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Nigerian kidnappers release photos of British oil workers home

Militant group vows to hold pair hostage until its ailing leader is released from custody

  •, Monday 12 January 2009 13.48 GM
Robin Barry Hughes and Matthew John Maguire

Robin Hughes and Matthew Maguire: kidnapped four months ago. Photograph: Finbarr O’reilly/Reuters

Two British oil workers kidnapped in Nigeria four months ago are alive and well, the militant group holding them has said.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) released photographs last night of Robin Hughes and Matthew Maguire, saying they would be held until the organisation’s leader was released by Nigerian authorities.

Bernard Maguire, the father of Matthew, said the family were relieved to receive news of the 34-year-old diver from Birkenhead.

“If this is a recent picture, then we are relieved because we haven’t heard from him in five weeks,” he told the Liverpool Echo. “But Matthew’s lost a lot of weight and he looks fed up, which is worrying because he’s a happy-go-lucky person.”

The photographs showed the two hostages wearing shorts and flip-flops in what appeared to be a makeshift settlement in a clearing in thick forest. Both looked tired but had no visible signs of serious illness or injury.

The two were part of a group of 27 oil workers, including five foreign nationals, who were taken hostage by gunmen when their vessel was hijacked in the volatile Niger Delta in September.

Mend militants claimed to have “rescued” the hostages from the gunmen and released all but the two British nationals.

The group is demanding the release of its leader, Henry Okah, who is on trial for gun running and treason. Okah’s lawyers say he is in urgent need of medical treatment for a kidney ailment.

“We intend to hold on to [the Britons] for as long as a very sick and dying Henry Okah is held hostage by the Nigerian state. Since their fate is now tied to his, God forbid that Henry Okah should die in detention,” said Mend’s spokesman, Jomo Gbomo.

In an emailed statement, the group said it was releasing the photos to reassure the captives’ families that they were alive and well.

The email also carried a message from the hostages to their family members, with Hughes quoted as blaming an “insincere Nigerian government, greedy oil companies” and Gordon Brown for their plight.

The Foreign Office confirmed the names of the kidnapped Britons and said: “We call for the immediate and unconditional release of the hostages and we remain in close contact with the families. Our thoughts are with them at this deeply distressing time.”

Mend said the hostages had been separated from each other.

Hundreds of foreigners have been captured in the Niger Delta, home to Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry, since Mend launched a campaign of violence in early 2006 to push for what it considers to be a fairer share of the profits from crude oil extraction.

The group has previously used the British hostages to warn the British government against offering any training or equipment to the Nigerian armed forces.

Mend’s campaign of violence, which has included blowing up oil pipelines and attacking installations on and offshore, has cut Nigeria’s oil output by about a fifth in recent years.

Industry executives say the insecurity in the Opec member state is a major disincentive to further investment in the oil and gas sector.


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