Barely 48 hours after six hostages kidnapped by militants in Port Harcourt, Rivers State on August 13, 2006 were freed two expatriates working for Saipem, an oil servicing company affiliated with Agip oil were late Thursday night kidnapped.
Also, a soldier described as head of a team in the area simply called "Cracker" was killed and another of his colleague shot in the leg by the rampaging militants who stormed the place from the water front before disappearing again through the same route.
All efforts to get the company to confirm the names of the affected oil workers suspected to be Italians were rebuffed by a security man at the gate of the oil servicing firm on the excuse that following the incident, workers did not turn up work.
However, one of the over 3,000 displaced settlers around the site said that one of the men taken hostage was popularly called 'Sobaja Mario' while the identity of the second hostage was yet to be known.
The militants, who the villagers suspect came from Tombia and Bakana given their tongue and appearance stormed the barracks like settlement about 9.45pm while the expatriates were having fun in the Rumuolumeni joint.
"There were about four expatriates drinking and dancing makossa with girls at Carols Bar when suddenly the boys came through the creeks wearing army camouflage. One of the expatriates who was recently accorded a chieftaincy title seemed to have understood what was happening and told them that they could not hurt him, that after all they gave him a chieftaincy title and waved his hands in the air to showcase the beads.
"That gave him enough room to maneuver and he escaped with another of his colleague but the other two did not understand what was going on and were taken away. It was then that the soldiers realised they were not one of them and tried to do something. The head of the team was shot in the head and another of them shot on the leg before they escaped with the expatriates", an eyewitness said.
Later the soldiers who were taken unawares came back and started shooting sporadically. They poured fuel on the makeshift houses and set them ablaze with all the wares in them.
One Priscilla West who sells yam had a heap of her yam roasted by the flame and hungry residents went there to pick some to assuage their hunger while bottles dissolved by the heat of the flame were scattered everywhere.
West lamented that the people that carried out the kidnap did not come from their area while another Saipem source doubted that people from Bakana and Tombia could carry out the raid without the assistance of people from Ogbakiri.
When contacted, the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Samuel Adetuyi referred us to the Army while the Army Public Relations Officer, Major Sagir Musa confirmed the story acknowledging that a soldier was killed while they in turn killed one of the raider and wounded four.
Although he said he was meeting with some top shots in the army to determine an appropriate response, he would not comment on why the army burnt the settlement long after the militants had left. He, however, admitted that they recovered five rifles from the hoodlums.
When THISDAY visited Saipem, only one expatriate looking tired was directing affairs at the gate while a bus marked AE 901 NEM and loaded with some of the expatriate workers was leaving the premises.
A peep inside the compound showed a high level military presence as soldiers and policemen were seen either in their truck or moving around in twos.
Meanwhile, the Movement Of the Niger Delta People (MONDP) yesterday expressed regret about its departure from its initial aim of protecting the rights of Niger Delta people and called for immediate stoppage to the practice of hostage taking.
It cited the exploitation of the tactics for other gains which were outside the initial plans of protecting the interest and rights of the people of the region from oppressive laws and actions. This was in apparent reference to the monetary demands which now attend kidnap cases.
An online release by spokesman of MONDP, Mr. Preye Amazo said the movement now doubts if they could still achieve the aim of their struggle which are to emancipate the people ad free their leaders, Alhaji Dokubo Asari and former Governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha and therefore called for a total reappraisal of the agenda of the struggle.
According to Amazo, the group after due consultations arrived at a 10-point agenda, which includes doing everything within its powers to achieve peace in the Niger Delta; to cease with immediate effect all action which could be interpreted as hostile and inimical to peace and to support all group efforts aimed at achieving peace
"That the Movement Of The Niger Delta People hereby calls on all other Groups in the struggle to adopt the option of dialogue and discussion as a means of negotiation instead of the hostage taking method which has now been hijacked to accomplish some other counter productive interests as thus resulted in the violence and crises witnessed in the Niger Delta recently."
The group vowed to protect the interest of all Niger Delta youths who identify with the new move to stop violence since it would create synergy of those who genuinely want to achieve peace as they are handling all matter step by step with concerned stakeholders.
It, however, asked the Federal Government to reconsider the military option it has employed and urged that the Bill at the National Assembly to give legal teething to military actions in the area should be withdrawn as it can only serve to aggravate the situation
It called for restraint on the part of forces already deployed against the usual practice brazenness and occupation mentality in the prosecution of their mandate while the government should on its own, speed up the trial process of Dokubo and Alamei-yeseigha in a judicious manner devoid of government interference.
Meanwhile, the the State Security Service (SSS) yesterday arrested the leader of a militant group, which specialised in abducting expatriates working in the Niger Delta.
The suspect, Nicholas Dickson, an indegene of Akugbene in Bomadi Local Government Area of Delta State and a member of Niger Delta Enlightenment and Expedition Force (NDEEF) was apprehended in Burutu after he successfully abducted one Danny, a Lebanese working for Homan Engineering Company in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
The syndicate had demanded N50 million as ransom before the expatriate could be allowed to regain his freedom.
The expatriate was held in captivity in a remote fishing town of Enekorogha in Burutu Council of the state and has so far spent about eight days in solitary confinement.
The SSS, which paraded the suspect before reporters yesterday in Asaba, said eight members of the syndicate were still on the run.
The Assistant Director of Operations of the SSS in Delta state, Mr. Brown Ekwoaba, bemoaned the kidnapping of oil company workers, particularly foreign nationals.
According to him, the expatriate was abducted at Ahoada, Rivers State while trying to make a call on his cell phone in a parked white Hilux Toyota Pick-Up van.
The Director explained that the Lebanese was forced out of the vehicle on gun point by one Benadi into a fleeing bus to the waterside enroute Enekorogha town where he has since been kept.
He stressed that unbridled abduction of oil workers in the region could send wrong signals to the international community.