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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 July 2007, 16:18 GMT 17:18 UK
Lawlessness plagues oil rich city
By Jude Sheerin
BBC News

Militants in Nigeria
The Niger Delta has seen 200 expat abductions since 2006
Awash with oil, Port Harcourt should be a boom town - but instead it is one of the most dangerous cities in West Africa.

Set in lush swamps with palm trees on every street corner, the southern Nigerian port town was once known as the Garden City.

But security has sharply deteriorated in recent years amid escalating militant attacks on oil installations, kidnappings and general lawlessness.

The snatching of the three-year-old daughter of an expatriate worker on Thursday was just the latest in a long line of abductions by gunmen in the region.

Much of the violence in Nigeria's oil refining capital has been blamed on turf wars between political gangs that sprouted during the 2003 general elections and later turned to full-time criminal activity.

Daytime shoot-outs

Dr Judith Burdin Asuni, 60, a New Yorker who has lived in the region for more than a decade, said: "You don't see too many expats around here any more because it's just too dangerous.

map
Port Harcourt used to be peaceful and lovely but now it is a terrible place
Patrick Naagbanton,
NGO worker
"Some people were killed in a shoot-out right in the centre of Port Harcourt during the daytime this week, which isn't unusual.

"People tend to go to work and then go home in the evening and stay there. I wouldn't go out at night."

The city acts as the operational base for the multinational oil companies that together pump 2.5 million barrels of crude per day from platforms in the Niger Delta and nearby offshore waters.

But the dismal security situation has reduced oil production and left foreign investors wary of doing business there. The UK Foreign Office advises against all travel to Port Harcourt.

Poor infrastructure

Militant attacks are not the only problem affecting the city's economy.

Port Harcourt used to be a flourishing manufacturing centre for industries such as plastics and textiles.

Militants in the Niger Delta
Militant attacks have cut Nigeria's oil production by 25%

But many of the city's major businesses have disappeared over the past 20 years.

Some people blame the oil industry and its grip on the local economy for the decline in other industries.

A Pentecostal church minister said all the trouble in the Rivers State capital was linked to the oil industry.

Rev Newton Eretinghe, of the Great Power Gospel Ministries, said: "Some of the oil companies have problems with their host communities but that's because they are taking all the oil and the money and not giving the people their dues."

Attracting businesses is even harder given Port Harcourt's poor infrastructure, such as its bad roads.

A lack of building regulations means land is often cleared, with "lean to" buildings springing up overnight.

This adds to flooding and sanitation problems since, with no proper drainage or sewer system, parts of the city end up under water during the very heavy monsoon-type rains that fall for half the year.

Patrick Naagbanton, 36, a local NGO worker, said: "Port Harcourt used to be peaceful and lovely but now it is a terrible place.

"The only time you see white people here these days they are being escorted to work or back home by armed police and soldiers."




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