The Horrific Tales of Kidnaping ‘Enterprise’ in Nigeria

Following the rise in incidents of kidnapping for ransom in Abuja and other parts of the country, including the latest trend of crowdfunding ransoms by Nigerians, as though it is an ‘enterprise’, Sunday Ehigiator, Ayodeji Ake, Esther Oluku, and Izuchukwu Ahuchaogu, examine the trend of kidnapping in Nigeria, ransom payments/crowdfunding ransom, and the impending danger it poses to the country

In a horrific tale of fear, tears, apprehension, blood, death and sorrow, Nigerians can no longer sleep with their two eyes closed. They are neither safe outside their homes nor safe at home, as criminal gangs can now hold a full estate at ransom in broad daylight for hours, breaking into homes and abducting as many victims as they want without challenge.

Alas! Kidnapping one person at a time is now old-fashioned and outdated in this blooming enterprise. The new update is blocking major federal roads, stopping as many cars as they want, and abducting over 45 people at a time without challenge from security forces.

After the abduction, call up their relatives using a ‘registered sim card’ without even hiding the number, place a price tag of not less than N100 million on each victim (of course, it will be crowdfunded), give a deadline of at least one-week for cash delivery of ransom, drop pickup location, kill the victims when their relatives failed to meet the deadline or abduct whoever is delivering the ransom if they can meet the deadline. Welcome to a new Nigeria!

The sad story of ‘Al-Kadriyar Six’

In a heartbreaking turn of events, Alhaji Mansoor Al-Kadriyar and his six children, fell victim to a harrowing kidnapping incident that has left the nation in shock. Tragically, one of the abducted daughters, identified as Nabeeha Al-Kadriyar, lost her life at the hands of her abductors.

This incident, now widely discussed under the hashtag #NajeebahAndHerSisters, has sparked outrage across social media platforms.

Nabeeha, a dedicated 400-level student of Biological Science at Ahmadu Bello University, was laid to rest on Saturday, January 13, 2024, by Islamic rites.

Compounding the tragedy, others abducted include Najeebah, a 500-level Quantity Surveying student, and Nadheerah, a promising 300-level Zoology student. The kidnappers initially demanded a ransom of N60 million, a figure that has since escalated to a staggering N100 million.

The news has triggered an outpouring of grief and solidarity on social media, with X users expressing their outrage and calling on security agencies to intensify efforts to rescue the remaining victims. The family and well-wishers are turning to social media platforms to seek financial assistance, amplifying their desperate plea for support.

Sherifdeen, a relative of the victims, took to social media to share the family’s urgent situation, stating, “We have been given until Friday, January 12, 2024, to gather the money. That’s N10 million per child. To support the efforts in securing their freedom, we humbly seek financial assistance. Bank details have been provided on my Facebook page.”

Sadly, upon failure to meet up with the deadline again, the kidnappers increased the ransom for the release of others in their custody to N700 million, while also killing another two of their victims. They were afterwards released but the incident claimed two lives.

Kidnapping incidents

According to a Google report, between October and December 2023, there were 12 recorded kidnap incidents and 80 victims. The incidents took place in Gbau, Kuje, Gauge, Pezu, Abaji, Keti, and Kwali, unchallenged by security agencies.

On Thursday, January 18, kidnappers invaded the Army Estate in Abuja and kidnapped the wife and in-law of one Barrister Cyri Adikwu.

According to an eyewitness, identified as Austine John, the incident happened at about 10:00 p.m. in the Phase 2 area of the estate.

John, who is a neighbour to the victim, said the kidnappers came in and started shooting while they invaded the barrister’s house and took away his wife and in-law, but the barrister escaped.

On Wednesday, January 17, kidnappers abducted a man identified as Suleimon Sabo at about 8 pm at Sabon Lugbe, Airport Road, Abuja. The armed criminals reportedly came in a Golf car; and shot him and his tires before whisking him away.

