A three year old British girl, Margaret Hill, has been kidnapped by a group of gunmen in the Nigerian city of Port Harcourt. The kidnappers have contacted the girl's mother and issued a threat to kill the girl if her father doesn't agree to take her place.
In a telephone conversation with Margaret's mother, the kidnappers demanded a meeting in an obscure town in Bayelsa State in the Niger Delta. The police have had trouble locating the suggested town. "They say I can bring my husband to swap with the baby," Oluchi Hill, Margaret's mother, told the BBC. "He wanted to go down for his baby but the police commander told him not to." Mrs. Hill was able to speak with her daughter during the phone call.
The kidnappers had issued a three-hour deadline for the swap. There has been no further communication from the kidnappers.
This event is the latest in a long line of kidnappings of expatriates with links to the Nigerian oil industry, following the abduction of five workers from a Nigerian oil rig. Reports state that Hill was taken from a car in which she was passenger. The British Foreign Office has confirmed the kidnapping and has called for the child's immediate release, whilst providing support for the family. The identity of the group that carried out the kidnapping is not known, with the main militant group, The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, denying involvement. In past cases of child kidnappings, which remain rare, the victims had been returned unharmed on payment of a ransom. Workers in the oil industry have been more commonly targeted for kidnapping.
The Niger Delta contains more than 90 percent of Nigeria's natural resources, yet many of the indigenous population remain in poverty. Militant groups claim to be aiming to improve conditions for the poor. The BBC reports that over 100 foreign nationals have been kidnapped so far this year. Since the start of 2006, over 200 such kidnappings have taken place, and 15 adults remain in the custody of armed groups in Nigeria.
The British Foreign Office advises against all travel to the Niger Delta.