And the kidnappings are escalating.
IN LAGOS, NIGERIA
IN NIGERIA’S oil-rich south, foreign workers are known as “white gold” among the gangs who kidnap them for ransom.
“Ah, the whites are coming,” chuckled one young gang member as a heavily-guarded oil company convoy sped through Port Harcourt, sirens blaring. “It’s like ice cream vans in your country.”
Nigeria is Africa’s largest producer of crude oil, or “black gold”. But the country is in the grip of a kidnapping epidemic, with more than 150 foreigners seized so far this year, including many Britons and a woman and child – nearly double the total for all of last year.
The attacks have contributed to a drop in production of about 25 per cent, driving up oil prices worldwide with no end to the kidnappings in sight.Ransoms are fuelling the surge, gang members and oil industry officials say. They also claim a cut goes to the government officials who shuttle between the gunmen in the swamps and professional negotiators flown in from Paris or London.
“Absolutely not true,” Rivers state spokesman Emmanuel Okah said earlier this week.
But a militant from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, a group behind a number of high-profile kidnappings said all sides pocket a portion of the ransom.
“Practically everyone involved in hostage negotiations has had his hands soiled,” the militant said on condition of anonymity. “Officials merely up the demands of the abductors and keep the rest to themselves, most times unknown to the abductors.”