· Australia working with Nigerian authorities to secure release of its nationals
· Some arrests have been made, says state security chief
Bassey Inyang in Calabar with agency reports
The New Zealand Prime Minister John Key on Thursday ruled out paying a ransom as a long-held government standing for a New Zealander abducted a day earlier by gunmen in Cross River State.
He said at a press conference in Wellington that there was no chance of the government paying a ransom for the release of New Zealander being held hostage in Nigeria, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported yesterday.
Key said the compromise would only put a bounty on the head of any New Zealander working in a volatile region and make the situation worse.
The contractors, comprising three Australians, a South African, a New Zealander and two Nigerians working for an Australian mining company MacMahon, a contractor of the cement major LafargeHolcim, early Wednesday morning were abducted when about 30 gunmen attacked their convoy and killed their driver.
The convoy was travelling under police escort when the attack unfolded, Nigerian police commissioner Jimoh Ozi-Obeh told Australian media, but the gunmen managed to escape. The kidnappers fled on a boat waiting on a beach near the bridge.
Key said it’s likely the kidnapping was randomly motivated rather than an act of a terrorist organisation.
“The kidnappers are yet to contact police or make any request.”
Also speaking on the abduction, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the Australian High Commissioner in Nigeria was at the scene, but New Zealand has no diplomatic mission in the country limiting its capacity to coordinate the rescue.
He said the Australian mining company MacMahon, has been working with the Nigerian government to resolve the situation, just as New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs was receiving updates on the situation.
Turnbull also said the identity of the kidnappers who abducted his countrymen in Akpabuyo, Cross River State was still unknown.
“We don’t know at this stage the identity of the kidnappers and families in Australia are notified, of course,” Turnbull said yesterday, interrupting campaigning for a general election next week.
“It is a very serious kidnapping, a very serious criminal assault,” he said.
According to Reuters, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop didn’t say if the attack was thought to be terrorism-related and said Australian authorities were working with the Nigerian government to confirm details.
“We are working very closely with the police, security and other agencies in Cross River,” she said.
MacMahon, the company whose staff were kidnapped, confirmed the incident after halting trade on its shares, saying those kidnapped included the five Westerners and two local staff, while a local employee had been killed.
“We are working to ensure the safe return of all the men involved and are in communication with their families,” the company said.
MacMahon has two projects in Nigeria, including the Calabar cement quarry in Mfamosing, near where the attack took place.
However, the South African Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) in Pretoria said it had not been informed officially of any South African kidnapped‚ but was aware of reports of an attack on an international company’s employees, the Johannesburg-based Business Day reported.
Dirco spokesperson Nelson Kgwete said the department was not officially contacted about the incident.
“We have not been officially contacted by the ambassador in Nigeria of any kidnapping. All that we have heard so far is from media reports like everyone else‚” Kgwete said.
Meanwhile, the Cross River State Security Adviser, Mr. Jude Ngaji, said yesterday in Calabar, the state capital, that some arrests had been made in relation to the kidnapping of the contract staff of Lafarge on Wednesday.
However, he did not disclose the identity of those that had been arrested or the number of persons.
He also assured the public that all the kidnapped persons would soon regain their freedom, but again did not confirm if any contact had been made with the kidnappers.
Ngaji said the security of all residents in the state, whether foreign or Nigerian was very important to the state government.
As a fallout of the incident, the state government summoned an emergency security council meeting yesterday.