Kidnapping is one of the major security challenges facing Nigerians in recent time. Though it is not entirely a new phenomenon, yet, like a wild fire, it has continued to grow and assume horrendous dimensions.
Some decades ago, kidnapping in Nigeria used to be regarded as a thing peculiar to some specific parts of the country, particularly the Niger Delta region which made news headlines due to the activities of the militants. However, today hardly there is a part of the country that is not faced with the threat of kidnapping thereby making it one of the most pervasive organised crimes in the country. This is evident in series of kidnapping cases reported in 2020.
The impact of kidnapping on both commerce and daily life has been devastating. For many Nigerians, kidnapping is far more immediate than the carnage of boko haram, far away in the northeast, or the carnage in the middle belt over land and water use between “farmers” and “herders.” In the oil patch and South- south in general, kidnapping is often seen as a manifestation of the ongoing, low-level insurrection over how oil revenue is distributed.
Over time, the pool of potential victims has greatly expanded. Now, most victims are often poor villagers, sometimes kidnapped indiscriminately, a departure from the targeted kidnapping of wealthy people. They struggle to pay ransoms quickly because of their relative poverty, and victims are much more likely to be killed
In fact, the Abuja-Kaduna highway — one of the country’s most important commercial thoroughfares, leading from the capital to the vast northern market — has become ground zero for the scourge of kidnapping.
Today really anyone or everyone is at risk of being kidnapped
Shockingly, LEADERSHIP Sunday investigation revealed that Nigeria has the highest rate of kidnaps for ransom of both locals and foreigners in all of Africa.
Data from the Council on Foreign Relations/Nigeria Security Tracker shows that kidnapping in Nigeria was at an all-time high in 2020 with 2,860 reported cases. Starting from 2014 with reported 882 kidnappings, 658 in 2015, 347 in 2016, 484 in 2017, 987 in 2018 and 1,386 in 2019, the figures show the appreciable growth of the kidnapping industry in Nigeria.
The North West zone had the highest cases at 1,720, followed by North East at 392, North Central at 342, South South at 201, South West at 119 and South East at 86. A North/South divide of the figures show that 2,454 (85. .5 per cent ) of the kidnappings happened in the north while 406 (14.2 per cent) happened in the south. This approximates to 8 kidnappees per day in 2020.
A break-down of the figures according to states is as follows: Katsina: 888, Kaduna: 341, Borno: 300, Niger: 278, Zamfara: 183, Nasarawa: 120, FCT: 106, Delta: 68, Ondo: 66, Edo: 57, Anambra: 56, Taraba: 53, Kogi: 44, Rivers: 44, Plateau: 35, Adamawa: 31, Cross River: 27, Benue: 17, Oyo: 15, Kwara: 13, Lagos: 12, Ogun: 12, Ekiti: 12, Jigawa: 12, Sokoto: 10, Imo: 10, Ebonyi: 9, Kano: 8, Abia: 8, Kebbi: 7, Yobe: 4, Bauchi: 4, Bayelsa: 3, Enugu: 3, Akwa Ibom: 2, and Osun: 2.
In the past, kidnapping victims tended to be the wealthy and the prominent, and so kidnappers had every interest in keeping their victims alive to extract the maximum ransom possible. In March 2020, for example, two Nigerian footballers were kidnapped and released soon after.
A new report from SB Morgen, a Nigerian consulting firm, using data gathered from a variety of open sources, including the Council’s Nigeria Security Tracker, presented a valuable attempt to quantify the costs of kidnapping and to map its spread. Between 2011 and 2020, it revealed that over $18 million had been paid in ransom. The amount of ransom accelerated in the latter portion of that period: between 2016 and 2020, around $11 million was paid out. It shows that kidnapping has spread from the oil patch to the entire country and that the army is now stationed in almost every Nigerian state, essentially to keep order.
LEADERSHIP Sunday recalls that early in January 2020, an armed group released three aid workers and other civilians who had been held hostage in Maiduguri since December 2019. The people were kidnapped on December 22 by fighters posing as soldiers who stopped a convoy of commercial vehicles travelling towards Maiduguri.
Later, six people were killed and an unspecified number were kidnapped following an ambush on the Kaduna-Zaria highway, near Fandatio village, at around 23:00 on Tuesday, January 14, 2019. A source said that unidentified gunmen dressed as military personnel attacked commuters in the area, including the Emir of Potiskum, Alhaji Umaru Bubaram, though the number of people abducted and killed was not confirmed.
On February 14, gunmen abducted a Catholic Priest serving at the Uromi Diocese, Fr. Nicholas Oboh. Some children were also abducted by unknown persons at Umelu community in Ikpoba-Okha local government area of Edo State. Security sources said some armed robbers had robbed residents in the area and took four children along with them while one of the abducted children was released after the parents paid N2million ransom.
