IN Nigeria, kidnapping has grown into a multi-million naira industry; kidnappers often tagged ‘bandits’ are increasing and claiming territories. The crime is gaining more prominence due to the millions of naira exchanged for ransoms to kidnappers.
At the same time, their activities are not adequately investigated by the authorities. In this report, The ICIR’s Lukman Abolade tracks some of the ransoms paid in Sokoto, Niger and Kaduna states and government response.
Around 1 a.m., under the shelter of the pre-dawn sky, six men armed with AK-47 rifles surrounded the home of Bawa Yusuf.
Yusuf is a 70-year-old local farmer in Danjiru village of Goronyo local government, Sokoto state that sits some 60 kilometres away from the state’s capital.
On that Wednesday, July 7 2021, the armed men forced the front door open, gained entrance into the compound and found Yusuf, where he sat with his co-tenant.
“I was lying down in the room with my wife when I saw flashlights. It was past midnight. They asked me to come along, as my time is up. I said if that’s God’s will. We left for the forest. On our way, my wife stumbled and fell. She couldn’t move. She attempted to get up but couldn’t. She was gripped with fear,” Yusuf said.
He noted that she was later killed.
From his village in Danjiru, Yusuf said his hands were tied, and the kidnappers took him to Kunawa, another town in the state.
After five days of negotiations, Yusuf’s children agreed to pay one million naira for his release.
“We kept going until we got to Kunawa; that’s where they took me. We stayed for five days until my children paid one million naira, and they freed me,” Yusuf said as he narrated his ordeal in the custody of the kidnappers.
When he got back home, Yusuf thought he was finally free; but not long after, the kidnappers abducted him again. Yusuf said he was kidnapped by the same group that initially kidnapped him.
” They had covered our eyes, but when they wanted to collect the ransom, they opened it; I think that place is Maalaba,” he said.
He told The ICIR that his first son, Rabiu and their village Chief sourced another one million naira to pay the kidnappers.
Yusuf’s family had sold all their properties to get him released; they had now relocated to a makeshift Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in Goronyo when The ICIR met him.
He said he was kidnapped for the second time because his children were able to pay the initial ransom in five days.
Kidnap victims are left in a dilemma as to whether to pay a ransom or not; when ransoms are paid, they live in fear of being kidnapped again, but when it is not paid, they face the possibility of being killed.
In the same local government, Kabiru Gurinya, the head of Goronyo local government community vigilante and 16 other members of his group were on midnight patrol.
The community had set up a local vigilante group following incidents of kidnappings in their village.
Gurinya said on Sunday, October 13, the group sat at the village centre with their local rifles when they heard gunshots in their direction.
“We saw 5 AK rifles, and they started shooting at us. Among the 17 of us, they killed two people, Alhaji Kabiru Umar and Alhaji Musa Kilani,” Gurinya said.
While trying to secure other villagers, Gurinya did not know that his own house was among the targets of the kidnappers.
“From there they proceeded to my house, they tried to enter my house but they could not so they entered the mosque and used it to access my home and kidnapped my wives, Mariam Kabiru and Halima Kabiru, they took N335,000,” Kabiru said.
After the incident, community members mobilised residents and went after the kidnappers with the hopes of rescuing the victims. For 17 days, they searched to no avail. They could not find them.
The kidnappers eventually contacted them to negotiate for a ransom for the release of the victims.
“They demanded a N100 million ransom, which they later reduced to N10 million and later three million naira.
“In the end, we came back and negotiated with them; the person that bargained with them was Auwalu Yalewa, my relative.
“We didn’t allow any member of my family or local government to take the money to them; we got a man that helped us to take the money to them,” Gurniya said.
There is no exception for kidnappers in Nigeria; anyone could be a victim, whether a meagre farmer, cleric, politician, traveller or schoolchildren.
Tracking the ransom
The ransoms collected from ordinary Nigerians, rich and poor, culminates into hundreds of millions that circulate the growing kidnapping industry.
The ICIR found that in 2021, at least N1 billion naira was reported to have been paid by residents to kidnappers in Northwest and North Central Nigeria. It was gathered through media reports in Adamawa, Bauchi, Sokoto, Kaduna, Niger, Kano, Jigawa and Katsina states.
The federal, state governments and security agencies mostly deny knowledge of ransom payment.
The ICIR independently tracked some of the victims that paid ransoms to their captors in Niger, Kaduna and Sokoto state.
In Sokoto state, N9 million naira was paid by three kidnap victims to secure the release of their loved ones, while parents of Bethel Baptist School paid N60 million naira to secure the release of 121 students. In Niger state, N51 million naira was also paid by Tegina school.
Although the government often denied knowledge or payment of the ransoms, parents and victims’ families told The ICIR that they paid ransoms.
The gains from kidnapping have primarily contributed to the increasing number of kidnapping cases in Nigeria.
Since 2015, the rate of kidnapping in Nigeria has continued to record a significant increase across Nigeria.
The kidnapping cases are not limited to only one region; all the six geo-political zones are battling the same insecurity.
According to data from the National Security Tracker (NST), in 2015, there were 926 kidnap victims across the country, although there was a decrease in 2016 when 347 persons were kidnapped, the following year, increased to 492.
There were 987 victims in 2017, 987 in 2018; 1,395 in 2019; 2,865 in 2020, and 5, 287 in 2021.
This represents a 470 per cent increase in kidnap victims from 2015 to 2021.
