By Sylvester Idowu in Warri
Gunmen have allegedly kidnapped four Itsekiri Community leaders andÂ four officials of Elcrest, a Nigerian Petroleum Development Company NPDC contracting firm belonging to prominent Anambra billionaire, Chief Emeka Offor in Ureju community along the Benin River, Warri North Local GovernmentÂ Area of Delta State.Â
THISDAY learnt that the victims were on their way to Warri after an engagement when the boat they were traveling in was allegedly hijacked by the suspected gunmen who fired several gunshots before whisking them away.Â
It was further learnt that the unidentified oil workers alongside the Itsekiri community leaders, including Chairman of Ureju Community Trust, Mr. Eniyan Henry Tonwe and one Kele Meme who were reportedly seen at Ureju Community at about 5: 00 pm Tuesday May 16 were nowhere to be found since the visit.Â
A local source from the community said; “They were on their way back to Warri from Ureju when suspectedÂ militants allegedly abducted them after firing several shots into the air.
“Mr. Eniyan Tonwe alongside others had gone to show the company officials the site for a proposed free Medicare Programme”.
The source said that the militants had made a ransom demand of N36million, and dislodging of army gun boats from the Benin River as well as their inclusion into the payroll of the oil company as conditions to release the victims.Â
Community sources claimed that the hijackers were believed to be the same set of suspectedÂ militants that attacked and killed four marine Policemen at the Benin River last week adding that the attackers had claimed Elcrest and NPDC had not been carrying them along in their operations in the area.Â
“TheyÂ had demanded the removal of an army gun boat in the Benin River axis as one of the conditions for the release of the abductees, a condition that has since been met but they are stillÂ holding the victims as we speak”, the source said.
The whereabouts of the oil workers and community leadersÂ remained unknown at the time of this report
Meanwhile, tension is mounting inÂ the Benin River communities as speculations are rife that the waterway has been blocked.Â
The President of IPDI, Comrade Ozobo Austin in his reactionÂ dismissed allegation in some quarters that the victims were kidnapped by suspected Ijaw militants, saying such accusation was capable of incitingÂ Itsekiri against Ijaw and such could fan ethnic discord.Â
Comrade Ozobo Austin addedÂ that; “I want to say that the abductors are not Ijaw militants.Â Itsekiri and Ijaws are not at war and there is no need abducting Itsekiri and other NPDC workers. It is possible that same Itsekiri youths could abduct the missing persons to divert attention to Ijaw to achieve their selfish gains.
Delta State Police Public Relations Officer, Andrew Aniamaka confirmed the incident but assured that police command was on top of the situation.