igeria is a land of mysteries with too many unexplained and unexplainable phenomena. It is inexplicable that it has not secured a place in the Guinness book of records on account of socio-economic mysteries. Mysterious social occurrences defy logic and common sense and happen in everyday national life. One of the mysteries of today’s Nigeria is the flourishing kidnap-for-ransom enterprise which has assumed an industrial dimension and the status of a sub-sector of the economy. Nigeria, according to Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project(ACLEDP), by 2021 is miles ahead of Mexico and Colombia in incidences of kidnapping and mass abduction. Nigeria , unlike Libya and Syria does not have pre-existing combat experiences with attendant collapse of internal security, yet our record is not enviable.
It has three broad categories – retail kidnapping, medium- scale kidnapping, and terrorist abduction. Friends and family drive retail kidnappings for an immediate financial reward, such as a wife arranging for the kidnap of the husband, friends arranging for the kidnap of their friends and housemaids planning for the kidnap of their master’s children. Medium-scale kidnapping involves attacking buses on the road and taking all the passengers, attacking villages, and taking helpless victims hostage, and attacking communities and terrorising and occupying them. This class of kidnap-for-ransom has made popular the lexicon, bandits, a lose term for criminals.
Another category, terrorist abduction is a sophisticated organised crime and large-scale business involving multiple actors often targeting high value individuals, and designed to draw the government’s attention. The 2014 mass abduction of 276 school girls in Chibok, North East of the country woke up the nation to this new reality. Another is the Abuja- Kaduna train attack(AK-9), for which most victims are still held hostage for over six months. Terrorist abduction is a direct challenge to the Sovereignty of the Nigerian state.
This dichotomous categorisation of kidnappings in Nigeria showcases the dynamism and vibrancy of this nefarious enterprise seen across the length and breadth of Nigeria and is a menace to our communities. This cankerworm has eaten deep into our collective consciousness, forever altering our sense of security and safety. We are afraid of our shadows. Even the greatest of bonds, both familial and relational, is jeopardised by the fear of kidnapping. We do not travel freely on our motorways and train lines without a nagging thought of the possibility of kidnapping. Long-haul road travel is only an affair of the poor who cannot afford costly flight tickets. Flights are the only option for those who can afford them, even with much sacrifice. The economic and social implications of kidnapping and its auxiliary psychological and emotional trauma are our collective nightmare.
The kidnapping statistics in Nigeria are sketchy and often do not capture the realities on the ground because most kidnap incidents go unreported or, when reported, are not adequately captured by security agencies. Yet, the data is as mindboggling as it is disturbing. According to a recently published report by SBM titled “The Economics of Nigeria’s Kidnap Industry”, about N653.7 million was paid as ransom in Nigeria between July 2021 and June 2022. More than 500 incidents were recorded, and 3,420 people were abducted across Nigeria, with 564 others killed in violence associated with kidnapping in one year. The report also detailed that N6.531 billion ($9.9 million) was demanded in ransom in the period considered, but only N653.7 million ($1.2 million) was paid. These figures do not include the humongous amounts paid as a ransom (at least N100 million each) by the victims of the AK9 train attack of last March.
Recently, armed men invaded the Cherubim and Seraphim Church during a vigil programme at the Bayan Kasuwa quarters in Kajuru Local Government Area of Kaduna state, abducting at least 45 people, the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU) told reporters on Monday. The kidnappers have reached out to victims’ families, demanding N200m for the release of their relatives. We can imagine the trauma this community is going through now. To compound the problem, from where will the victims raise the N200m demanded by the terrorist?