On January 9, 2023, it was reported that gunmen armed with AK-37 kidnapped 32 people at a train station Southern Nigeria train station in Southern Edo State.

In a press statement, the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), said armed herdsmen attacked Tom Ikimi station at 4 pm as commuters awaited a train to Warri, Delta State.

On September 30, 2023, gunmen abducted 25 travellers along the Owo/Ifon/Benin Expressway in Ondo state. According to the report, the victims were members of the Choir of the Christ Apostolic Church (CAC), Oke Igan, Akure, the state capital.

The kidnappers struck at about 3 pm on Friday around Elegbaka village, while they were on their way to Ifon for a funeral ceremony.

On August 26, 2023, suspected gunmen kidnapped 12 people in two different locations in Zamfara and Borno States. According to the report, the first incident occurred in Zamfara State where four people including the village head of the Nasarawa-Burkullu community, a local official confirmed the incident.

In a separate incident, Boko Haram militants abducted eight farmers on Saturday in Maiwa village, about three kilometres from Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria’s northeastern Borno state.

On December 12, 2023, 12 persons were kidnapped in an attack on Gbanupe, a rural village behind ACO Estate, Lugbe. Not far from the Abuja airport road.

A 9-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl were kidnapped alongside 10 others. The villagers panicked as security agencies were immediately alerted.

On October 17, 2023, at least 50 people including children were abducted, while three were killed in an attack by gunmen in Bagega, Northwest, Zamfara State. Residents of the community lamented insecurity as millions were demanded as ransom for the abductees to regain freedom.  Reports revealed schools, villages, and travellers have been the main targets of the kidnappers.

December 9, 2023, recorded the abduction of 23 residents in the Dei-Dei community under the Bwari area council, Abuja. According to reports, the victims were kidnapped from their comfort zone in a compound at around 9 pm while preparing for bedtime.

A leader in the community confirmed that seven of the victims were rescued that same night by the security vigilante who trailed the kidnappers into the bush.

In separate news, on December 19, 2023, a traditional ruler alongside 21 others was kidnapped in the Pupule community of Yorro Local Government Area of Taraba State. The community was attacked at about 2 am shooting sporadically when residents were asleep. An eyewitness disclosed that a pregnant woman, a family member of the third class chief and his security orderly were kidnapped.

On December 7, 2023, students protested over the abduction of 10 students of the Federal University of Lafia, Nasarawa State. According to reports, gunmen attacked the student community at about 2 am and kidnapped 10 of them while others ran helter-skelter for safety.  Eyewitness told the media that the operation lasted about two years without interruption.

On December 19, 2023, a popular Juju Musician, Omoba De Jombo Beats and his crew were kidnapped. They were kidnapped on their way to Kogo State for a live performance. According to information that made the rounds on social media, the kidnapper demanded a huge sum of N10 million for their release.

As Nigerians bask in the euphoria of a New Year, on January 11, 2024, 15 persons were recorded kidnapped in Abuja, since the beginning of the New Year. The first incident happened around Zuma 1, Bwari Area Council of Abuja, where seven persons, all members of the same family, were abducted by gunmen.

On the night of Sunday, January 7, some armed men invaded Sagwari Layout Estate in Dutse, also in Bwari Area Council, at about 7.30 p.m. and abducted nine persons including a mother and her four children.

 Also,  on August 17 2023, an 11-seater Akwa Ibom State Transport Company (AKTC) en route to Sokoto from Uyo was intercepted by bandits on the Zamfara State Highway who abducted eight of the passengers and the bus driver while others escaped.

The passengers were mainly fresh graduates from Akwa Ibom State posted to Sokoto for the compulsory one-year NYSC programme.

Kidnapping indices

In recent years, Nigeria has seen a sharp increase in kidnappings. This has seen Nigerians pay billions of naira in ransom to secure the release of their loved ones at the hands of kidnappers.

