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UpstreamOnline: Delta security tops union agenda

By Upstream staff

Nigerian oil unions met today to discuss deteriorating security in the Niger Delta and union leaders said a complete withdrawal of their members from Africa’s oil heartland was one option to be considered.

But oil company sources said an ultimatum to the government over kidnappings and attacks on oil installations was a more likely outcome of the meeting in the southern city of Benin.

“Security is our main priority. Proposals include but are not limited to a complete pullout. Other options are an ultimatum or a warning,” said Lumbumba Okugba, deputy secretary-general of the white collar Pengassan union.

“We remain very, very concerned about the safety of our members.”

Security in the delta has been declining since the end of 2005 when a new militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend), began a campaign of kidnappings and attacks on oil facilities.

A series of attacks in February prompted Shell to withdraw its workers from the western delta, cutting Nigerian oil production by 500,000 barrels per day.

Concern over Nigerian crude output has contributed to driving oil prices this year to record highs.

Mend is fighting for greater regional autonomy over the delta’s oil resources, the release of two jailed leaders from the region, and compensation for decades of oil spills.

Mend has not staged any attacks since June, but a plethora of new militias have sprung up more recently and staged eight separate kidnappings in August alone.

Almost all of the 18 hostages have since been freed unharmed, mostly after the payment of ransoms. However, one Nigerian hostage employed by Shell was killed during a botched release 10 days ago.

“The security situation is bad and the unions want to put pressure on government. But of course they can’t pull out completely,” an oil company source, asking not to be named, told Reuters.

Mend has said it wants to put an end to the kidnappings for ransom, saying they are a diversion from the struggle for political goals, and has helped release several hostages.

But the group has also reiterated its warnings to oil workers to leave the area, and threatened to stage more attacks on energy infrastructure.

The government has instructed police and military to use “force for force” against criminals in the delta, which has raised fears of more violence.

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