Nigeria Police Chief Orders Crackdown on Kidnappers

Nigeria's police chief Mike Okiro has ordered police commanders in the troubled Niger Delta to crack down on gangs responsible for kidnappings in the region. For VOA, Gilbert da Costa reports security forces have proved ineffective in halting attacks in the delta.

More than 200 foreign workers have been kidnapped in Nigeria's main oil producing south since January 2006. At least 16 are being held and several foreign nationals have fled the region.

Nigeria's police chief Mike Okiro wants his senior commanders to clamp down on kidnappers.

"The spate of hostage-taking is a worrisome phenomenon, most especially in the Niger Delta ... the Niger Delta is known for that," he said. "You will find out that this is no longer political, it is economic, it is a crime per se."

"We will not allow that criminality to go on. So if you are in the area, mobilize your men to make sure that this idea of kidnapping and hostage taking is fought down. They are criminals. When they need money they go and kidnap people and ask for ransom. We want to make sure that does not happen," he added.

Thousands of soldiers and policemen have been deployed in force in the Niger Delta to secure the region, but there are now signs that the criminal gangs are being halted.

Bare-Ara Kpala, a resident of the main oil city of Port Harcourt, where most of the recent violence has been centered, told VOA that the poorly-equipped police are having a difficult time quelling the violence and kidnapping.

"The police in Nigeria appear not to be well organized," said Kpala. "I wonder how they can effectively respond to the situation, especially as it relates to stopping kidnappings. Those who are involved in the kidnappings appear to know the terrain more than the police; they appear to be well organized more than the police; they appear to be well-equipped and had done their survey, whatever, better than the police."

Nigeria's oil production has been reduced more than 20 percent because of these attacks.