Data collected from weekly reports on Nigeria Security Tracker stated that in the year 2020, 191 kidnap cases were reported with 1,789 kidnap victims. The number rose by 70.5 per cent in 2021 to the total of 334 reported cases and 4,673 victims with an average of 386 victims per month and 89 victims per week.

THISDAY checks reveal that a majority of these incidents are concentrated in three out of the nation’s six geopolitical zones namely, North East, North West and North Central known for their vast expanse of arable land with pockets of incidents occurring in the South-West, South-South and South-East Geo-political zones. This would pose severe threats to food security and availability in the coming years as farmers cannot go to their farms for fear of being kidnapped.

According to Nigeria Security Tracker (NST), 19,366 Nigerians have been kidnapped in 2,694 kidnapping instances over the last 10 years as of the end of June 2023.

Available data shows that incidents and cases of kidnapping began to rise in 2014 and peaked in 2021 compared to previous years.

It increased from 31 incidents in 2013 with 351 kidnap victims to 84 in 2014 with 897 victims 111 in 2015 with 926 victims to 137 in 2016 with 347 victims, 141 in 2017 with 532 victims, 157 in 2018 with 1,014 victims, 331 in 2019 with 1421 victims, 439 in 2020 with 2879 victims, 590 in 2021 with 5,287 victims, 515 in 2022 with 4,680 victims and 199 in the first six months of 2023 with 1,384 victims.

There were also mass abduction incidents involving more than 20 victims. While there were five such abductions in 2015, Nigeria recorded 11 cases in 2018, eight in 2019, 25 in 2020, 69 in 2021 and 40 in 2022.

Large-scale abductions have also targeted schoolchildren. Thousands of students have been kidnapped in Borno State’s Chibok, Niger State’s Kagara, Zamfara State’s Jangebe, Kaduna State’s Afaka, and Kebbi State’s Yauri.

Blooming kidnapping economy

Kidnapping in Nigeria has become a very lucrative incident, spawning a vibrant criminal economy that continuously draws new assailants to the thriving illegal business.

In 2018, Nigeria had the highest number of kidnapping for ransom cases worldwide, and was also ranked among the ‘Costelli Kidnap Ransom Top Ten Countries for Kidnapping Foreign Citizens in 2022’.

In 2017, following his arrest, Notorious kidnapper, Chukwudi Dumeme Onuamadike, a.k.a Evans, reportedly told police that he received $4 million in ransom from four of his high-profile kidnapped victims between 2015 and 2016.

Some kidnappers go after the wealthy. Others are becoming less prejudiced. No Nigerian is protected from the risk, whether ordinary Nigerians commuting interstate, farmers caring for their crops, older people resting at home, or children at school.

In July 2022, Daily Trust reported that N800 million was paid to terrorists to secure the release of seven captives seized from the AK9 train service attacked on the Abuja–Kaduna route.

The released victims were among the dozens of passengers abducted on March 28, 2022, by gunmen who derailed the moving train.

Similarly, an Enugu-based politician, Tochukwu Okeke, who in 2019 narrated how he was kidnapped by a late notorious kidnapper, Collins Ezenwa, popularly known as ‘E-money’, said he paid $2 million, which had a naira value of N700 million at the time, to secure his release.

SBM Intelligence, a research company, in a report published in 2020, titled, ‘The Economics of The Kidnap Industry in Nigeria’, alluded to the ‘Democratisation of the kidnap industry’.

The report stated that between 2011 and 2020, at least $18.34 million (N8.98 billion) was paid as ransom to kidnappers in the country. It also stated in an amended report published in 2022 that between July 2021 and June 2022, Nigeria paid N653.7 million in ransom.

It added that over 60 per cent of the total amount was paid out between January 2016 and March 2020, indicating a recent surge.

Crowdfunding for ransom and its dangers

After several years of government failures in performing its primary function of providing a viable environment safe for economic thrives, while also securing the lives and properties of the people, Nigerians have learnt to step up for themselves.

