Posted by By Emma Amaize, Simon Ebegbulem, Emma Arubi & Paul Bebeminibo on
SIX of the nine foreign oil workers seized on February 18 by Niger Delta militants were released last night by their abductors.
*Five others released too less than an hour later
*MEND says March ultimatum to oil firms stays
WARRI—SIX of the nine foreign oil workers seized on February 18 by Niger Delta militants were released last night by their abductors.
First to breathe the air of freedom was Macon Hawkins, an American, who arrived the Miller Waterside Jetty in Warri at 6.45pm. Incidentally, it was Hawkins' 69th birthday.
He told Vanguard that his abductors showed him and others tremendous respect. “They called me papa,” he said.
He was accompanied to Warri by some foreign journalists including one each from Associated Press (AP) and BBC after his release to the committee set up by the Delta State Government to secure the hostages' release. They all arrived Warri in two speed boats.
Armed with machine-guns and rocket-propelled grenades, the militants appeared out of the mango creeks to deliver Mr Hawkins. “He was released on account of his age and poor health with a stern warning not to return to the Niger Delta unless as a visitor,” the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said in a statement. “No ransom for him or any other hostage has been demanded or received,” it said.
The other five hotage, Semsac Mhadhune and Arak Suwana (Thais), Anthony Santos (Filipino), Feisal Mohammed and Shedefy Senany (Egyptians), were released less than an hour later.
Earlier yesterday, MEND had sent a text message to Vanguard, saying it had effected the release of three of the hostages on health grounds. It said it had “no desire to harm the hostages unless we are compromised.” It said its March 5 ultimatum to foreign oil workers to quit the region remains.
Mr. Hawkins who wore a white shirt looked exhausted and apprehensive as he alighted from the boat that brought him to Warri from the creeks. He was immediately driven to Government House Annex Warri in a Prado Jeep with number plate Delta AE 141 GRA by the Director of the State Security Service (SSS), Mr. Babalola Adebayo.
On arrival at Government House, Mr. Hawkins who is diabetic immediately called his wife in the USA to inform her of his release on health ground. He told his wife that his abductors were demanding that the Federal Government should develop the Niger Delta.
Governor James Ibori later drove in from his home town, Oghara, to meet Mr. Hawkins.
With him were the Secretary to the State Government, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan; Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark and the State Commissioner for Ethnic Conflict, Mr. Macauley Ovuozuorie.
Mr. Hawkins had only last weekend when some journalists were allowed access to the hostages pledged for his release on health ground. Asked what he wanted for his birthday, he replied: “Freedom” and laughed heartily. He told Vanguard yesterday that he was kept in an airconditoned room by his abductors.
Another hostage, Semsak Mhadmhe, urged government to improve the lot of the people of the region. He described them as friendly people.
The militants’ terms for peace were handed over to Governor Ibori by the President of the Federated Niger Delta Ijaw Communities, Chief Bello Oboko. Governor Ibori expressed gratitude to the militants for releasing the six hostages but pledged for the freedom of the remaining three. He said there was no reason for their continued detention.
Also speaking, Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark, said the militants were not irresponsible but educated people.
The three hostages still with the militants are Cowdy Oswall and Pussel Spell both Americans and John Hadsmith, a Briton.
It was gathered that MEND was awaiting government’s response to the release of the six hostages before taking action on the remaining three. It was not known whether the conditions are different from the ones earlier given by the militants.
Hostages in good health— US Ambassador
However, hours before the release yesterday, the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr John Campbell, said the three American citizens kidnapped along six other foreign oil workers in the Niger Delta were in good conditions even as he confirmed that the US government was providing anti-terrorist assistance by way of equipment to security agencies in the country to help fight terrorism.
He spoke as the Inspector-General of Police, Mr Sunday Ehindero, announced that the Police would soon establish a special squad to handle anti-terrorism activities, adding that United States assistance would be welcomed in the area of provision of specialised equipment for the squad.
Speaking in Abuja at the handing over of anti-riot and anti-terrorism equipment to the Police, Ambassador Campbell declined to comment on the position of some of the demands of the militants, who among other things, want the American and British government representatives to jointly sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), committing them and the Nigerian government to the release of Asari Dokubo and former Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, as well as the payment of some money by multi-national oil companies for environmental degradation.
According to him, “in as much as I want to confirm that three American citizens are among those still being held, I want to report that they are in good healthy condition and that any other information concerning the way negotiation and the several demands of the hostage takers can be gotten from the Nigerian government.”
Before handing over the equipment, he said: “In this era of terrorism and increasing violence throughout the world, the need for a competent, well-trained and well-equipped police force cannot be over stressed. Here in Nigeria, recent events in the Niger Delta, Onitsha, and Maiduguri have brought this fact home to Nigerians like never before."
These terms and conditions contain rules about posting comments. By submitting a comment, you are declaring that you agree with these rules:
Failure to comply with these rules may result in being banned from further commenting.
These terms and conditions are subject to change at any time and without notice.