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. The ICIR’s Shehu Olayinka examines cases of kidnapping, ransom payment and the cost of being kidnapped in Nigeria.
IT was on a quiet morning after a gloomy night. *Monday Adams had embarked on a journey to deliver ransom to kidnappers deep inside a forest in the central part of Kaduna state. The journey is being made on a commercial motorbike—the best means of transportation to get him to his destination.
He snaked through the forest with the commercial motorbike rider while receiving directions intermittently from phone calls on how to move and which path to take.
The ransom was to be promptly delivered on behalf of the family of Obadiah Ibrahim. The victim was a Kaduna-based worker who, alongside his colleague, was kidnapped in Sabon Gaya, Kaduna state.
Obadiah, alongside his colleague, had spent several days with the criminals. To secure their freedom, the bandits demanded the ransom be brought to a forest in Ridu Village, Ungwan Ayaba, in Chikun Local Government Area (LGA) of the state.
I was terrified, Adams told The ICIR. “I had to change my cloth to dirty ones to avoid being perceived as rich.”
“If they see you wearing expensive clothes and looking good, they may believe you have money and will abduct you to demand a ransom.”
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Kidnapping in the country is no longer uncommon. In Chikun LGA alone, more than a thousand (1,010) persons have been kidnapped in 73 separate incidents in the last ten years.
In the forest, Adams said he met Ali Dogo, a bandit leader who, last October, the Nigerian Airforce disclosed, was killed in an airstrike in Niger state. Dogo, also known as Yellow, was reported to have been killed along with 30 of his foot soldiers in an attack performed by the air component of Operation Whirl Punch.
But narrating his ordeal, Adams added that the bandits controlled the entire Ridu community. “They were aware of my movements. When I arrived at the community, they told me they had been tracking my movements since I arrived there.”
He continued, “When I arrived at the site where I was supposed to drop the ransom, I noticed a large crowd. Young and old alike. Some were on trees, while others had bikes and firearms.”
Adams, though fearful, was optimistic about meeting the kidnappers and likened the scene to a market square. “I believe they were expecting to be attacked because, on my way to where I was supposed to drop the ransom, as I was approaching the forest, I met some troops (Nigerian military) with whom I exchanged pleasantries, and they told me about it.”
He eventually handed over the ransom to the bandits. But that was not all. He also provided call recharge cards. “They told me to depart after ensuring everything was in order and exchanging a few words with Dogo. I was instructed to take a different route than I previously used to access the hideout”.
Adam’s experience tells the story of what Nigerians go through to rescue their kidnapped loved ones with no assurance of success.
Obadiah died at the kidnappers’ den.
‘They demanded N10M to release my brother’s corpse’
Kefas Ibrahim, the younger brother of the late Obadiah, said his brother’s death was a huge loss. He left behind a wife and two children.
The kidnappers had initially requested N200 million.
“We went through a traumatic process throughout the process,” he told The ICIR. Kefas said despite collecting N3.2 Million, recharge cards worth N50,000, and a motorbike worth N800,000, his brother still died in the custody of the kidnappers.
According to him, “When we demanded his body, they demanded an extra N10 Million to release his corpse.”
Ibrahim was more pained that the whole effort was futile even after the family engaged a private negotiator immediately after the kidnap incident.
“I was told that he was with a co-worker and his younger brother, who always tag along whenever they go out for work when the kidnapping happened. The co-worker was killed during the kidnapping. We got a negotiator who was communicating with them and advocating on our behalf as soon as he was kidnapped. The kidnappers initially requested N200 million. We informed them that we did not have any money. They came down to N5 million. They asked us how much we had from N5 million. We bargained and informed them we had N3,120,000.”
“We gave them everything they asked for—the money, a Glo and Airtel credit card worth N50,000 and a motorcycle worth N800,000. We got Adams to help with the ransom drop after agreeing on what to bring. We contacted them after he dropped the ransom with them, and they said they would release him the next morning because it was too late that day.”
“The next day in the morning, when we asked when he would be released, they said they collected the money because they were out of food.”
As if that was not enough, Kefas said the kidnappers demanded an additional N15 million.
Kefas’ family was running dry on resources; thus, they pleaded with the abductors that they had no money and could not afford the extra demand.
He further said the price was cut to N5 million, and they insisted they had no money.