They provide water for themselves, provide power for themselves, do their roads themselves, provide security for themselves, and now, they are coming together to pay ransom too, as kidnapping for ransom has become a lucrative business for bandits, terrorists, and other strains of daredevils in Nigeria.

A report by Voice of America shows that kidnappers demand between 1,000 to 5,000 dollars, depending on their evaluation of the victims.

SBM Intelligence also reported that Nigerians paid about $18.3 million or N13.7 billion in ransom between June 2011 and March 2020. Some victims paid as low as N4,000 for ransom while the largest ransom collected within the period in view was N190 million.

The latest data from SBM Intelligence, released in August 2023, showed that the kidnappers are still cashing out from the business. They kidnapped more than 3,600 people in Nigeria between July 2022 and June 2023 and demanded about N5 billion in ransoms.

Most of these payments came out of pocket. Some families of the victims had to sell their properties.

According to a report titled, ‘Crowdfunding for Ransom Payment is a Double-edged Sword that Cuts Everyone but Bandits,’ by Bello Hussein from the University of Ilorin, “a young man in Ilorin sold his car to pay ransom after his two daughters were kidnapped in 2022.

“Isyaka Labaran, a veterinary drugs seller in Kwali, Abuja, had to sell his three-bedroom apartment to fund his release after he was kidnapped in September 2023.” But these pockets are running dry, and many families don’t have more to sell.

The 2022 Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) survey by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed that more than 133 million Nigerians, 63 per cent of the population, are multidimensionally poor, with low-income and lack access to basic amenities.

These are some of the people bandits compel to pay millions in ransom.  Leaves on to wonder,  where will they get money from? That Nigerians are turning to crowdfunding for ransom shows the helplessness of the situation. 

Speaking further, Hussein said, “Late last year, parents of the 11 remaining Yauri schoolgirls started a crowdfunding campaign for the N100 million bandits demanded to release the students. The students had been in captivity for 19 months. The campaign started after government interventions and negotiations failed to secure their release.

“This helplessness has further encouraged a collection of savages to kidnap and maim at will, funded by the millions of ransoms hapless victims pay, and the casual complicity of the government for not providing enough deterrence.

“We can debate the morality of contributing to a ransom and arming bandits to wreak even more havoc, shatter more dreams, and take more lives, or calling their bluff at the risk of losing more lives to their cold, indifferent hands, but to what end?

“Al-Kadriyar family had little option than to pay the ransom. One of their daughters had been killed; more lives were at stake. The risk of flouting the federal government’s criminalisation of ransom payment and the chilling prospect of funding terrorism was not going to be enough to deter them, especially when the government has not been able to deter kidnappers.

“Meanwhile, bandits are raking in billions. In 2023, the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) reported that two self-appointed negotiators facilitated two billion naira transactions for bandits between November 2021 and August 2022. Most of these monies were paid by the families of the kidnapped victims.

“The monies, according to the NFIU, are often used to purchase the ‘terrorists’ weapons and motorcycles, logistics, and further their terrorist campaign and recruitment of new members.

“Armed with hundreds of millions of naira from ransom, the bandits have graduated from attacking villagers and herders to hijacking cars on the highways, abducting children from schools, and attacking homes, trains, civilians, and security operatives. What they will do with the tens of millions they will get now from crowdfunded ransom is anybody’s guess.

“The fiasco of the rampant kidnapping, the crowdfunding campaigns it inspired, and the brazen savagery of the bandits are a sad indictment of our government and a call for them to do more to secure fellow Nigerians and win citizen confidence. No amount of criminalisation or moral judgements will disincentivise families from paying ransoms or crowdfunding for it.

“For the victims and their families, the pain of captivity is raw, the threat of a repeat experience is haunting, and the horrors of the old are ever-present. They may never find closure.

“The rest of us are now wary of being the next victims of better-funded bandits with more weapons, members, and greater reach. The government is struggling to contain the crisis.

