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Nigerian abductors free four journalists held for a week

Nigerian abductors free four journalists held for a week
Wahab Oba and his colleagues after their release on Sunday, in Umuahia.Photo: Vanguard

Nigerian gunmen who abducted four journalists in the country's oil-rich south a week ago released the group Sunday from an ordeal that one of them described later as "traumatic". The captors dumped the four unhurt in a forest in a remote area of Abia State, a government official said, as police and a journalists' union said no ransom was paid.

"They dragged us about in the bush and blindfolded us. It was a harrowing experience," Sylva Okereke told private TV channels hours after he and his colleagues were freed. "Although we were not beaten, the incident was traumatic," he said.

Okereke said some of the group suffered minor injuries and had received medical care. He said the abductors were forced to let them go "when they realised that the security agents were closing in on them. Helicopters were used to survey the area and they had to give up."

The July 11 abduction of the newsmen, the second of journalists this year, sparked outrage in Africa's most populous country of 150 million people where there are regular kidnappings in the south but mostly of oil workers.

A police special task force combed the forests and bushes of Abia State for days in search of the four who were abducted while returning from a conference in nearby Akwa Ibom State.

Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) secretary Usman Leman announced the "unconditional" release early Sunday and said police had met the four to escort them out of the area. Abducted with Okereke, the union's assistant secretary, were Abdulwahab Oba, NUJ chairman in Lagos; Adolphus Okonkwo, a regional secretary of the union; and Shola Oyeyipo, a Lagos-based reporter.

"They are with us right now at the police headquarters in Umuahia (city), hale and hearty," Abia State police spokesman Ali Okechukwu told AFP. The abductors initially demanded a ransom of 250 million naira (1.6 million dollars, 1.3 million euros) but later dropped to 30 million naira. Okechukwu also said no ransom was paid.

NUJ president Mohammed Garba told AFP that national police chief Ogbonna Onovo and the state governor had met the journalists after their release. "They are now on their way to Port Harcourt where they will take a chartered flight to Lagos and reunite with their families," he said.

Information Minister Dora Akunyili welcomed the release and told the state-run News Agency of Nigeria that Nigerians should stand against kidnappers by refusing to pay ransom money.

The abduction of the journalists illustrated a widening of kidnappers' target profiles in recent months. Officials and media rights groups, including global organisation Reporters Without Borders, had called for their release.

The kidnappings were the second involving journalists in the volatile region this year. In March three M-Net Supersport television crew members -- a South African and two Nigerians -- were seized in Imo state, which neighbours the oil hub of Rivers State. They were freed about a week later.

While many of the kidnappings of oil workers have been claimed by militants who say they are seeking a fairer distribution of oil revenues, other abductions have been carried out to collect cash through ransom.

Date posted: July 18, 2010 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 196