At this point, the kidnappers, according to him, then recommended that they bring three motorcycles, which they disclosed were to be used to kidnap other Nigerians using, after which they threatened to kill his brother, except he provided the motorcycles.
“We pleaded that we have no money for three motorcycles, and they eventually lowered the number from three to one”, Kefas said. “That bike alone costs about N800,000 in total.”
On the next day, the victim’s family delivered the bike. Their expectation was to welcome their relative who had been in the kidnappers’ den, but it was a wild goose chase. The kidnappers promised to release him, but unknown to them, the victim was already dead.
Ibrahim and his relatives would be shocked on the sixth day when the kidnappers informed them their brother had died. They helplessly accepted their fate but asked how they would retrieve his body. The kidnappers demanded for another sum of N10 million to release that corpse.
“The bandits told us that if we handed them the money, they would place his body in three sacks and dump it where they kidnapped him in Sabon Gaya,” he said.
The rise of kidnapping
The current state of insecurity is one among several other challenges crippling Nigeria. According to Nigeria Security Tracker (NST), 19,366 Nigerians have been kidnapped in 2,694 kidnapping instances over the last ten years as of the end of June 2023.
Since 2014, there has been an increase in kidnapping-related occurrences across Nigeria due to insecurity.
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 to 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.
Shift in kidnapping locations
In 2021, Save the Children International, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), disclosed that over 1,000 students were abducted from Nigerian schools. Data from the NST also showed how the wave of kidnapping has shifted from one region to another.
Due to the Boko Haram insurgency and militancy, the North-east and South-South had the highest number of victims in 2014 and 2015. Before then, abduction was mainly isolated to the Niger Delta region, where militants mostly went after oil workers. However, a few years later, particularly in 2020, 2021, and 2022 the North-central and Northwest have become the hardest-hit regions due to the spread of terrorism and banditry.
Like the Ibrahim family incident, kidnapping and ransom payment cases are increasing across Nigeria. The payments continue to rise as Nigerians struggle to secure the release of their loved ones from kidnappers’ dens.
Sadly, *Musa Adamu’s family were affected when kidnappers killed four family members despite paying the demanded ransom. They live in Taraba State.
A family member whose name is being protected because he was not authorised to speak told the ICIR that the family had had four kidnapping incidents before the latest one that led to the death of four family members.
Narrating an account of the unpleasant event, in December 2022, two children from the same father and mother, one of their uncles, were kidnapped in their town of Garin Dogo in the state’s Lau LGA.
“The kidnappers also attempted to kidnap their mother, but she fainted during the kidnapping process and was left alone by the kidnappers.” The source explained that the kidnappers later went with the woman, two children and one of her husband’s brothers.
Shortly after, the kidnappers phoned the family and wanted a ransom to rescue the young boys. A figure was agreed upon after considerable haggling.
“I’m not sure how much it was, but I know it was a huge amount given to the kidnapping bandits. Two persons agreed to take the ransom and give it to the abduction bandits, which they did. They counted the money and verified that everything was in order.”
It was gathered that “When they were about to be released,” he continues, “a commander of the kidnappers called in and ordered the four victims should not be released until he returned.”
When he returned, he allegedly began questioning those who had brought the ransom and inquiring about the persons (vigilantes) they had invited, to which they replied they told or invited no one.
The gang leader disagreed. He ordered them to be beaten, and the boys around them began hitting those who delivered the ransom.
The ICIR gathered four victims—two were kidnapped, and two who brought the payment were killed during this process.
“We later learned that the bandits had a shootout with local vigilantes on that day, and the bandits believed the family had revealed their position to the vigilantes in order for them to attack them”, the source narrated.
Kidnapping in Nigeria has also become lucrative, spawning a vibrant criminal economy that continuously draws new assailants to the thriving illegal business.
The use of force, threats, deception, or enticement to unlawfully detain a person. This clandestine exchange of material or financial gain for freedom has grown increasingly popular in Nigeria in the past ten years.
Nigeria was among the Costelli Kidnap Ransom Top Ten Countries for Kidnapping Foreign Citizens in 2022. In 2018, Nigeria had the highest number of kidnapping for ransom cases worldwide.
