Gunmen believed to be Boko Haram Islamists have kidnapped 10 members of an oil exploration team in northeast Nigeria, colleagues and the state-run oil firm said on Wednesday.
“About 10 staff from the survey and geological department of the University of Maiduguri were abducted on Tuesday,” said Ndu Ughamadu of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
Ughamadu said the NNPC had contracted the team to carry out research work on oil exploration activities taking place in the Lake Chad basin.
“They were kidnapped around Jibi village in Borno state after a gun duel between the security agents accompanying them and suspected Boko Haram fighters,” he told AFP.
Efforts were under way to track down the captors before a possible rescue operation. Jibi village is in the Magumeri area of Borno, northwest of the state capital, Maiduguri.
University of Maiduguri spokesman Danjuma Gambo confirmed the abduction and said the institution was awaiting further details from security operatives.
“There is no denying the fact that this incident happened, involving our staff, NNPC workers and security escorts from the military and the (civilian militia),” he added.
“Our staff who were recruited as consultants were on the team that was ambushed.”
The oil prospecting team had been working in the Magumeri area of Borno state for the last month, according to another member of staff, who asked not to be identified.
“It was clear Boko Haram studied their movements before attacking them,” he said.
Oil production has been concentrated in Nigeria’s southern Niger Delta region since it was first found in commercial quantities in 1956.
But repeated attacks by militants wanting a fairer share of profits for local people has forced the government to look elsewhere.
Exploration has been started in inland basins ranging from central Benue state to Boko Haram’s heartland in northeast.
But insecurity caused by the jihadists’ insurgency over the last eight years has disrupted work, with the latest kidnapping underlining the continued threat.
Boko Haram has used kidnapping as a weapon of war in the conflict. Thousands of women and girls have been seized while men and boys have been made to fight in the Islamist ranks.
Recent kidnappings of more high-profile targets appear to have a financial motivation, possibly to raise ransom money for the cash-strapped group.
On June 20, armed gunmen abducted 10 women after an attack on a convoy of vehicles travelling towards the town of Damboa from Maiduguri.
In May, Britain and the United States updated security advice for their nationals in northeast Nigeria, warning that Boko Haram was “actively planning” to kidnap foreign workers.