•Group says company reneged on agreement •JTF rescues victims, four Naval personnel killed
From JUDEX OKORO, Calabar
Twenty-eight oil workers were abducted by Bakassi militants in Cross River State at the weekend.
The victims, who are employees of Sinopec, an oil services company in neighbouring Akwa Ibom State, were kidnapped by a militant group, Lactop Marine Force, operating in the Bakassi axis of the state.
They were said to be on their way to a Shell location in the Atlantic when the militants struck.
However, rescue came their way less than 24 hours after the abduction.
Investigations by Sunday Sun revealed that they were later rescued by the Joint Task Force (JTF) Operation Pulo Shield, in collaboration with the Eastern Naval Command, Calabar, Cross River State.
It was also gathered that the militant group abducted the oil workers following their employer’s failure to abide by the terms of agreement with the group on the provision of security to the oil firm early last year.
Confirming the abduction of the workers on telephone, spokesperson of Lactop Marine Force, Samuel Okoye, said: “We arrested the workers because their company reneged on earlier agreement that we should still provide security even as they have relocated to Uruan in Akwa Ibom State.
“But shortly after they moved down there, they turned their back on us.
“So, we had to strike to force them to do something.”
Okoye explained the reason behind the group’s action: “While at Ikang, Bakassi Local Government Area, they paid us to guard them and escort their workers whenever they went for oil exploration and services and when they left Ikang in October last year, for Uruan, they dumped us as if we are nobody.
“Even when we tried to talk to them on the issue, they bluffed us.
“So, it is a lesson to them to be wary of their activities.
“We are not after oil workers at the sea.
“We are after the Cameroon gendarmes, who have been terrorizing Nigerians on our waters.
“There are several companies operating on the sea and we have never arrested any of them except those who violate our terms.”
However, acting on a tip-off, the JTF launched an attack on the militants’ camp yesterday and rescued the kidnapped workers.
The Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Naval Command, Rear Admiral Olufemi Ogunjimi, who briefed newsmen in Calabar, said the JTF raided the militant group’s hideout in the early hours of the day, adding that the group allegedly killed a naval officer and three ratings.
Ogunjimi said the militants also carried out activities that dented Nigeria’s image at the Ikang and eastern water ways
Describing members of the group as criminals, who had nothing to do with the agitation for the reclaiming of Bakassi, which was ceded to Cameroon by the International Court of Justice, he said, “They are the type of people that give the country very bad image.
“That is how far we have gone and the operation continues and in no distant time we will get through with them.”
The FOC described Lactop, the leader of the group, as a criminal that heads a gang that kidnaps for ransom, engages in piracy and killing of innocent people, including uniformed personnel.
The Commander of JTF, Major General Johnson Ochoga, said they had been on the operation to flush out the gang in the last three days and that they were given the opportunity to denounce their criminal activities, but they did not embrace the offer before the JTF closed in on the camp.
Ochoga said there was no casualty when JTF struck, though Lactop and his gang might have suspected that the security operatives were on their trail.
He said one of the 28 persons abducted, out of panic when the troop approached the camp, ran away and that his whereabouts had not been known.
Also speaking, the Brigade Commander, 13 Brigade, Nigerian Army, Calabar, Brigadier General Shehu Yusuf, whose men were in charge of the land operation, said no life was lost.
Yusuf said Lactop would not be harmed if he surrendered himself.