“And the bandits, basking in the success of their most recent propaganda and incoming million, lick their lips: there is more to come.”

FG warns against crowdfunding for ransom

Meanwhile, the Federal Government (FG) of Nigeria has warned relatives of kidnapping victims against engaging in crowdfunding and paying ransom to kidnappers.

The Minister of Defence, Abubakar Badaru, gave the warning while fielding questions from State House journalists after the FEC meeting presided over by President Bola Tinubu on Wednesday, January 17.

The minister, who spoke on the havoc being done by rampaging terrorists and kidnappers across the country, especially the nation’s capital, Abuja, admitted that the kidnapping was high within the FCT area councils.

Reacting to the issue of crowdfunding to pay ransom, Badaru said there is an existing law that prohibits the payment of ransom to kidnappers

“We all know that there is an existing law against the payment of ransom. So, it is very sad for people to go over the internet and radio asking for donations to pay ransom.

“This will only worsen the situation; it will not help the situation, as you have seen. Initially, they asked for N60 million and now, because of this funding, somebody has already raised N50 million through friends and media, and the kidnappers jacked up the ransom.

“We believe we have to stop, as painful as it is, responding to requests for ransom. If we stop, over time the kidnapping will not be profitable, and they will stop.

“It is not easy, though, but that is the law that you are known by. So, we want to call on the people to manage the kidnapping situation intelligently and quietly, because talking too much about it, especially raising funds through the public and media is not productive at all and should be discontinued.”

Complicity of security agencies

One other big issue fueling insecurity in Nigeria is the complacency of security agencies in Nigeria.

According to the Director General (DG), the Institute of Security and Strategic Studies, Prof Azeez Olaniyan, rising insecurity stems from nepotism and ineptitude of leaders, poverty, corruption, and unemployment, amongst others and lack of provision of basic amenities to the people.

He also said, “The level of vigilance and detective capacities of our security agencies is very low.

“You can imagine that right in Abuja, kidnapping and abductions are occurring daily. If insecurity must be reduced, there should be a high level of vigilance and community policing.

“There should be strengthening of Joint Task forces, Inter-agency security meetings and briefings, training and capacity building of personnel. Money budgeted for security is often diverted. The vigilance should extend to how such funds are deployed.”  

Also speaking, the National Coordinator, of the Association of Rural Chiefs for Peace and Development, Chief Nengi James, said, “While we are grappling with insufficient manpower in the security agencies to police the country adequately, security personnel are now assigned to those who can pay while the ordinary citizens are left unprotected. You see security personnel in their numbers being assigned to politicians, rich persons who can pay including ‘Yahoo’ boys and even criminals.

“How many are now left to protect most of us ordinary citizens? If there was adequate security manpower and less corruption, the insecurity wouldn’t have gotten to this level.

“Again there should be policing at the community level by empowering the traditional institutions, which should be given clear-cut roles to take responsibility for their domains.”

Amnesty International calls on President Tinubu

Speaking on the high spate of kidnapping currently going on in the country, Amnesty International Nigeria on its X page said that many families choose not to report cases of kidnapping after paying ransom for fear of reprisals and as a result, many incidents go undocumented.

“The current epidemic of kidnapping highlights the utter failure of the Nigerian authorities to effectively protect lives.

“The number of Nigerians in custody of armed groups and kidnappers is unknown. However, the victims usually suffer shocking abuses. Several abducted women and girls, including school children, have been viciously raped while in captivity.

“Rampant kidnapping by armed groups has become a part of daily life in Nigeria. Those kidnapped by armed groups are routinely tortured. Many are beaten, starved, threatened with death, raped, held blindfolded for several days, verbally and physically assaulted.

“People in Nigeria are living on a knife edge. Widespread insecurity and chaos have been exacerbated by routine kidnapping, as armed groups tighten their stranglehold on the country.