Kidnapping for ransom has become attractive because 95% of those involved go scot-free and enjoy the monetary reward. Ineptitude of security agencies and a culture of corruption and compromise has made kidnapping gain traction. Till date, the criminals involved in both 2014 Chibok and Abuja-Kaduna train attacks are yet to be apprehended. It also thrives because kidnappers use too many ungoverned spaces and forests as operational bases for which our security operatives appear helpless in tackling. Kidnapping has become a profession. It is a profession because it has become an easy way to make money. It is ubiquitous because of the economy’s state and the youth’s lack of opportunities. Crimes have become an excellent alternative for the idle mind. The network of those involved in the industry is extensive, making it nearly impossible to track the perpetrators. You have the negotiators, the banks that receive ransom, some compromised security personnel, the police that charge a fee for tracking the kidnappers from victims’ relatives, a state intelligence network that is abdicating its responsibility or bowing to the superior intelligence of the criminals, transportation networks, communities that hide the kidnappers and unemployed youths who work as informants.
It is simply mysterious that with the ubiquitous nature of Nigerian police officers, a plethora of intelligence agencies, military establishments, heavy budget on technology and arms, the kidnapping industry is still thriving in Nigeria with little or no consequences. Police who are primarily responsible for tackling this crime sometimes know the kingpins and their operational bases, but it is a mystery that the police seems ineffective in tracking the crime and criminals . An even more confounding mystery is the emergence of negotiators in the kidnapping enterprise. Negotiators play a vital role in the kidnapping enterprise and are known to security agencies, yet they walk around freely. The Sovereignty of the Nigerian state has never been as challenged as this criminal enterprise is currently doing. It is a mystery that the entire apparatus of the Nigerian security system has not been mobilised to defend our Sovereignty.
To tackle kidnapping for ransom will require a cocktail of laws, intelligence, surveillance, and joint military–police operation. Recently, Nigeria’s Senate passed a bill imposing jail terms of at least 15 years for anyone paying a ransom to free someone who has been kidnapped. The bill also made abducting an individual punishable by death in cases where the victims die. The bill has not yet received presidential assent, yet it is controversial. Some have argued that it criminalises the victims and their family members, who in the event of kidnap are desperately working, often with little realistic support from the police, to get the victims out. Some have argued that the kidnap problem is not for lack of laws but the enforcement of existing laws. I must argue that this is a time to not only enforce existing laws on kidnapping, but the government should be creative in reviewing all laws pertaining to kidnapping and creatively create more, if need be, to ease tackling this menace. Nigerians welcome any law that will strike at the heart of this problem and alleviate or eliminate the scourge.
Some people have argued that the seeming inefficiency of the security agencies and architecture in tackling kidnapping and related crime is caused by the conspiracy of the top brass in the security firmament, who think peace is much less lucrative than perpetual low-intensity conflict. Insecurity, some have argued, has become big business helping the funnelling of huge security budgets to the security sector. So, to some people, it is counter-intuitive for security officials to wipe out insecurity when that will immediately impact their funding. If this is the case, it is necessary to re-orientate these top security personnel and re-think the link between the security structures and their funding formula.
Adequate funding is essential. A situation where kidnappers and terrorists are better equipped than our security officials is unacceptable. There is a need to integrate local intelligence, community participation, and government security apparatus in the fight against kidnapping. A massive sensitisation programme is needed to educate youths to eschew violence and kidnapping activities whilst being tough on those who choose to become kidnappers. The carrot and stick approach are essential.
Security is a joint venture. Everyone must be involved in the protection of lives and properties. Kidnappers are human beings who live with people, interact with them, and buy things from them. It will become easy if everyone is keen to work together to eradicate them. Leaders of communities that harbour kidnappers knowingly must be made precariously liable. It behoves them to know people living in their communities and liaise with security agencies to rid the community of anyone who is a kidnapper.
Finally, you can turn the country into a police state, but kidnapping will continue to flourish if you do not address the economy and create jobs. This macroeconomic reality stares all of us in the face. A country where almost 50% of its youths are unemployed, underemployed, or unemployable is a fertile ground for criminality such as kidnapping. A country where stupendous riches co-habit with ravenous poverty and the gap between the rich and the poor is widening each day creates a conducive socio- political and economic milieu for kidnapping. The Nigerian state must rise to the occasion and create a political, social, and economic environment that discourages crime while promoting progress, growth, and development.