MEND threaten further mayhem

Niger Delta insurgents on Wednesday freed six of the nine foreign oil workers they abducted on February 18, but warned of more misery on the horizon if their demands are not met.

They did as Abuja confirmed the loss of over 1,000 mega watts (mw) of electricity due to the conflict.

Current power output nationwide is about 4,500 mw although the government plans to achieve 10,000 mw by 2010.

Those released are Malcom Hawkins (American); Anthony Santos (Phillipino); Mohammed Faysal, Shadly Alay (both Egyptians); Semsak Mhaduhe and Araba Suwana (both Thais).

They were handed over at Government House, Asaba, to the negotiating team led by Delta State Governor, James Ibori, who pleaded with the rebels to free the remaining three captives – two Americans and a Briton.

Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Emmanuel Aguariavwodo, also pleaded with them to release the rest in the interest of the region.

He told a group of youths from Delta State who visited him at work in Port Harcourt on Wednesday that only an unconditional release of all captives could guarantee the speedy development of the region.

Regardless, a statement issued by the captors, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), signed by Brutus Ebipade, said the group will pursue its cause with resoluteness but with �minimum causalities� as possible.

�In as much as we remain rigid in the tenets and demands that forced us to rebel�, it added, �we had paid honour to humanity in the celebration of the release of one American who, aged and feeble, is a diabetic patient alongside a couple of Egyptians who, exposed to the tropical temperaments of trauma that the Niger Delta child had been forced to live in for over 50 years, took terribly ill, in need of adequate medical attention, which MEND, out of respect for the basic prerogative of humanity to be afforded the luxury of health care facilities, considered expedient and wise to accord nature a leaf of goodwill�.

The statement came some 12 hours after Ibori had told journalists in Warri that he was optimistic that the hostages would soon be released.

However, the MEND added a caveat that March would be terrible for �the multinational petroleum capitalists, which had stood in this 50 years conspiracy with the Nigerian Government against the Niger Delta child�.

It warned oil companies �to worry, be wary and hurry because the hurricanes of MEND shall hunt their oiled treachery down to the open oiled graveyards of every pipe installation, production and storage facility, every administrative edifice in the Delta before the 5th day of March.

�March is here at last; the next phase of our sophistication rebellion is unsealed. The guerilla strategies shall be unleashed. Operation oiled venom is on the sea. The tempers of the gods of Izonland are sailing with the hammer of a whirlwind.

�The month of March shall witness mayhem, madness and murder of every element, institution or ideology that dare to sabotage the economic autonomy of the Niger Delta people! Beware! Be wise! And be spared�.

Deteriorating power supply was the focus of Wednesday�s meeting of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) in Abuja, chaired by President Olusegun Obasanjo.

It heard that the blowing up of two gas pipelines by militants is responsible for the outage nationwide.

Power and Steel Minister, Liyel Imoke, who briefed reporters after the meeting, lamented that the situation has been worsened by the inability of engineers to get access to the damaged stations.

Only one of the six power units at Egbin thermal station is functioning.

Imoke painted a grim picture as he announced that the situation is not likely to abate in the nearest future, but appealed to Nigerians to bear with the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN).

Said he: �A lot of damage has occurred with the blowing up of two gas pipelines. The first one was the Alabiri gas pipeline which was blown up a few weeks earlier. Recently, the Escravos gas pipeline was blown up and, effectively, we lost over 1000 mw generation. The situation is still the same.

�Unfortunately, until the gas infrastructure is repaired � because right now to the best of our knowledge, they haven�t been able to access the site where the damage occurred � the problem will be with us for some time to come�.

Imoke, however, said Obasanjo has directed the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to boost supply of Low Pour Fuel Oil (LPFO) to the PHCN to enable it improve generation.

�It is not PHCN-related fault, but it is as a result of the damage to gas pipelines in the unrest in the Niger Delta region.

�We are running some of our hydropower stations at full capacity, but this also has some significant import for us in the sense that hydro stations deplete water resources, which is the fuel for power generation, and when we deplete water resources in the heat of the dry season, we will not be able to run those stations.

�We have to shut them down. So, there is a significant impact of this crisis in the Niger Delta on the sector. Once we can get some stock of LPFO we will increase the available generation, but we are not in a position to tell when this problem will be resolved�.

According to Imoke, Lagos and its environs are hardest hit by the unstable power supply.

He said a directive has been given that a transformer in Calabar that is not in use be relocated to Lagos � where a 150MVA station has packed up � as a palliative measure.

He reiterated that the government would like to optimise gas resources which informed the simultaneous construction of seven power plants in the Niger Delta at a cost of $2.5 billion.

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