In the eyes of her citizens and foreigners alike, Nigeria is presently seen as one of the most insecure locations in the world. According to the Global Peace Index, the country currently ranks 148 out of 163 nations with serious defects in security matters. And the reasons are very simple and easy to establish, especially the perennial and the alarming dimension that kidnapping for ransom in Nigeria has taken.
What started as child’s play around 2006 at the beginning of militancy in the Niger-delta region has spread like epidemic to other parts of the country, especially to the northern and western part, and it has remained the most virulent form of banditry in Nigeria. It has also become the most pervasive and intractable violent crime in the country at the moment.
Practically, kidnapping entails abduction and is done primarily for ransom or its material equivalent to be paid for a person or group of person’s release. Thus, it occurs when a group of criminals armed with guns and cell phones kidnap an individual or group of people, and drag them into secluded spot and begin to make phone calls to whomever demanding for ransom.
The rising spate of kidnapping for ransom in Nigeria has sparked outrage among Nigerians and the International community. For instance, the British government worried over insecurity in Nigeria (Daily Trust April 1, 2021), calling on the government to consider the situation as a national emergency. The menace has become the latest social and security problem, and the crime has grown to form a major threat to national security.
Nigeria is rated as one of the countries with the highest rate of kidnap for ransom cases in the world considering the following indices; SB Morgen (SBM) a Lagos based risks analysis firm reported that at least $18.34million (over N8 billion) was paid to kidnappers as ransom between June 2011 and the end of March 2020. Between January 1st – April 1st 2019 N16.5million was also paid as ransom (Daily Trust April 4, 2019). A kidnap suspect Abubakar Umar aka Baba Dogo confessed earning N200 million from kidnapping in six months (Blueprint June 20, 2019).
In fact, the menace has become a norm that is growing daily in Nigeria, to the extent that people can no longer go about their lawful businesses. Commuters plying certain roads in Nigeria especially the Abuja-Kaduna expressway, Kaduna-Birnin Gwari, Okene-Auchi and Brinin Gwari-Funtua highways and host of other roads are at risk of being kidnapped (Vanguard September 30, 2018). Kidnappers who used to strike intermittently at night on the Abuja-Kaduna, Abuja-Lokoja expressways and other parts of the country have become more daring, operating even in broad daylight along the highways (Sahara reporters July 29, 2018).
One can arguably say that there is no single day, week or month in Nigeria that we do not read on the pages of newspapers or watch on national television about kidnapping for ransom. And the variables to measure the point that this article tries to establish are presented herein;
The sum of N6 million was paid to kidnappers for the release of a Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) pastor and nine others that were kidnapped in Kiyi, Kuje Area Council of Abuja (Daily Trust April 6, 2021). Also a housewife, Sadiya Badamasi was abducted by kidnappers at senior staff quarters in Abaji and regained her freedom after a N5 million ransom was paid to her abductors (Daily Trust April 6, 2021). The abduction of 39 students of the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation in Mando area of Kaduna State by armed bandits (Daily Trust March 13, 2021), two (2) students and a lecturer of the Institute of Construction Technology, Uromi Edo State were also kidnapped by gunmen (Vanguard March 11, 2021).
Furthermore, about 300 girls were kidnapped by armed bandits from the Government Girls Secondary School Jangebe in Zamfara State (Vanguard February 26, 2021), 344 students were kidnapped on a Friday night from Government Science Secondary School Kankara in Katsina State by gunmen (The Punch December 12, 2020). About 40 persons including 27 students and 3 teachers were also kidnapped when armed bandits attacked Government Science Secondary School, Kagara in Niger State (The Punch February 17, 2021).
A Takum based businessman Usman Mayo, was kidnapped and was held captive. Even after his family paid N100 million, the kidnappers who insisted that another N100 million be added before releasing him. He was finally freed after an additional N5 million was paid (Daily Trust August 30, 2019). Three final year students of the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) kidnapped on the Abuja-Kaduna highway were freed after their families collectively coughed out a whooping sum of N5.5 million as ransom (Daily Trust August 30, 2019). In Edo state, a kidnapped victim, Ade Iyaju paid N500, 000 to regain his freedom, his wife sold her jewelleries and other belongings apart from what his colleagues in the office, friends donated. He paid debts after regaining his freedom (Daily Trust August 30, 2019).
In Sokoto State parents of a victim from Gundumi, Goronyo Local Government Area, Mallama Rabi Mahmuda, had to sell all their livestock and stored grains to raise N2 million that was demanded by her captives, to the extent her relations had to beg the well-to-do in their community to meet up with the kidnappers’ demand. The victim said she and her family are living in abject poverty after her release (Daily Trust August 30, 2019).
In Dan-Aji community of Faskari Local Government Area of Katsina State 26 girls were carefully selected and kidnapped and the village head Alhaji Lawal Dogara said the community paid N6.6 million ransom to free the girls (Daily Trust November 10, 2020). The village head of Hunki in Awe Local Government of Nasarawa State, Mallam Muhammadu Hunki was kidnapped and his abductors demanded a ransom of N4 million but later accepted N600,000 before they released him, he added that his family suffered to raise the money (Daily Trust August 30, 2019) Also, Late Rev. Father John Adeyi of Ipiga Otukpa in Ogbadibo Local Government Area of Benue State was kidnapped on the 24th April, 2016 and his decomposed body was found in a bush at Odoba village in Otukpa, after his abductors collected N2million from his family as ransom (Vanguard June 26, 2016). Dr Adoyi Omale a lecturer with the Baze University Abuja was kidnapped in Ajaokuta, Kogi State and was released by his abductors after his family paid a whooping sum of N2 million (Daily Post December 19, 2016).