“People resorting helplessly to crowdfunding online to pay ransom to ruthless kidnappers is a stain on Nigeria’s image. The Nigerian authorities must restore the people’s confidence in their ability to secure lives and properties.

“Amnesty International is deeply concerned over the failure of the Nigerian authorities to stem the tide of kidnapping for ransom, which has left millions of Nigerians feeling increasingly unsafe.

“The Nigerian authorities must take urgent steps to ensure the protection of the people and prevent such incidents in which gunmen on rampage kidnap for ransom and subject people in their custody to horrifying abuses. The latest was the kidnapping of a family of six.

“While the family was making efforts to raise the sum of N60 million ransom to free the girls, also an appeal was launched on social media for donations towards paying the ransom. Today the kidnappers reportedly killed #Nabeelah, one of the girls in their custody.

“Alarming escalation of attacks, abductions for ransom and frequent killings across Nigeria have left people feeling more unsafe, showing utter failure of the Nigerian authorities to protect lives and properties. Whatever security measures are currently implemented are not working.

“Nigerian authorities must bring those responsible for such heinous crime to justice to end the impunity enjoyed by armed bandits across Nigeria.

“President Bola Tinubu must restore the people’s confidence in the government’s ability to secure lives and properties, by promptly addressing the conditions that have provided fertile grounds for insecurity to flourish.”

Ending Kidnapping in Nigeria with Geotagging

Speaking on how to put an end to the spate of kidnapping in the country, a Nigerian Security Expert based in Atlanta, USA, Farooq Pero, in his latest report stated that one of the most promising technologies to tackle kidnapping is geotagging.

According to him, “Geotagging refers to the process of adding geographical identification metadata to various media. It can be used to locate the phones used for ransom negotiations.

“Unfortunately, Dr. Isa Ali Pantami, Nigeria’s former minister of communication who bills himself as a cybersecurity expert and who should lead efforts to use technology to locate kidnappers, chose to lead crowdfunding efforts for ransom payment for some victims of kidnapping.

“While I appreciate the compassion that drives the effort, how many more people can we crowdfund to pay ransoms?

“True cyber security experts tell us that each time a kidnapper uses a phone to communicate, the device connects to nearby cell towers, which leaves a digital footprint.

“Modern smartphones, often used by kidnappers, have built-in GPS capabilities, which further enhance the accuracy of location tracking. Geotagging utilizes this data to pinpoint the location of the phone.

“Many countries have used this method to locate, apprehend, and eliminate kidnapping rings. For example, in Colombia, a country once notorious for kidnappings, security agencies have successfully employed geotagging.

“In one notable case, Colombian authorities tracked the mobile phone of a kidnapper using geotagging, leading them directly to the hideout and facilitating a successful rescue operation.

“Mexico’s adoption of advanced geotagging techniques in collaboration with the United States has led to several high-profile successes. The technology was pivotal in dismantling a notorious kidnapping ring in Mexico City. This shows the potential of cross-border technological cooperation, and Nigeria can replicate that with its neighbours.

“For Nigeria to effectively employ geotagging, there is a need for significant investment in technological infrastructure. This includes the upgrading of cell tower networks for better coverage and accuracy, and the integration of advanced software for real-time tracking.

“Security agencies must also be trained in the nuances of geotagging technology. This includes understanding the legal and ethical implications of tracking and developing the technical expertise to analyze and act upon the data gathered.

“Collaboration with international agencies experienced in dealing with kidnappings can provide Nigerian authorities with the necessary technological and strategic support. Sharing of best practices and intelligence can enhance the effectiveness of the geotagging approach.”

The use of geotagging in combating kidnapping in Nigeria offers a ray of hope in a seemingly relentless struggle. While technological solutions like geotagging are not a panacea, they are critical tools in the arsenal against kidnapping.

The successful implementation of geotagging, complemented by infrastructural improvements, capacity building, international collaboration, and legal safeguards, can significantly bolster Nigeria’s fight against this scourge. As kidnapping continues to evolve, so must the strategies.

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