Posted by By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South on
IN what appears to be a return to the sad era of kidnapping and taking oil workers hostage in the Niger Delta, militant Ijaw youths from Iduwuni kingdom in Ekeremor Local Government Area of Bayelsa State
IN what appears to be a return to the sad era of kidnapping and taking oil workers hostage in the Niger Delta, militant Ijaw youths from Iduwuni kingdom in Ekeremor Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, in a mafia-like operation, Wednesday, took hostage on the high sea, two German expatriates and four Nigerians, all workers of Bilfinger Berger (B+B), a subsidiary of Julius Berger and a contracting company to the Anglo-Dutch oil giant, the Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC.
Given last weekend’s ultimatum by 13 communities in both Bayelsa and Rivers States on the SPDC to stop all exploration, production and transmission facilities in their areas, including the Natural Gas Plant, the EGGS 1 and II, the Gas Transmission System (GTS) to the NLNG, Bonny plant and the Non Associated Gas Wells Drilling project and threat on the Chevron Oil Company by the Makaraba community in Warri South West local government area of the state, Wednesday’s abduction of six oil workers may well mean the return of trouble in the Niger Delta.
The German Amabassador in Nigeria, Mr. Dietmer Kreusel who got wind of the kidnap while on a visit to Asaba and immediately rushed down to Warri to discuss with B+B officials. Project manager of the company , Mr. Thomas Horbach gave the names of the kidnapped German officials as Haug Thomas and Rolf Putzig. The four Nigerians are Ikwerre Ekpo, Peter Shosho, Jacob Bebenibo and Austin Oghenerema. The workers were said to have been kidnapped on their way to Tunu Flow Station of the SPDC at Dodo creeks in an eight-seater double-engine imported speedboat.
So, why did the Ijaw youths operating under the auspices of the Iduwini National Movement for Peace and Development (INMPD) resort to the same old tactics of kidnapping oil workers when everybody thought that the time of such a crude method was gone in the Niger Delta?
President of the INMPD, Mr. Manse T.I.T Manse who led the armed youths that kidnapped the six oil workers told Saturday Vanguard on phone, Wednesday afternoon, that they took the oil workers working for the SPDC hostage to compel the company to stop its oppression against the people, to stop environmental degradation; discuss with the community the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), signed in 2000 with Iduwini host communities and also provide jobs for the people as agreed.
SPDC officials who also spoke to Saturday Vanguard on the condition of anonymity said the company does not have any axe to grind with Iduwini people, adding that the company has done well for the community and further advised that the people should apply for job when the company advertises in the media.
The INMPD President in a letter, dated March 31, addressed to the Bayelsa State governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, entitled "Our Case With Multi-National Oil Companies, Particularly SPDC and its Ancillary Companies in Iduwini Kingdom" said: "What the public is seeing today from our reaction in taking our destinies in our hands is not only a quarrel that started in recent time but an assemblage of unjustified injuries caused the entire Iduwini kingdom and the Amatu community in particular." He lamented what he termed oppression, environmental invasion and unconstitutional discrimination against his people.
Mr. Manse claimed that the SPDC started its first operation in Iduwini kingdom which hosts four major oil fields: Agbamu, owned by Chevron; Bonga; Eja ; E.A and Tunu, owned by the SPDC in 1969 and left when its oil drilling rig caught fire in the high sea. He said the kingdom has nothing to show for the all these oil fields in its domain, adding that the abandoned rig has constituted a death trap since 1969, causing the death of over 40 persons.
He also recalled an incidence on October 15, 2003, when "17 persons of the INMPD visited the premises of (a shipping company) in Port Harcourt for the purpose of seeking employment for youths in Iduwini kingdom but the company caused mobile policemen and Ikwerre youths to attack the members on the grounds that Port Harcourt is not Bayelsa state.
"The members were also detained as common criminals and were arraigned before court for prosecution which is still pending in charge No. PMC/1315c/2003. Also, as a fallout of the attack, one Edwin Biboye who was amongst the 17 persons is still missing till date", he said.
The movement demanded the sum of 20 million dollars as damages for the over 40 souls killed by the burnt rig and as compensation for the lost of fishing right over the area from 1969 to date; removal of the burnt rig in not more than six months after paying the compensation;
fulfilment of all the terms agreed in the MoU with the Iduwini host communities; N20 million compensation to Amatu community and the families of the two surveillance workers allegedly killed at the EA oil field, production of Mr. Edwin Biboye alive within 14 days of settlement of the imbroglio; refund of all expenses incurred in the defence of the prosecution of the charge PMC/1315c/2003 and all other sundry expenses which may have arisen thereto, among other things.
The Bayelsa State government had intervened in December 2004 when the youths kidnapped a Croatian, Mr. Ivans Roso, a staff of Maersk Nigeria Limited, in the bid to get the company to discuss with Iduwini people. Governor Alamieyeseigha directed that the grievances of the communities be heard and resolved while the Croatian should be released .
Earlier in April, this year, the Bayelsa State Commissioner for Environment had written the Deputy Governor, on ways to check the rising tension and lamented SPDC’s inability to honour the ministry’s invitations to meetings with a view to addressing the grievances of the communities.
Barely one and half months after this warning, the Iduwini youths struck, sending shock waves all over the country. As at Thursday, the company was said to have contacted the Bayelsa State government which had opened talks with leaders of the militant youths on how to secure the release of the hostages. The German Ambassador was also said to have contacted the Federal Government to ensure the release of his nationals.
But Manse insisted in an interview with Saturday Vanguard that they would not release the hostages until the conditions which they spelt out in their letter to Alamieyeseigha were met.
However, the Commander of the Joint Task Force on the Niger Delta, Brigadier General Elias Zamani said, Thursday afternoon, that the Task Force was in contact with the Bayelsa government, which was discussing with the youths on the release of the hostages.
He said the Task Force has decided to give the state government time to discuss with the youths and secure the release of the hostages and would only consider an invasion of the hideout where the youths were keeping the hostages only if the negotiation with the state government fails.
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