WARRI, Nigeria – Texas oil worker Macon Hawkins, 68, who was one of nine men seized by heavily armed militants here in the restive Niger River Delta a week ago, told reporters Friday that President Bush and the United Nations need to help resolve the standoff between oil companies and the people of this impoverished region.
“They get nothing out of the oil, and they produce all of the oil,” Hawkins said as he sat on a small boat with hooded young men armed with machine guns and one rocket-propelled grenade launcher. “They’re tired of it, so they’re going to fight, and they’re going to fight until death.”
Despite the weaponry arrayed around him and his continued captivity, Hawkins appeared to be in good spirits, joking with journalists about conditions that include air-conditioned rooms for sleeping and noodles for meals. He said medicine had been provided to control his diabetes, and he said the other eight hostages were being treated so well they were getting “fat and sassy.”
“All is well,” Hawkins said. “I just hope it ends well.”
The nine militants guarding Hawkins, who were part of a group of several dozen armed men who met with journalists who traveled by two boats into a remote delta area, complained bitterly about conditions in the Niger Delta and the reliability of Nigerian politicians to keep their word in agreements.
“We need the USA president to come down,” said one. “We want him to be a witness.”
This oil-rich area sought to break away from Nigeria during the Biafran War from 1967 to 1970 and has seen little development since then. Despite being home to the oil that provides the overwhelming majority of the nation’s foreign export earnings, the delta has few schools, hospitals, roads or bridges.
The group that took the hostages on Feb. 18, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, said they would not release the hostages until a new agreement is in place, witnessed by Bush, that commits to developing the region.
“We are fighting for justice,” said another one of a succession of hooded, camouflaged men who spoke with journalists without identifying themselves. “We, the Niger Delta people, are fighting for our rights.”
They also called for the Nigerian military to abandon the area and for the release of two of the region’s leaders, Mujahid Dokubo-Asari and former Gov. Diepreye Alamieyeseigha. Dokubo-Asari was jailed for treason in September. Alamieyeseigha has been arrested for money laundering.