Quasi-News and Commentary
The expatriates who hang out at the Oyibos On Line website (http://www.oyibosonline.com), spent a good part of Friday afternoon discussing a threat that the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) allegedly made to abduct some unfortunate members of their number on Saturday January 27 in Warri. The old Nigeria hands seemed to take the threat in stride, but you can bet behind the levity they used to release the stress, this tight-knit community of mostly Brits, Americans and folks from many other countries that live in and around Port Harcourt, Warri and Eket are a lot more security conscious than they were last January.
“I must remember to keep a decent book with me,” posted on expat wag who goes by the Internet moniker “FatherJack.”
“Book? What about a portable DVD player. Suggested DVD? McGiver: The Complete Fourth Season (DVD -2005),” retorted someone who calls himself “Fullthrottle.”
They may have macho bravado on the message board, but if the truth be known, much of the expatriate communities of Rivers, Delta and Bayelsa states have been sleeping with one eye open since at least November, when the Niger Delta’s militants began notching up the pressure.
While there were no kidnappings in Warri on Saturday, that I know of, a Belgian expatriate working for a materials company, was murdered in the oil city, though.
Two gunmen hired to kill the man, along with the man’s Nigerian girlfriend and driver, have been arrested and charged with murder. Police allege they killed him for his personal property.
Crime and militancy are on the rise in the Niger Delta and there is no sign that either activity will slow down any time soon. For over a year, the expatriates who live in the oil producing region of Nigeria have been plagued with a growing epidemic of kidnappings.
At first, MEND took responsibility for many of the abductions. But there were plenty of wannabes waiting in the wings and extortion by kidnapping commited by newly formed “freedom fighters” seemed to surpass MEND’s kidnapping for a cause. Entrepreneurship at its best. Any community with a beef against the oil companies could decide to kidnap an expatriate. They became walking bank accounts.
Over 100 hostages who were abducted by known militant and wannabe militant groups, were caught and released between January 2006 and January 2007. Currently, almost 40 expatriates are being held against their will. Twenty-four are Filipino seamen being held on their German cargo ship. A date for their execution by their MEND captors has come and gone and to date, the militants have not received any of their demands.
Expatriates have also been killed. This has prompted the Filipino government to request that Nigeria not interfere or try to rescue their citizens who are being held. Since the beginning of the militant’s campaign, three other expatriates have been killed. One was a manager for the Baker Hughes Oil Service Company who was gunned down on his way to work last May. In December last year, a British citizen was killed during a botched rescue attempt by the Nigerian Navy. And on January 16, a Durch citizen was caught in the crossfire during a robbery.
Up until now, the response by the Nigerian Army has been minimal at best. They are very reluctant to fight the militants in their own back yard, choosing instead to try and draw them into the cities. Last year, the Army burned several shanty town around Port Harcourt in an attempt to flush out members of MEND they thought might be hiding there. It did nothing morfe than incite the poor people who were displaced and make the government look worse than it already did.
Yesterday in Warri, agents from the State Security Service in Delta State, raided the homes of suspected MEND members. They had been tipped that several leaders of the group would be in Warri to attended the wedding of one of their members. Apparently MEND had been tipped off as well. No militants were to be found and the wedding was postponed.
The battle for the oil resources of the Niger Delta has yet to be played out. Some people believe that the situation will escalate until sometime after April elections. We can only hope.
Wordworks2001 is a retired US Army master sergeant. He lives in Indiana and works in Nigeria, where he currently is located. His blog is at http://wordworks2001.blogspot.com.