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CNN: INSIGHT January 18, 2006

Niger Hostage Crisis


MANN: Two-and-a-half years ago, hundreds of people were held hostage on Nigerian oil rigs by some of the very people they worked with. It wasn't a kidnapping, it was a strike, and it ended peacefully. Just one more occupational hazard for anyone working in the delta.

Welcome back.

About 100 of the 250 people who were held on the rigs for weeks were foreigners. They go to the delta for the money and do their best to stay out of trouble while they're there.

Joining us now is John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org to talk about whether it's just a delta problem.

Thanks so much for being with us.

We have been spending much of the day talking about a young woman, a journalist who was kidnapped in Iraq. We've been spending much of this program talking about oil workers who have been kidnapped in Nigeria. Is this just the way of the world now? People who travel for work, people who are conspicuous by their affluence or by their attachment to multinationals are targets?

JOHN PIKE, GLOBALSECURITY.ORG: Well, certainly in some countries, in some parts of some countries, it's simply an occupation hazard. You would have to understand very clearly that any American who is going outside of the wire in Iraq is going to be vulnerable to kidnapping or assassination and certainly if you look at the Nigeria Oil Delta, there is a real problem there.

It's a structural problem in Nigeria because Nigeria is a member of OPEC. They set a quota. Nigeria, let's say, has some transparency problems otherwise known as corruption. And so with oil at $66 a barrel, there is a lot of incentive for trying to get some of that oil outside of the OPEC quota. That's an illegal transaction. You're going to need some muscle to protect it. You've got competitors, they have muscle, and pretty soon, as the previous guest said, you're in a Wild West situation where there are a lot of people with a lot of guns, and that's the situation unfortunately we're facing today.

MANN: He said that the oil companies themselves are in part to blame because they haven't made good on promises to do more for the communities that surround them.

PIKE: I think there is more than enough blame to go around. The oil companies certainly have had difficulties meeting the expectations of the local community. I think the Nigerian government has had difficulty with all of that oil money, particularly now with all of that oil money coming in with a lot of other parts of the country also expecting to get a share. The local people figure they're getting the short end of the stick.

The local people also see that this oil exploitation is causing some real environmental problems locally and they, I think quite properly, feel they are not getting proper compensation for it.

Then when you overlay the official corruption, the gangs that are part of that corruption, the amount of oil that is going out of that country illegally, you obviously have a very combustible situation. The U.S. military has been looking very closely at this, because at the end of the day they are concerned that this situation could spin out of control.

MANN: Is it mostly Westerners working for big companies who are victims?

PIKE: Well, it's not simply Westerners working for big companies. It's anybody from outside the region who is going to be coming into this situation, who potentially is going to be vulnerable to being taken hostage or being kidnapped, because those are the ones that the company is going to be most concerned about ensuring their safety, mostly likely to try to get the government to make concessions, most likely to make promises themselves.

MANN: Is there any way for someone who is considering that kind of job to be prepared? Anyone they should talk to? Any thinking they should do?

PIKE: I think if you're ever doing international travel, the State Department has travelers guides, country notices as to what the current security situation is. If it's a high risk country, the company that you're going in with is probably going to have a security service that will be able to provide you with a tailored briefing.

Some countries you're not terribly worried about. Other countries, like Nigeria, like Iraq, I think that you have to be very concerned about.

MANN: Now, in those two cases is it your impression that more security would solve the problem? That there would be fewer kidnappings in Iraq or Nigeria if big companies protected their people better?

PIKE: Well, it's very difficult for a journalist to walk around in a big armed convoy the way Ambassador Bremer did. In the case of Nigeria, it's a constantly shifting security threat and security companies basically have to update their threat assessment on a daily basis and I'm sure that all of the companies that are supporting security operations in Nigeria are going to be reevaluating their precautions, their preparations, for the weeks and months ahead, because it does look like the situation is changing there.

MANN: Is it getting worse, do you think? There and elsewhere? Is globalization moving more people into more places and calming things down or exacerbating it?

PIKE: It's doing both. I mean, it's calming them down because it's provided a degree of global prosperity that I think would have been unthinkable even 10 or 15 years ago.

At the same time, you have these vast disparities in affluence that are much, much easier for people to see now that they have television and Internet access, so it's moving both ways.

MANN: John Pike, of GlobalSecurity.org.

PIKE: Thank you.

MANN: Thanks.

And that is INSIGHT. I'm Jonathan Mann. The headlines are next.


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