Nigeria's oil unions are threatening to stop work over plans to outsource inspections, as well as the growing danger in the country's oil sector, as three more kidnappings were reported from the poor Delta region, including that of the wife of a former oil minister.
Police in the Delta town of Port Harcourt told reporters Gladys Daukoru was taken from a bar Tuesday night. Edmund Daukoru was oil minister and an OPEC official. An employee of Agip, the Nigerian arm of Italian oil firm Eni, also was kidnapped this week, as well as a local government official.
It's only the latest in a recent increase of kidnappings related to Nigeria's oil sector, where related violence has been ongoing for years and is on the rise, threatening production and development of oil and gas from the largest oil producer in Africa.
The National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, or NUPENG, called it "high time the federal government steps in fully to address the problems of securing the lives and properties of its people," in a statement following the kidnapping of a local Shell executive's son and the killing of his daughter.
"The union condemns in its entirety the killing of the 9-year-old for resisting the kidnapping of her brother and describes the act as barbaric, uncivilized, criminal and unheard of in the history of kidnapping in the Niger Delta."
No group has claimed responsibility for the kidnappings at the time of publication, including the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND. The group has been at the forefront of a local, violent resistance movement.
It and others claim they see little benefit from production of oil and gas in the region, either from the national government or the oil companies. And while poverty continues and increases, the residents suffer the environmental pollution typical of such an industry in a developing country. Not all violence is political, as many kidnappings are merely for ransom money.
But MEND, especially, has spearheaded an effort to hit the industry itself and affect the company and government coffers. Kidnappings and attacks have hampered and even temporarily halted oil and gas production.
Meanwhile, Nigerian oil workers have threatened to go on strike over the appointment of foreign inspectors who by contract will receive a small percentage fee for every barrel exported.
The workers in Nigeria's Department of Petroleum Resources said they would effectively halt all production at the West African country's 21 export terminals by Feb. 11 if the contract with Cobalt Services Nigeria Ltd. was not terminated.
Union officials alleged that Nigeria's new petroleum minister, Rilwanu Lukman, has a financial interest in the company and was directly profiting from its hire.
A statement by the union representing the DPR said the government's hiring of Cobalt International Services was a duplication of functions performed by DPR monitors, energy analysis firm Platts reported.
"When many countries were jealously guarding their economies as a result of the global economic meltdown, it is unfortunate that our government is busy contracting foreign firms in a strategic sector like the oil sector that is the life wire of Nigeria's economy," the statement read.
According to leading Nigerian newspaper The Punch, Lukman's office did not respond to the allegations made last week.
Leaders of Nigeria's largest oil union, the Petroleum and Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PENGASSAN, said they did not see the value in hiring an outside firm to monitor its oil exports at a cost of more than $87,000 a day, The Punch reported.
"We don't see any reason why somebody will bring an international oil company and duplicate a function and take our crude. We should not allow it," said Mohammed Bulama Saidu, a PENGASSAN leader, who added it wasn't clear the company even had the expertise to carry out the job for which it was hired.
The oil union's threat was just the latest in a series of labor battles in the country's strife-ridden petroleum sector.
Last year U.S. oil giant ExxonMobil suffered millions of dollars in losses and 800,000 barrels of production per day during a prolonged strike by oil workers.
PENGASSAN's grievance with ExxonMobil began in March 2008, when the union threatened to walk off the job in protest of the company's decision to fire 100 union workers.
ExxonMobil officials denied any wrongdoing, saying those employees were given generous compensation packages during the current round of restructuring.
Grievances with oil companies operating in the petroleum-rich Niger Delta are not uncommon, said Rolake Akinola, a senior analyst for West Africa at the London-based consulting firm Control Risks.
"These kind of strike threats are a sort of trend (in the Niger Delta)," Akinola told United Press International. "That's the cycle we've seen in the oil industry."
Akinola noted that since 1999, the handful of strikes by oil workers in the delta did not diminish production by more than 5 percent for the durations of the walkouts. Akinola said the production shortfalls caused by a potential strike remained insignificant compared with the ongoing violence attributed to gangs and militant groups in the delta.
Producing just over 2 million barrels a day, Nigeria's oil sector is experiencing a 20 percent shortfall from just a few years prior, before widespread militants began stepping up attacks on foreign oil installations and kidnapping workers.
(UPI Energy Editor Ben Lando contributed to this article.)