The Niger Delta

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Hostage-Taking in the Niger Delta; An American Company prepares to quit

Last week, after two separate incidents in which six oil company workers were kidnapped in Rivers and Bayelsa States, an American company operating in the region-Willbros Nigeria Ltd-says it has had enough. According to a statement by the company's President and Chief Operating Officer, Randy Harl, the company has concluded plans on exiting the country, he said the company has suffered losses of more over $37 million to kidnappings, hostage-taking and community related incidences.

The kidnapping came at the wake of increased violent activities in the Niger Delta. Just two days earlier, three expatriates working for a construction company in Port Harcourt were kidnapped on their way to work making the third hostage-taking incident in one week. A previously unknown group-Movement of the Niger Delta People (MONDP)-has claimed responsibility for the abductions and have gone further to release two Philipinos in their custody.

Earlier this week, The Governor of Rivers State, Dr. Peter Odili, held a meeting with representatives of oil companies in the state (including Willbros) and the nation's security operatives to discuss the security of company personnel. The outcome of the meeting was not made known to the public but sources say the companies were happy with the Governor's concern. It is not yet known if the Governor has made Willbros change its mind but the company announced that it has already put up its facilities in the country for sale.

Why has Wilbros failed?
As Wilbros gears to leave, some wonder if this is an unhappy consequence of a failed community relations policy. A look into the company's history kind of suggest this assertion. Willbros had not learnt the nitty-gritty of doing business in the Niger Delta or it did not learn to adjust to dynamic community reactions. (See my post on tips on doing business in the Niger Delta)
In 1999, Choba, Wilbros' host community, picked a quarrel with the company over community development projects. they claimed that Wilbros had polluted the river on which their major source of livelihood-fishing-depends and that in return, Wilbros had not provided jobs for their teaming youths they also were not happy with the fact that they had had to live in darkness being content only with reflections of electricity lights from Willbros' facilities.
On its part, Willbros ran to the Nigerian military for security and the outcome was one of the bloodiest clashes in Nigeria's history.

Also, observers have raised concerns about Wilbros' Personnel Security Strategies. The company pays in cash instead of through the banks and many a times workers have complained of robbers waiting at their door steps right after recieving their pay packages. Last year, I witness a robbery incident on the company that left two persons dead and three others seriously injured.

What next?
As Willbros prepares to leave, I can only imagine the impact of this on hundreds of their employees, in a country saturated with unemployment, this does not seem to be a good development. Some people have wondered if this should be the expected future trend...Could this mark the beginning of the end of onshore oil exploration in the region?

Send in your comments and opinions and let the world know what you feel the future holds for the region.



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