The rate of kidnapping in Nigeria has risen considerably in the last ten years. Not less than 1,500 people are kidnapped on an annual basis in the country thus making kidnapping more or less a new “cottage industry”. With the statistical belief that one out of every 5 Africans is a Nigerian, it may not be wrong to say with her population and the increase in the wave of kidnapping, Nigeria has more potential kidnap victims than most of her West African neighbours.
Though kidnapping is a “global business” which is far more developed in places like Mexico, Brazil, Colombia and Philippines, Nigeria is fast catching up, and these days, anything that moves is a potential victim in Nigeria. Findings revealed that kidnappers rake in as much as a billion dollars almost every year in Brazil. In Mexico too, it is serious business as gangs encourage their young members to practice on pets and domestic animals so as to master the game before going for human beings.
Street Journal’s investigations have also shown that kidnapping in Nigeria does not put only the rich at risk, the poor, old, young are all potential victims depending on the motive of the kidnappers. Motives behind kidnappings in Nigeria include ransom, which is about the most common type, ritual purposes and terrorism related kidnappings. There have also been cases of stage-managed kidnappings where people have colluded with kidnappers to stage their own abduction and later share the ransom with the supposed kidnappers.
Though kidnapping is not a new phenomenon, it has however become more rampant. Just before the presidential election in 2007, gunmen stormed the home of the mother of Dr Goodluck Jonathan, then a vice presidential candidate and attempted to kidnap her. The old woman escaped in a boat which she paddled herself.
Unlike the President’s mum, the father of Nigerian footballer, John Obi Mikel could not escape his abductors. He was picked up on his way to work sometime last year and before long, a huge ransom was demanded. The gang was eventually busted and serving soldiers were found to be among the kidnappers.
Another celebrated kidnap case was that of the mother of the Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. The Minister’s mum was abducted in her husband’s palace. Her release was however secured some days after.
Earlier in the year, some foreign construction workers were kidnapped on a site in Bauchi State. A terrorist group, Ansaru claimed responsibility and later showed videos that led to the belief that the hostages might have been shot and killed. The group claimed it executed the foreigners due to an attempt to rescue them. Another family of seven French nationals ended up in the hands of terrorists who captured them in Northern Cameroon and drove them into Nigeria.
Findings have revealed that while high profile cases get wide-ranging media attention, a lot of kidnapping incidents are resolved without publicity. Many people prefer to quietly pay the demanded ransom quietly and just move on as soon as the release of the victim is secured. Street Journal has found out that in their demands for ransom, kidnappers usually capitalize on the victim’s family.
In most cases, kidnap victims are usually locked up with little or no attention paid to their physical needs or hygiene. It has also been found out that treatments meted out to victims vary. Sometimes kidnappers are harsh and hostile to their victims while at times they are courteous and unusually kind. An old woman after her release disclosed that for days, she survived only on biscuits and water, though she said her abductors were respectful. Christian Obodo, a footballer escaped and raised alarm while his abductors tried to buy him food in a local canteen in the village where he was kept. A cousin to Charly Boy was kidnapped recently only to be found dead days after. But not all victims tell such details of anguish. A businessman was kidnapped in Philippines years ago, he was kept in a luxurious hotel by his abductors who ensured he had a constant supply of drinks and they entertained him with prostitutes till his ransom was paid.
Sadly, many victims have to cope with post-kidnap trauma even years after being released.
Kidnapping affects the tourism potential of countries. Nigeria was listed as the 6th worst country in terms of kidnapping, a situation that has made some countries issue constant travel warnings to their citizens about Nigeria.
Factors that have been linked with the increase in kidnap cases in Nigeria include the distressed economic situation in the country. The widening gap between the rich and the poor is a major cause. The gap keeps widening by the day and the average youth has difficulties in seeing legitimate means of earning a decent living. Lots of unemployed youths have taken up kidnapping as a profession since they see it as a money-generating tool.
The increased level of security, especially against bank robberies and other crimes against property has also led more ex-robbers into kidnapping which is believed to involve less risk. Shake up within the military and paramilitary forces have also left some people with experience in commando-like operations jobless thus swelling the population of kidnappers.
The fact that most kidnappers don’t get prosecuted has also given impetus to more people to join the trade.
Sadly, there seems to be no end in sight to the scourge that rakes in hundreds of billions Naira in illegally acquired wealth. Many lives have also been lost in the hands of kidnappers. Street Journal’s investigation revealed that while some die in the course of the harrowing experiences they are made to go through, some are deliberately executed, either as a result of having become “excess luggage” or when ransom is not forthcoming. Some victims have also paid the ultimate price when kidnappers find out that their families play too smart by involving security agents in the ransom process in a bid to arrest them. An attempt by a combination of British Special Forces and Nigerian troops to rescue to a French man and a Briton who were taken hostage by Boko Haram terrorists in Sokoto last year led to their execution by their abductors.