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The Guardian (UK): Angry rebels forced kidnappers to hand back British toddler

Chris McGreal, Africa correspondent
Tuesday July 10, 2007

The three year-old British girl kidnapped in Nigeria, Margaret Hill, was released because the men holding her were hunted by rebel forces angered at being associated with the abduction, according to Nigerian officials.

The toddler was freed on Sunday evening, four days after she was snatched from a car on her way to school in Port Harcourt, a city at the heart of Nigeria’s oil industry.

Yesterday Margaret appeared buoyant showed few signs of her ordeal, other than numerous mosquito bites, as she played with her British father and Nigerian mother, Mike and Oluchi Hill.

But within hours of the child’s release armed men abducted a Briton and at least three other oil workers, the latest of more than 200 mostly foreigners kidnapped in the Niger delta by rebel groups or criminal gangs since the beginning of last year. Almost all are freed unharmed after ransoms have been paid.

Mr Hill, who works in the oil industry and runs a Port Harcourt bar popular with expatriates, said no ransom was paid despite threats to kill the child.

She was freed after her abduction drew an unusual degree of international attention, in large part because she is British. Two other children from prominent Nigerian families have been abducted in the past six weeks and released after ransoms were paid.

Nigeria’s president, Umaru Yar’Adua, sent special forces to hunt for Margaret, and police quickly established contact with the kidnappers. But Felix Ogbaudu, Rivers state police commissioner, acknowledged the kidnappers were likely to have been more intimidated by threats from rebels who control large parts of the delta.

“These criminal groups [the rebels] have made it very clear to them that kidnapping a little girl was very embarrassing and unacceptable. They had no choice but to release her immediately,” he said. The main rebel group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, has kidnapped scores of foreigners over the past 18 months and sabotaged oil facilities in its campaign for a larger share of petroleum revenues to be spent to develop one of Nigeria’s poorest regions.

The group condemned Margaret’s abduction, and threatened revenge.

The abduction of foreign oil workers continued yesterday as a Briton and a Bulgarian became the latest victims. The pair, working for a British company, Expro, were seized on Sunday as rebels in speedboats raided an oil production barge on the Calabar river. Three other foreigners were kidnapped in Port Harcourt on Sunday and yesterday two senior Nigerian executives from Shell were abducted.,,2122537,00.html and its sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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