Posted by By Hector Igbikiowubo, Vienna, Emma Amaize, Sam Oyadongha, Habib Yakoob, Simon Ebegbulem & Paul Bebenimibo on
FOR the four foreign oil workers abducted by militants in the Niger Delta, the final journey to freedom began at about 5 a.m. yesterday in the mangrove of the Niger Delta.
YENAGOA—FOR the four foreign oil workers abducted by militants in the Niger Delta, the final journey to freedom began at about 5 a.m. yesterday in the mangrove of the Niger Delta. The take-off point was not immediately clear, but it was somewhere between the Delta and Bayelsa States boundary. They arrived Yanagoa through the Sagbama waterways about an hour later, accompanied by the Secretary to the Bayelsa State Government (SSG), Mr. Boladei Igali.
Nigel Watson Clark (Briton), Patrick Landry (America), Harry Ebanks (Honduran) and Milko Nichev (Bulgarian) were handed over to the SSG by the abductors.
The militants said their action was on humanitarian ground, but military sources said the abductors simply had no option than to release the hostages because the noose was tightening round their (abductors’) necks.
A military source said the abductors hurriedly released the hostages and vowed that they (abductors) would still be arrested and prosecuted.
Said the source: “Remember I told you (Vanguard) before we arrested some of their members, last week, that we would pick them up in two days time. And indeed, we arrested three of them. They gave us very useful information on the sponsors and the foot soldiers but we could not personally reach the kidnappers because of the terrain and communication problem.
“We, therefore, hatched a plan and asked their members whom we released, last Thursday, to get in touch with the kidnappers and ask them to release the hostages on or before tomorrow (Tuesday) in their own interest.
“We were to re-arrest them (suspects) by Wednesday if they failed to get their colleagues to release the kidnappers. That was the agreement they reached with us and if they failed, our plan was to storm the kidnappers’ den with them as our guides and whatever any of them got in turn would have been his own cup of tea. Well, sanity prevailed and they released the hostages.
“But that is not the end of the matter. We are going to get them wherever they have run to. I told you that we know who they are and our men are out to catch them. They cannot be giving government conditions for anything when what they did is criminal,” he said.
The kidnappers were reportedly alarmed by the report from their colleagues that government was not prepared for any peace deal with them and that their identities were already known. “The only option left for them as at weekend was to release the hostages and run for their dear lives”, the source said.
Vanguard learnt that there was confusion in the camp of MEND as many groups were involved in the bid by government to free the hostages and the militants did not really know who to believe or work with among them.
One of those personally contacted by President Olusegun Obasanjo to negotiate with the kidnappers, Chief Bello Oboko, leader of the Federated Niger Delta Ijaw Communities (FNDIC) told Vanguard, yesterday, that it was true that the militia group found itself in a dilemma. He said the FNDIC outlined the terms for the release, both on the part of government and the kidnappers but because they were so many people and groups involved in it, confusion soon set in. Chief Oboko, however, said he was happy that the hostages were finally released yesterday.
The hostages arrived Government House, Yenagoa at about 6a.m and departed for Port Harcourt by helicopter to catch a flight to Abuja. With them was Governor Goodluck Jonathan who had contacted President Obasanjo on the release.
It was gathered that attempt by their employers to have them return to Warri for them to change their clothes before proceeding to Abuja was turned down by an elated Gov. Jonathan who insisted that they be flown to Abuja.
They arrived the Port Harcourt International Airport from Bayelsa at about 9.15a.m. Efforts by pressmen to secure comments from them were fruitless. Even photographers were not allowed to take shots. One of them who dared, had his camera seized. They later departed to Abuja in an Air Force jet plane with Gov. Jonathan at about 10.45a.m.
President Obasanjo receiving them at State House Abuja vowed that the Federal Government would never allow a repeat of hostage-taking in Nigeria, dubbing the youths who kidnapped the four oil workers as “criminals.”
The hostages looked rough, unkempt, wearing bushy bears, and on shirts and shorts, the clothes they wore when they were kidnapped by the militant youths of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND).
Speaking at the State House briefing room where he received them in company of the Governor of Bayelsa State, Chief of Staff to the President, General Abdullahi Mohammed (rtd), Head of Service, Alhaji Yayale Ahmed, Obasanjo said the kidnappers deserved to be treated as criminals, even as he thanked God that the kidnapped oil workers were not harmed or killed by the rampaging youths.
“I want to thank God for your lives. It doesn’t matter what we might have done, it is for the fact that God has spared your lives that you are alive today. Whether the incident happened or did not happen, the fact that you are alive today is by the grace of God.
“I also want to appreciate your forbearance, tolerance, your endurance and the fact that you bore it all. Because, keeping you the way you have been kept, and as long as you have been kept, I believe is the height of (man’s) inhumanity to man. But we thank God that we are here, and that very soon you will be united with your families,” he said, adding that the latest hostage was “longest and the most traumatic” in the history of hostage taking in Nigeria.
Speaking on the development in Vienna yesterday, Dr. Edmund Daukoru, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources and President of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) said the release underscored the prevalent conducive environment for business in the Niger Delta.
“I think it’s been a very good signal. I more or less made a commitment and so has Mr. President that this is an isolated incident. We are grateful to their abductors that the hostages were released unharmed.
This development is encouraging and investors should take a cue from it. Nigeria is safe for investment. They should come in and take advantage of the favourable investment climate,” he said.
US lauds FG
The United States yesterday commended the Federal Government for helping to secure the release of the four hostages in the Niger Delta. The US Embassy in Abuja, said Washington was prepared to cooperate with Nigeria in addressing the long-standing problem in the region.
“The US government was delighted with he news received this morning that the four hostages being held in the Niger Delta have been released. The Nigerian government is to be commended for the positive resolution of this situation and for the restraint that it has shown”, it said, adding: “We look forward to working with the appropriate authorities to address the long standing problem in the Delta.”
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