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Deep inside Nigeria's violent oil region

Militants are stepping up attacks in the wake of the country's fraudulent elections.

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With his small fleet of speedboats, hundreds of Kalashnikov-carrying militants, and a string of attacks on government and oil-company targets, Ateke Tom is a major reason for instability in the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria, Africa's largest oil producer and the fifth-largest supplier of crude to the US.

Critics call him a common criminal. Loyalists call him "godfather." The government calls him Nigeria's most wanted man.

But in an interview last week in his hideout among the mangrove swamps, Mr. Tom says he is fighting to ensure that the oil wealth that is pumped out of his region is used to develop his region.

Oil prices rose above $64 a barrel Thursday after gunmen kidnapped at least 19 people – mostly foreign oil workers of various nationalities – in less than 24 hours. The Monitor could not independently verify if militants loyal to Tom were behind the kidnappings, but attacks like this have increased after last month's presidential and state elections, which were discredited by most observers, including the European Union and Nigeria's biggest election monitoring group.

"Our resources, as you know, they are spoiled by the government," says Mr. Tom, a militant commander, meeting a pair of reporters in a camp of ramshackle tents, surrounded by his personal bodyguards. "Everywhere in the Delta, we are suffering. All the promises, and they do nothing. We want schools, we want them to employ our people, we want lights and water, all those things. It is for this that we are fighting, for our freedom."

Will last month's elections help?

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