French oil major Total has moved its staff from the Nigerian capital Abuja following the kidnapping of a French national last month, Chief Executive Christophe de Margerie said on Friday.
This is the first time in recent history that a company has said it has evacuated foreigners from Nigeria’s capital due to security concerns. Western diplomatic sources told Reuters earlier this week that embassies were not planning to remove families of their staff from Abuja.
“What we do first is to limit the number of expatriates, not because they have more rights to be protected than the others, but because they are a more interesting target, if I may say,” de Margerie told France 24 television.
He did not elaborate on the number of staff moved.
“In Nigeria, we have three installations … We moved our people from Abuja, which is the city that is most at risk, to Lagos and Port-Harcourt, and if necessary, we move them back to Paris,” he told the TV channel on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Nigerian Islamist group Ansaru kidnapped a French national last month in the remote northern town of Rimi, close to the Niger border.
The group threatened to continue to target the French because of the country’s support of military action in Mali and its decision to ban the full face veil.
Ansaru claimed an attack on a military convoy taking troops from Nigeria to Mali last week in Kogi state, south of the capital Abuja.
The group’s full name is Jama’atu Ansarul Musilimina Fi Biladis Sudan, which roughly translates as “Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa”.
The group, thought to be a breakaway from better known Islamist sect Boko Haram, has risen to greater prominence in recent weeks.
It claimed responsibility for a dawn raid on a major police station in the Nigerian capital in November, where it said hundreds of prisoners were released.
Britain last year put Ansaru on its official “terrorist group” list, saying it was aligned with al Qaeda and was behind the kidnap of a British and an Italian killed earlier this year during a failed rescue attempt.
Ansaru is thought to have loose ties to Boko Haram, which killed hundreds last year in an insurgency focused mostly on Nigerian security forces, religious targets and politicians, rather than foreigners.
De Margerie said Total had also moved some of its personnel out of Algeria.
Last week’s siege at an Algerian gas plant by Islamist militants, which ended with heavy loss of life among foreign hostages, also prompted the French oil major to take extra measures to protect its staff in the northern African country.
“In Algeria, those who were in the desert, we brought them back to Algiers, and those who had no need to stay in Algiers, (they were) repatriated to France,” he said.
“But at the same time, we carry on, we must not stop (production), we’re continuing at the same pace, but with a lower headcount,” he added.