Chukwudi Dumeme Onuamadike, nicknamed Evans, allegedly told police following his arrest in 2017 that he received $4 million in ransom from four of his high-profile kidnapped victims between 2015 and 2016. He allegedly told investigators that he had lost count of the kidnappings his organisation had done.
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 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, identified the problem as the “democratisation of the kidnap industry” in a report published in 2020, stating 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.
According to the research, over 60 per cent of the total was paid out between January 2016 and March 2020, indicating a recent surge.
The kidnapping economy
The ICIR found a growing trend in the number of abductions and the overall number of persons who are kidnapping victims in the country by studying data obtained from ACLED and NST between 2011 and June 2023, which coincides with Nigeria’s economic crisis.
In recent years, Nigeria has been plagued by protracted inflation, significant public debt, the COVID-19 pandemic, and a food crisis that has ravaged its agricultural industry. While unemployment and poverty have fluctuated, data from the NBS shows that inflation rose from 3.16 per cent in 2011 to 11.61 per cent in May 2018 and now 22.79 per cent% in June 2023, the most recent data.
It was also observed that rising inflation has led to declining consumers’ purchasing power.
The World Bank stated in its December 2022 Nigeria Development Update that inflation forced five million Nigerians into poverty between January and October 2022.
In June 2023 Nigeria Development Update, the World Bank further stated that increasing inflation drove an additional four million Nigerians into poverty in the first five months of 2023. This indicates that between 2022 and 2023, at least nine million Nigerians have been impoverished due to inflation.
Also, during the World Bank December 2022 presentation of the Nigeria Development Update, the Bank’s Lead Economist for Nigeria, Alex Sienaert, stated that the Nigerian minimum wage, worth N30,000 in 2019, could be valued at N19,355 today.
The NBS, in 2022, stated that 133 million Nigerians are multi-dimensionally poor, representing 63 per cent of the Nigerian population.
The NBS reported 23.13 per cent unemployment in 2018 and 33.28 per cent in 2020. According to a KPMG report released in April 2023, the country stated that in 2024, the unemployment rate would grow to 43 per cent while inflation would accelerate to 20.3 per cent in 2023. By 2024, inflation would jump to 20.0 per cent, the report predicted.
It is worthy of note that, between 2015 and 2022, the Nigerian economy fell into recession twice.
According to SBM Intelligence’s study, while abduction is common in the south, the victims are more targeted, and the kidnappers perceive it as a business transaction, attempting to extract money from their criminal operations.
Also, a Former Member of the Federal House of Representatives of Nigeria, policy and leadership expert, Dakuku Peterside, in an article he published in September 2022 titled, Nigeria’s burgeoning kidnapping industry, said the lack of opportunities for the youth is part reason why kidnapping is becoming a profession in Nigeria.
“Kidnapping has become a profession because it is now an easy way of making money. It is ubiquitous due to the state of the economy and the lack of opportunities for the youth. Dabbling into crime has become an excellent alternative for idle minds’, he said.
A security expert Oladele Fajana told The ICIR that “For the government to end kidnapping across Nigeria, the government should work towards eradicating every opportunity that may lead to kidnapping. Every possible aspect should be looked into”, he said.
On whether the government should ban ransom payment, he said the government could not do anything about it as anyone kidnapped would like to pay for freedom.
The Nigerian Senate passed a bill in April 2022 that made paying a ransom to release an abducted person punishable by at least 15 years in prison and made kidnapping a capital offence in cases where victims die.
He said, “Maybe if the government can put in a mechanism that when someone has been kidnapped, there is a swift rescue by security operatives, then we can talk about placing a ban on ransom payment. For now, there is nothing the government can do about it. Yes, stopping ransom payments can discourage kidnapping, but there is nothing government can do about it. Even if you place a ban, people can pay without the government knowing about it.”
Similarly, a research fellow at Hudson Institute, James Barnett, told The ICIR, a law won’t deter people whose loved ones are held hostage by deadly gunmen.
According to him, “The National Assembly has already amended the Terrorism (Prevention) Act to make payment of ransoms punishable, but this is not going to deter people whose loved ones are held hostage by deadly gunmen. In many instances, the police are incapable of rescuing kidnap victims and will be the first to tell families that they should pay the ransom demanded by the kidnappers. So this law seems more like tough rhetoric than an actual solution to the banditry and kidnapping crises.”
Names with asterisks were changed to protect the people.