LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Gunmen kidnapped three prominent Nigerian journalists and a driver traveling through the country's oil-rich, but volatile southern delta, a colleague said Monday, the latest troubling sign of insecurity in the West African nation.
The reporters had just left a conference in Akwa Ibom state Sunday afternoon and were forced to stop their bus by a speeding car filled with gunmen, said Mohammed Garba, president of the Nigeria Union of Journalists. The gunmen got on board the bus and forced the driver to spirit them away, Garba said.
Garba said one of the journalists called him several hours later at the request of the gunmen. Garba said the kidnappers made a ransom demand of $1.67 million.
"We tried to negotiate," Garba said. "Unfortunately, the abductors have not been so friendly."
Attacks against journalists aren't uncommon in Nigeria, a country of 150 million where corruption pervades government and business. A political reporter and editor for a Nigerian newspaper was killed by gunmen at his home in September and beatings happen during elections and police actions.
But kidnappings of local journalists remains rare as many have low wages and must sell advertisements for their sections. Some rely on cash payments from interview subjects or "brown envelope" bribes slipped into briefing materials at news conferences.
In March, kidnappers seized three sports journalists from a South Africa-based satellite network. Gunmen later released the men.
"It was unbelievable to us. I never thought that journalists could be kidnapped," Garba said. "Journalists in Nigeria are poorly paid. If really these guys are looking for money, they have made the wrong move."
Militants and criminal gangs once targeted only foreign oil workers and contractors for six-figure ransoms in the Niger Delta, a region of swamps, mangrove fields and palm-tree-lined creeks about the size of Portugal. Now, with oil firms keeping their workers hidden behind razor wire and under paramilitary protection, gangs have increasingly targeted middle-class Nigerian families unable to afford that security.
The government offered an amnesty deal that calmed much of the militancy there, but groups have grown impatient with what they describe as a slow response to their demands.
This kidnapping "has further exposed the level of insecurity in that region and Nigeria as a whole," Garba said. "The government has to address this problem."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.