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Forbes / Associated Press: U.S. Professor Shot in Nigeria

By DAN UDOH 07.25.07, 10:47 AM ET

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria – Gunmen on motorbikes shot and wounded an American professor and a security guard Wednesday at a newspaper office in oil-rich southern Nigeria, witnesses said.

Elsewhere in the volatile south, the heartland of the West African nation’s oil industry, the mother of a state official was kidnapped and a Nigerian oil worker was shot dead in attacks Tuesday.

The American professor, who was visiting from California to attend an awards ceremony at the National Point newspaper, was taken to a hospital along with the security guard for treatment after the shooting in Port Harcourt in Rivers State, said Patrick Naagbanton, a local environmental activist who arrived for the ceremony shortly after the shooting.

Police had no immediate comment. The name of the American was being withheld until next of kin are notified.

Ibiba Donpedro, the journalist for whom the celebration had been organized, said at least six gunmen on motorbikes arrived shortly before noon.

“The next thing, we heard shots all over. Young men came in, shot the (professor) on the hand, ransacked the offices, shot up the windows, shot the security guy on the leg, and left,” she said. “They were saying, “Where’s the white man? Where’s the money from the bank?'”

She couldn’t say whether the attack, in which the office was destroyed and two laptops stolen, was a simple armed robbery or linked to the paper’s recent investigation of the links between local politicians and criminal gangs.

“We report all these things all the time, we don’t think it will happen to us,” she said. “But you never can tell whether it is the kind of reporting we do.”

The Nigerian oil worker was shot dead in his house Tuesday afternoon, also in Rivers State, police spokeswoman Irejua Barasua said. The motive for the attack was not immediately clear, she said.

The man was employed by Global Offshore, a subsidiary of the U.S.-based oil industry construction firm Global Industries Ltd. (nasdaq: GLBL – news – people ) and lived in the same central Port Harcourt neighborhood where a Lebanese man was killed over the weekend.

In nearby Bayelsa state Tuesday night, gunmen arrived in two boats and seized the mother of the state’s local House speaker, Chief Joshua Benemesia said, who heads a government-funded volunteer law enforcement group that helps provide security in Bayelsa. The speaker could not be reached for comment because he was out of the country.

The kidnapping was the third attack on officials or those close to them this week in the oil-producing river delta region of Nigeria – Africa’s largest oil producer.

A politician from neighboring Delta state was found dead on Monday. On the same day, gunmen in Rivers state stormed the house of a newly appointed energy official and killed two of his family members. The official was not present when the shooting occurred.

Political violence has increased in the region since the run-up to countrywide elections in April – which were widely condemned as rigged. Some candidates were murdered during the campaign, while others reported dynamite attacks on their houses and kidnappings of family members.

Unrest related to the oil industry also appears to be growing in the area. There have been hundreds of kidnappings and a string of bombings over the past two years. Several armed militant groups are demanding a greater share of political rights and oil revenues for their polluted and impoverished region.

Analysts say the violence has been exacerbated by the use of local gangs to intimidate political opponents and criminal gangs getting involved in kidnappings, which were often previously used to publicize political demands.

Nigeria is rated as one of the most corrupt countries in the world by Berlin-based watchdog group Transparency International. Most citizens struggle to get by on less than a few dollars a day in a country where unemployment is high and arms are freely available.

Nigeria is capable of producing around 2.5 million barrels of oil per day, but about a quarter of that has been shut off following a string of bombings and kidnappings.

Associated Press Writer William Nsoyoh in Yenagoa, Nigeria, contributed to this report.

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