Militants in Nigeria’s southern Niger Delta warned on Friday that they would carry out more kidnappings from oil installations after the military rescued 19 hostages from one of their camps this week.
“Our fighters have being instructed to carry out more raids on oil installations from where fresh hostages will be taken,” the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said in a statement emailed to media.Nigeria’s security forces handed 19 foreign and local hostages to their employers after freeing them from militant camps in the creeks of the Niger Delta oil region.
This call comes after recent reports of hostages being rescued late on Wednesday.
The hostages — two Americans, two Frenchmen, two Indonesians, one Canadian and 12 Nigerians — were rescued late on Wednesday Charles Omoregie, said commander of a military taskforce in the Niger Delta.
The release of the hostages is a victory for President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration at a time when militants, who have in the past caused major disruption to the OPEC member’s mainstay oil industry, looked to be staging a comeback, reports Reuters.
Jonathan is the first head of state from the Niger Delta and brokered an amnesty with armed gangs there last year. Resurgent unrest, including car bombings claimed by the oil region’s main militant group in Abuja on October 1, risked undermining his credibility ahead of elections next April.
“Anyone who thinks they can hold the government hostage should rethink,” Jonathan’s aide Hassan Tukur said in London.
Jonathan commended the military for accomplishing the operation “without any bloodshed or loss of innocent lives” and said retraining programmes for those “genuine militants” who took the amnesty last year would continue.
Omoregie said the military had taken over several suspected militant camps in the region’s three main states including those run by a newly emerging kingpin, known as Obese.
“Two camps have been taken over in Delta, two in Bayelsa and three in Rivers … (The hostages) were all rescued from Obese’s camp here in Rivers state after a sustained military operation.”
He said the raids started on Monday and that Obese, thought to be a new field commander of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) militant group, had contacted the security forces via former militant leaders who accepted amnesty last year to tell them he was ready to surrender.
“The raid on his camp led to his decision to hand over the hostages,” Omoregie said, adding Obese was now on the run.
There were no arrests or deaths, according to Omoregie, suggesting the military facilitated the hostages’ exit after negotiations rather than freeing them by force.
Previous kidnappings in the Niger Delta have ended after a ransom payment, but Omoregie said no money changed hands.
The seven expatriates were taken from an offshore oil rig operated by exploration firm Afren on November 7. Eight of the Nigerians were abducted from an Exxon Mobil platform a week later, while the remaining four were employees of local construction firm Julius Berger.
One hostage, Canadian Robert Croke, described the ordeal.
“It was a shocking experience. They gave us mattresses to sleep on, virtually nothing else. We were begging for food and water because what we had was exhausted,” he told reporters.
“We were not maltreated, they were not hostile to us, it was just that we lacked the basic necessities,” said Croke, his foot bandaged after a bullet fired by the kidnappers during his abduction ricocheted and injured his toe.
One of the Indonesian hostages, Robert Tampubolon who works for local firm Century Energy Services Ltd, was elated.
“I am just excited. I have no words to express my joy,” he said as he was greeted by his manager at the Nigerian air force base in the oil hub of Port Harcourt.
MEND claimed responsibility for the attacks on Afren and Exxon and had warned of more strikes against the oil industry. It had also warned the security forces against any operation to free the hostages, saying it would endanger their lives.
Croke said a military helicopter had hovered over the camp several times before the release and that the militants had started fleeing when the military presence intensified.
Omoregie praised the role that former MEND field commanders including Boyloaf and Farah Dagogo, who accepted last year’s amnesty, played in ensuring the release of the hostages.
He said Obese — a former Dagogo follower whom security sources have blamed for a spate of recent kidnappings — had contacted Dagogo to say he was ready to release the captives.
“This is a great success for the government and military,” said Peter Sharwood-Smith, Nigeria country manager for risk consultancy Drum Cussac.
“(The former field commanders) signed up to the amnesty and despite everything, what they want is investment and development and that isn’t going to happen while fighting continues.”
Previous campaigns by MEND fighters have knocked out a significant chunk of Nigeria’s oil production, currently averaging around 2.2 million barrels per day (bpd), and cost it as much as US$1 billion a month in lost revenues.