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Daily Telegraph: Margaret Hill’s parents deny paying ransom

By Mike Pflanz in Port Harcourt
Last Updated: 2:03am BST 10/07/2007

The parents of the British girl, Margaret Hill, celebrated her release yesterday but denied having paid a ransom for her.
But even as Mike and Oluchi Hill rejoiced, evidence emerged that corrupt politicians and officials are involved in Nigeria’s “cottage industry” of kidnapping foreigners.

Mr Hill, who comes from Co Durham, said his three-year-old daughter had been taken to hospital for a check-up after being held for four days.

“The only visible problem for now is the mosquito bites which cover her whole body,” he said. “Otherwise she is OK.”

Mr Hill works for Lone Star Drilling, an energy company, and also runs a bar in the oil city of Port Harcourt in the Niger Delta.

He said his daughter’s abduction would not convince him to leave Nigeria. “I live here and I work here and I’ve been in Africa since 1973,” he told the BBC. “Just because people get mad, they kidnap the children. It’s very worrying but things have got to get better – they can’t get worse.”

About 150 expatriates, about 20 of them British, have been seized in the delta so far this year. All were released unharmed, usually after the payment of ransoms.

Armed gangs, who were given guns to protect politicians before a general election in April, are now roaming the delta, hunting for valuable hostages and enjoying a near-guarantee of impunity.

They pass on a cut of their profits to corrupt officials, who turn a blind eye.

Oil firms and Nigeria’s government both deny paying ransoms, but it has emerged that hostage negotiators agree fees for what are termed “expenses”.

The captors present bills for the “care” of hostages, usually running into thousands of pounds.

These “expenses” supposedly cover food, mobile phone calls, medicines and the cost of running speedboats. They are often reimbursed by employers of the hostages once they are freed. Rainer Winzenriet, spokesman for Shell, “categorically denied’ that his company, the largest foreign operator in the Delta, paid ransoms.

Other multinationals, including Chevron and Eni, made the same claim.

Emmanuel Okah, spokesman for the governor of Rivers State, where Margaret Hill was kidnapped, said: “It is not our policy to pay ransoms.”

But a senior diplomat said: “The fact that the kidnaps go on and on and on implies that someone is being paid. It is pretty clear that this happens.” The diplomat added that senior politicians were involved and received a cut of the ransoms. “Corruption in Nigeria goes all the way to the top,” he said.

It is widely understood that neither Mr Hill nor his employer paid anything to free Margaret. But a British oil contractor who has worked in Nigeria for 29 years said this was the “exception to the rule”.

He added: “Kidnapping is a cottage industry here now. In the last 12 months, the scale of the problem has taken a quantum leap forward, and that is down to ransom payments and the elections.”

Prof Kimse Okoko, president of the Ijaw National Congress, which represents the Delta’s Ijaw people, said that local politicians had paid and armed protection gangs during the April election.

“These boys have been given money by politicians, but when the money runs out, all they have left are their guns. What are they going to do? They have no jobs, they have no money, but they are shown the way by the big men here and they go on the rampage.”

As if to show that it was business as usual in the Delta, another British oil worker was kidnapped yesterday in Calabar province.

In the past year, Nigeria has failed to convict a single kidnapper. and its sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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