns would need more than just negotiating with known militant groups.

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