On March 4, gunmen also abducted a Catholic priest, Rev. Fr. David Echioda, in Otukpo, Benue State. According to a source, the priest of Otukpo Catholic Diocese was abducted on a Sunday afternoon along Alla-Akpa Road while returning home after conducting mass at Utonkon in the Ado local government area of the state. The abduction of the cleric, who comes from Oshugbudu in the Agatu local government area of the state, came four years after the Vicar General of the Catholic Diocese of Otukpo and priest in charge of St. Bernard Catholic Church in Ugwu Okpoga, the Okpokwu LGA of the state, Rev. Fr. John Adeyi, was kidnapped and later killed by his abductors.
Again, on March 23, two professional football league players were kidnapped along the Benin-Owo expressway after the suspension of the Nigeria elite division due to coronavirus.
The same day, pirates in the Gulf of Guinea were undeterred by COVID-19 when they boarded a Portuguese-flagged and Greek-owned containership and kidnapped seven Ukrainian crew members.
Three crew members were kidnapped from a tanker at Opobo river mouth, some 27 nautical miles off east of Bonny, Nigeria, on 20 May 2020. At the time of the attack, the Nigeria-flagged Preyor 1 was carrying automotive gas oil (AGO) from Lagos State to Calabar, sailing very close to shore, Praesidium International said.
Perpetrators managed to board the ship and kidnap three men – the captain, the chief engineer, and the cook, likely all being Nigerian nationals. The crew notified local authorities that deployed NNS Jubilee, a Nigerian Navy ship, to provide support. According to local sources, a ransom of ₦10 million was demanded from the abducted seafarers.
On Sunday, June 29, suspected Islamic militants released a video appeal involving four kidnapped humanitarian workers and a security guard, requesting the payment of a ransom in order to secure their release.
Also, around six assailants armed with guns kidnapped four Chinese workers and shot dead their police guard at a quarry site in Cross River state on Tuesday night July 21. The incident occurred in the Oban area of Akamkpa local government area .
Later, gunmen invaded the residence of a Bauchi state House of Assembly member, Musa Mante Baraza, who represents the Dass constituency, on Thursday, August 13, in the Dass local government area in Bauchi. According to local sources, the attackers killed the state official and abducted three family members late on Thursday night.
After that, unknown gunmen kidnapped at least 20 people in a raid on Adagbi village in Shiroro district of Niger state on Thursday, September 3. Local media sources report that the majority of those kidnapped were women. No casualties were reported during the raid, with the gunmen firing into the air as they entered the village on motorcycles and villagers running away.
Counting down, on October 27, a group of unidentified gunmen kidnapped worshipers from a mosque in the Gadabuke local government area (LGA) of Nasarawa state in the evening. According to local reports, the gunmen took multiple positions outside the mosque and began to fire indiscriminately until the worshipers left the mosque, where they were then taken to an unknown location.
Earlier in October, Port Harcourt based lawyer, Bisola Paulette Ajayi kidnapped and later released. She told newsmen that her abductors raised the ransom for her release from N50 million to N300million, after news about her abduction went viral.
During the early hours of 31 October 2020, United States Naval Special Warfare operators from the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU), parachuted from Air Force Special Operations aircraft of the 352d Special Operations Wing, and conducted a raid in Northern Nigeria, resulting in the rescue of an American hostage and the killing of six of the seven captors. The hostage, 27-year-old Philip Walton, had been kidnapped in front of his family at his home in the village of Massalata in neighboring Niger on 26 October by armed gunmen, who intended to sell him to armed terrorist groups in the area.
Still, on November 21, gunmen killed one person and abducted dozens of others during an attack in Kaduna state on a Friday. The attack occurred in the local government area of Igabi, which had been attacked several times in the last few weeks with 11 people being killed in Albasu village on November 16; a village chief was among those killed. An unspecified number of people were also abducted during the previous raids.
Then, the infamous kidnap of the 344 schoolboys in Kankara on December 11. Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the kidnap of the students from the all-boys Government Science Secondary School in the Katsina State village of Kankara.
Ten days later, on December 21, security officers rescued 80 more students kidnapped by gunmen in northwest Katsina state. The Islamiyya school students, mostly girls were ambushed in the Dandume local government area of Northwestern Katsina state Saturday during a school procession to celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed.
On December 25, gunmen also abducted the Kaduna chapter chairman of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), Emmanuel Bako, and his wife, Sandra. They were kidnapped at the Albarka camp, Fadan Kagoma, near Kafanchan in Jema’a local government area on Friday, Christmas Day.
“For most businesses, the greatest risk to their employees is while they are traveling,” says Tom Griffin, senior partner for Africa and the Middle East at Control Risks. “Almost half of all kidnaps in Nigeria recorded by Control Risks occur during road travel, with kidnappers often selecting targets based on perceived wealth during roadside ambushes, roadblocks or attacks in traffic congestion.”
Opinions are in favour that the government has to sit down and figure out how to effectively police the highways, protect Nigerians and businesses in Nigeria.