Aug 21, 2006

Ogoni: Julius Berger Pulls Out of Niger Delta

The leading construction firm Julius Berger Nigeria Plc, has commenced its exit from the Niger Delta area following the kidnap of one of its expatriate staff by militant youths operating in the creeks
The nation's leading construction firm, Julius Berger Nigeria Plc, has commenced its exit from the Niger Delta area following the kidnap of one of its expatriate staff by militant youths operating in the creeks.

The company has also stopped work at all its locations in Bayelsa State, though the state government is still making attempts to prevail on its management to rescind the decision.

Political Adviser to Governor Goodluck Jonathan of Bayelsa State, Chief Asara A. Asara who disclosed this in Yenagoa yesterday, however, blamed the development on those he referred to as "desperate politicians who would stop at nothing to achieve their inordinate ambitions for orchestrating the kidnap."

Asara said the aim of the politicians was to create the impression that the present government is incompetent, "but their action", he lamented, "is causing grave set back to the state and its people.

"Now work has stopped because of the kidnapping. Julius Berger has stopped working on the Okobio road project, for example. Politicians should be ready to play the game without depriving the very people they want to rule of the good things of life. They should try to play politics without bitterness", he advised.

He regretted that people have descended from kidnapping oil workers to kidnapping construction company workers who are helping to open up the hitherto neglected areas of the state to development.

Asara said the action of these "desperate politicians is regrettable as it shows that some people are ready to set the state backwards in order to achieve their selfish and inordinate ambitions."

Meanwhile, an unknown caller was yesterday reported to have demanded a N50 million ransom for the release of a Lebanese worker abducted Wednesday by gunmen near Port Harcourt.

A senior official of Homan Engineering Company, the abducted Lebanese employer, told AFP that "this afternoon, an unidentified caller phoned to demand N50 million to secure the release of our worker. He blocked his phone number and switched off the phone immediately after he made the demand".

"There is no way we can get in touch with the caller since he coded his telephone number," said the official who pleaded anonymity.

"We still do not have any information about the whereabouts of the Lebanese worker. We have sent people around to locate where he is. We are also in touch with government officials in an effort to secure his release," he said.

The company's official, however, did not say if the unidentified call had been reported to the police.

The abduction of the Lebanese construction worker, yet to be identified, brings to six the total number of foreign workers currently being held by gunmen in the volatile Niger Delta region.

Others still being held are two Germans, a Briton, an Irishman and an American.

Another set of kidnappers had Tuesday freed four foreign oil-worker, two Ukrainians and two Norwegians, held hostage by gunmen last week.

The Niger Delta area has witnessed about 14 abductions in the past week. Kidnappings and sabotage attacks by militants, who contend the impoverished region does not benefit from its oil, have cut Nigerian production by more than 20 percent since the beginning of the year.