How Nigerians deliver the ransom to kidnappers
Sumaila Sunday, a resident of Kaduna, was approached by some of his relatives to help deliver the ransom to kidnappers after one of their members, Mike Aribi, was kidnapped along Kaduna-Kachia road on Easter day in 2021.
He told The ICIR that the kidnappers had initially requested four million naira to release Aribi, but it was negotiated to N2.5 million.
Sunday said the kidnappers told them to take N10,000 out of the ransom to buy one Tecno phone, two silver spoons and proceed to Sabon-Gaya along Abuja road.
When we got to Sabon-Gaya, they asked us to take a bike to Ganua; when we got to a big mosque, we crossed to the other side to get a motorcycle, but they were not willing to take us there,” Sunday said.
He added that they spoke to seven motorcycle riders, but they all refused to take them to Ganua until they found one who told them that Ganua was a bandit territory and it was risky to go there.
“They asked us to go further inside the bush but the motorcycle refused to go further but they (kidnappers) told us to lie in the bush and they came to pick us,” he said.
After paying the ransom, Sunday said the bandits refused to release Aribi; instead, they held his other friend and asked him to go and buy a motorcycle.
Sunday further said he had to look for money to buy the motorcycle before the kidnappers released both of his friends.
The ICIR observed that most of the delivery points of ransoms to kidnappers in Sokoto, Niger and Kaduna state are borders to Zamfara state.
Zamfara state has been in the news for banditry activities.
Some of the delivery points identified by The ICIR include the Gundumi road that leads to Gusau in Zamfara; two kidnapped victims identified Gundumi road as the venue where victims pay ransoms.
In Niger state, The ICIR gathered that kidnappers in Rafi local government usually attack from a forest called Maganda, which residents said leads to Zamfara state.
Police fail to investigate ransom payment
Findings by The ICIR show that Police fail to investigate, trail or follow up the payment of ransoms. in most in most cases cases
When kidnappers attacked Tartakwai village in Goronyo local government, they kidnapped Safiyanu Sadiku, a 26-year-old boy, from his father’s house.
Suleiman Sadiku, Safiyanu’s father, told The ICIR that the kidnappers called them through their mobile number and demanded ransom.
The kidnappers asked for five million naira; after negotiations, N500,000 was eventually paid to secure his son’s release, Suleiman says.
He noted that when the Police heard of the incident, they only paid a courtesy visit, and no inquiry was made to find the kidnappers.
This is the same with a student of Usman Dan Fodiyo University in Sokoto State who identified herself as Immaculate.
She was kidnapped in Zamfara state while coming to Sokoto from Benue state. Along with six others, she spent six days in the kidnappers’ den before paying a ransom.
Immaculate told The ICIR that her kidnappers, who wore military uniforms, took her and others on motorcycles into the forest.
“They took us all on bikes, they were even arguing on who would take the ladies. When I was on the bike, one of the kidnappers with me was even sexually harrasing me, he was touching all my body,” Immaculate said.
She said their families contributed N9 million naira and delivered them to the kidnappers before they were released.
Since her release, Immaculate said no security agent had contacted her or her family.
The lacklustre attitude of the Police on kidnapping and ransom have caused many other residents to lose trust in them; they no longer inform the Police.
Yusuf, who paid two million naira to his kidnappers said he did not bother to inform the Police because they would not come.
“If I tell the Police, they will not come, they don’t come to our village,” he told The ICIR while responding to questions.
In May 2021, when kidnappers attacked Tanko Islammiyya school, a ransom was paid via bank transfers and through cash.
Proprietor of Tegina school Alhassan Garba said they paid N21 million naira to the bandits through a bank account number, but the children were not released.
He added that the school had to pay over N30 million naira in cash to the bandits before the children were released.
“The first payment was through an account number, later we paid in cash, but I cannot disclose the total amount to you, but we paid more than N50 million naira,” Garba said.
He said the kidnappers’ bank account and telephone number were submitted to the Police authority.
The ICIR found out that the case has been transferred to the Inspector General of Police Special Task Squad (IGP-STS).
As of the time of filing this report, there has not been communication on the findings by the Police on the numbers.
The ICIR contacted the Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO) Frank Mba on the findings, but he did not respond.
A text message was sent and delivered to Mba on Friday, February 11, but he did not respond to it.
Most ransoms in Nigeria are paid through cash.
Many Nigerian highways are filled with security checkpoints, still, families of kidnapped victims travel to the fringes of their state to deliver millions of ransoms without being intercepted by the security operatives.
In some other cases, ransoms are paid through bank transfers, but the Nigerian authorities fail to investigate and prosecute such cases.
The Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) is the government agency responsible for providing and disclosing information on suspected financial flow to other agencies.
According to the NFIU, its mandate is to be ‘an autonomous unit, domiciled within the Central Bank of Nigeria and the central coordinating body for the country’s Anti-Money Laundering, Counter-Terrorist Financing and Counter-Proliferation Financing (AML/CFT/CPF) framework’.
According to Nigerian law, every bank account owner must own a Bank Verification Number (BVN) that carries the fingerprints, name, and identity of the owner of a particular account number.
Like BVN, another Nigerian law stipulates that every owner of a subscriber identity module or subscriber identification module (SIM) must have a National Identification Number (NIN) that would contain the details of the user of the SIM card.
However, some kidnappers call families of their captives with telephone numbers, and it is usually not traced.
This report by the International Centre for Investigation (The ICIR) is produced in partnership with the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD).