Why kidnapping for ransom is thriving in Nigeria – Report

SBM Intelligence

By Anayo Ezugwu

SBM Intelligence has said that one reason why kidnap for ransom has come to stay in Nigeria is the economics surrounding it. SBM Intelligence latest report indicates that in US dollar terms, between the $545,000 paid to secure the freedom of Ernest Ohunyon in Edo State in November 2011, and the $6868 paid to free Ojo Ekundayo and Benjamin Iluyomade in Ondo State at the end of March 2020, at least $18,343,067 changed hands between victims and kidnappers.

The report titled ‘Nigeria’s Kidnap Problem: The Economics of the Kidnap Industry in Nigeria,’ pointed out that in the earlier years, there were fewer incidents, and larger amounts changed hands. Now there are a lot more incidents for smaller amounts, but the sheer number of incidents, speaking to the democratisation of the kidnap industry, means that the kidnap economy now makes more money.

According to the report, an investigation by the Voice of America in September 2019, revealed that kidnappers demand between $1,000 to $150,000 as ransom, depending on the financial resources of the victims. Crime, in this case kidnapping, does appear to pay. “Hamisu Bala, aka Wadume is another notable kidnap merchant, but operates mainly in the northwest and north-central (unlike Evans whose activities were focused on the south), in addition to supplying weapons to terror groups, cattle rustlers and militias across the North.

“Wadume was said to have made millions from ransom. His gang carried out a kidnapping in Takum on 16 February 2019 of a petrol dealer Usman Garba. The Wadume gang demanded N200 million ransom. Despite that relations of the victim were able to hand over N106.3 million, he was killed. In late April 2019, the chairman of Universal Basic Education Commission, Dr. Muhammad Mohmoud Abubakar and his daughter were abducted by armed gangs in military uniform along Kaduna-Abuja highway. Their driver was also shot and killed during the incident which occurred at Kurmi Kari village.

“They were both released a few days later with ransom paid. On 29 January, 2019, 16 villagers were abducted by armed bandits in Zurmi local government area of Zamfara. Their abductors demanded N8.5 million. They were released after the community rallied around to raise N3 million. When gunmen abducted four staff of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) in Abua Odual LGA of Rivers state on 24 April, 2019, at least N6 million was paid for their release.

“These examples show there’s a whole thriving economy built around the abduction of persons. Insecurity is increasingly becoming a profitable venture for its merchants, which looks set to rival the illegal arms running businesses,” it stated.

According to the report, SBM interviewed some respondents in each of Nigeria’s geopolitical zones to get a feel of what people living through the menace think. A respondent in Port Harcourt thinks that a common hunting ground for kidnappers is off major highways. “We’ve seen them divert passengers on the highways. We’ve also seen them trail their victims in inner city streets, or even diverting interstate commuters.”

While calling out the role of security agencies, he noted that the police are accomplices, perpetrators, and victims. “The ones involved in kidnap are there; those who are fighting kidnappers too are there. Who’s winning is in the numbers you have.”

Another respondent, this time in Kaduna in the North-West, said that the kidnappers “break into the victim’s house or stop the victim on the road then take the victim to their camp. They have informants, people who tell them the whereabouts of the victims.”

Contrary to notions elsewhere that kidnappers negotiate ransoms, the respondent claimed that in Kaduna, “they collect big ransoms and don’t negotiate, they get the exact amount they request. This has now become a means of business.”

In Adamawa, which is in the North-East, the respondent noted that people, who live on the outskirts of major towns are vulnerable. “If you are living in an isolated place you become more vulnerable. Another thing here is that most times, they use an insider from a community, who gives out information to the kidnappers that enables them to track their victims.”

He also pointed out that the kidnappers have a target age demography.  “They don’t really kidnap aged men and women because most times, they don’t come with cars so they go for young victims who can trek with them.”

A retired police officer in Akwa Ibom in Nigeria’s South-South, in describing the scale of the task for security authorities said that, “there is nothing the police can do because the police are not magicians. But my own belief is that before a person is kidnapped, there must be an insider, there must be someone, who knows you, so there is nothing the police can do about putting an end to it.”

Enugu, in Nigeria’s South-East, has seen a spike in kidnap attempts in the past one year. Catholic priests were major targets and a number of them were killed, with the most notable incident recorded in August when clergyman, Rev Fr Paul Ofu, was abducted in Agwu Local Government Area and killed a few days later.

A respondent in the state identified youth gang members (“cultists”) as the driving force behind many of the kidnap cases. “Here in Enugu, kidnappers don’t negotiate. Before choosing their victim, they make research to know what the person is worth”.

In addition, an Imo based respondent (also in the South-East) reported that a common tactic used by the kidnappers in the state is by commandeering of victims’ vehicles. “The tactics they use here in Imo state is to trace their victims to a certain point then pull them over in their cars, or force you into theirs and drive to an incomplete building or a place where they keep their victims. They will then use your phone to call your family members for negotiation.”

– May 29, 2020 @ 16:45 GMT |

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