Michael Olugbode in Maiduguri
There were concerns Tuesday that about 40 oil exploration workers contracted by Integrated Data Services Limited (IDSL), a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), and members of the Civilian JTF, to search for crude oil in the Lake Chad Basin might have been killed or abducted.
The 40 persons included 10 academic and technical staff of the University of Maiduguriâ€™s (UNIMAID) Department of Geology, security operatives and members of the Civilian JTF.
They were said to have been ambushed by Boko Haram terrorists around Jibi village situated between Magumeri and Gubio Local Government Areas of Borno State Tuesday at noon.
The team, which was engaged in oil exploration in the Lake Chad region, was said to have been confronted by the Boko Haram insurgents.
A reliable source said they were involved in a shootout with the insurgents who reportedly overpowered them, killing some of them and abducting others.
It was gathered from another source Tuesday night that there were about 11 vehicles carrying security operatives who were escorting the contract oil workers to an exploration site at Bornoyesu village in Magumeri Local Government Area.
The village is said to be about 40 kilometres between Magumeri and Gubio.
It was learnt from security sources that the escorts comprised soldiers, civilian JTF members and local hunters.
Of the 11 vehicles, according to the source, only three returned to Maiduguri, the state capital, while the rest were driven off by the insurgents after their occupants abandoned them and scampered into the surrounding bushes.
The source could not immediately reveal the number of the affected oil workers, saying: â€œI donâ€™t know, but I heard they have been frequenting the site for about a month now; no source has so far revealed to us that any or some or all the oil workers who have been coming from Abuja, has escaped.
â€œAs of this night (9.30 pm) nobody has told me anything about their whereabouts.â€
A local hunter told THISDAY that five soldiers that fled from the scene of the attack had not reached Maiduguri.
He could not confirm any deaths, but the injured among the security agents, civilian JTF and hunters, he said, had been taken to the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital.
When contacted, NNPC spokesman Ndu Ughamadu confirmed that IDSL had contracted workers from UNIMAID to search for oil in the Lake Chad Basin.
However, he said he was not aware of the number of casualties following the attack.
Nigeria for over 20 years has engaged in a fruitless search for oil in the Lake Chad Basin, often known as the Lake Chad frontier basin.
Efforts by oil multinationals such as Shell and Chevron more than 15 years ago to discover oil in commercial quantities in the region had come up short.
But this has not deterred successive governments and NNPC from plunking millions of dollars in its quest for oil in the Lake Chad region, even at the risk of workersâ€™ lives.
The search for oil in the region by Nigeria is not unconnected to the discoveries made by neighbouring Niger and Chad Republics, which border Lake Chad.