Chief Olu Falae a former minister of finance was kidnapped at his IIado farm along Igbatoro Road, Akure North Local Government Area of Ondo State on the 21 September, 2015 and was released after a ransom of N5 million was paid (Vanguard September 29, 2015). The paramount ruler of Adara chiefdom in Kachia Local Government Area of Kaduna state, the Agom Adara, Dr Maiwada Galadima was kidnapped on the 19th October 2018 and was killed on the 26th October 2018 in the presence of the ransom bearer after collecting N10 million (Vanguard October 28, 2018). Just to mention a few out of the many occurrences.
Little wonder, Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina State said Nigeria is economically attractive to kidnappers from countries within the Sahel region of Africa (Vanguard March 17, 2021). The governor’s comment has justified the reason for the incessant cases of kidnapping for ransom that is ravaging Nigeria.
Kidnapping for ransom in Nigeria has taken a new pattern. Certain armed youths now called bandits have seen kidnapping for ransom as a lucrative business they can venture into by abducting school children, farmers, citizens and foreigners, without minding the possible effects it has on victims and the impact on the nation.
A sociologist Rodanthi Tzanelli at University of Leeds described kidnapping as a social enterprise and went further to reiterate that: “Kidnappers are businessmen, they just happen to be on the illegal side of it….if you deprive them of the demand then there is not going to be any supply. Why would I kidnap somebody who will not pay”? This is to buttress the primary objective of a kidnapper.
Formerly, the prime targets of kidnapping for ransom were those considered to be very wealthy enough to pay a fee in exchange for their freedom. But currently anybody even the poorest people in the society are kidnapped at random for paltry sums, and it cut across boundaries, tribes, religion, political affiliation, and the common denomination is the immediate lucrative pay-off.
We can clearly see the manifestation in the cases of nabbed Taraba kidnap kingpin Bala Hamisu popularly called Wadume, Chukwudumeme Onwuamadike aka Evans and the Late Don Wani, a Port Harcourt based kidnap kingpin just to mention a few, who became billionaires and millionaires in the kidnapping business, using the proceeds to expand their network and acquired sophisticated weapons to carry on their illicit activities.
Similarly, Boko Haram insurgents also use the proceeds of kidnapping to keep their insurgency buoyant. They engage in single or group kidnapping as a means of generating money to fund their heinous activities.
One of the emphasis of this article is on ransoms that are paid to kidnappers by families and associates to secure the release of their beloved ones. Beyond the ransoms that are usually paid, it is also very traumatic, because when victims remember their ordeal in the hands of kidnappers the psychological trauma ranges from depression, emotional attack and fear of another possible attack.
But some people are of the opinion that payment of ransom motivates kidnappers, and suggest families and associates to stop paying ransom, so as to discourage the trend. The salient questions are therefore: what will be the fate of peoples’ beloved ones in kidnappers den if families and associates take to this suggestion? Should their family members and associates allow them to die? These are questions begging for answers.
The persistence of kidnapping and the demand for ransom has huge effects on victims, their families and associates. Unfortunately, the government seems not to have any cushion measures in place beyond just debriefing and running medical check-up on victims, because some victims were interviewed. I want to suggest that the government should put certain measures like “Victims of kidnap for ransom support fund” to ameliorate the poor conditions of genuine cases of victims/families that have been investigated and confirmed by the relevant authorities.
The fund will enable them recuperate their losses, since ransom payment robs most of them of their means of livelihood and makes them poorer. Some of them actually give their entire life savings, sell properties and even incur huge debts from borrowing to secure release of loved ones. Government should therefore consider their plight, because a victim may become a kidnapper or go into any other crime as a result of aggression and frustration, if allowed to lick his/her wounds without support.
The menace also has far-reaching consequences economically on Nigeria as well. It affects investments, production of goods and services, and discourages movement of skilled labour from one part of the country to another due to fear of uncertainty on the road. Both local and foreign investors have become sceptical of investing in Nigeria even with our abundant human and natural resources, due to the prevailing cases of kidnapping in many parts of the country.
Even farmers are either kidnapped or killed on their farmlands, to the extent that they have become very scared and in secured. This also discourages production and supply of agricultural products that will lead to shortage of supply to meet the growing demands, and will pose serious threats to food security in the country.
Education is also now seriously threatened with the continual kidnapping of school children, as a result, there will be an increase to the already existing 6.95 million out-of-school children. This is because students have become scared to go to school and parents prefer to keep their children safe at home than send them to where they may be kidnapped, and monies that they don’t have will be used as ransom to secure the release of their wards. All these have become very worrisome and pose a great challenge to the development of the country.
Unfortunately, Nigerians who are involved in this ugly business sometimes in collaboration with foreigners will find it difficult to quit as it stands, because it has become a means that can transform a penniless person to become rich in the blink of an eye, like we saw in the confession of some kidnappers, (Bala Hamisu aka Wadume, Chukwudumeme Onwuamadike aka Evans and Late Don Wani etc). Though, kidnapping for ransom still persist in spite of efforts and measures put in place by the government and relevant security agencies, there is the need to critically look at the revised 2019 National Security Strategy, and ensure effective coordination and implementation because therein lies the solutions to the menace.
Stephen Obochi Okwori
An Abuja based Security Consultant