November 19, (THEWILL) – The words came straight from the mouth of the National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu, himself. “Kidnapping today has replaced armed robbery and housebreaking in Nigeria because people don’t carry money around anymore,” he said, last Thursday at the Nigeria Guild of Editors conference in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital. “When armed robbers catch people without money on them, they take them hostage and your people now provide the money as ransom. That is what is going on across the country.”
As a retired, top-ranking police officer and former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Ribadu who was a guest speaker at the editor’s confab, should know his onions about our national insecurity.
In fact, he listed kidnapping alongside the Boko Haram and Islamic insurgency, Niger Delta militancy and the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, as, “four massive insecurity problems the government inherited, each one with the potential to bring Nigeria to its knees.”
Similarly, retired Rear Adm. Yaminu Musa, the Coordinator of the National Counter-Terrorism Centre in the Office of the National Security Adviser, NCTC-ONSA, recently underlined the danger inherent in kidnapping.
During an `Anti-Kidnap Multi-Agency Fusion Cell Media and Communication Workshop’, organised by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) in collaboration with the British High Commission in Abuja, he said, “Kidnapping for ransom is also identified as one of the means of funding terrorism.”
As though to confirm the upward trend in kidnapping, the Enugu State chapter of the Nigeria Medical Association, NMA, on Friday after a five-day Emergency General Meeting said that more than 10 doctors were kidnapped within the last two months in the state.
The Chairperson of Enugu State branch of NMA, Celestine Ugwoke, and the General Secretary, Sunday Okafor, described a situation in which more than 10 doctors were victims of kidnapping and other violent crimes in less than two months as dangerous and unprecedented in the annals of the state.
They said that the NMA in Enugu State was aware of the general insecurity in the country and the spate of kidnappings in the state, with medical and dental practitioners being the worst hit.
“The EGM, while noting the efforts and commitment of the state government in the area of security infrastructure, observed the gross inadequacy of the necessary security architecture and installations required to safeguard a vast and strategic state like Enugu State with its peculiarity as the capital of the old Eastern Region of Nigeria.
“The EGM finally observed, with condemnation and regret, that the NMA is yet to receive any report from the relevant security agencies on full-scale conclusive investigations and inquiries into these kidnap cases and none of these enemies of the state have been brought to book yet,” a communique issued at the end of their meeting read in part.
Reacting to this development on Friday, the National President of NMA, Dr Uche Rowland Ojinmah, told THEWILL that doctors in the country are now being targeted by kidnappers, adding that this is the major reason why they travel abroad for job security.
“The fact is that the government will say it wants to contain the ongoing brain-drain syndrome, but fails to realise that one of the major reasons that account for doctors relocating abroad is kidnapping; nothing is being done to address it. We are kidnapped even in our places of work,” he said.
He said that since he became president of the organisation, he had sought and got audience with former President Muhammadu Buhari and discussed the issue of kidnapping of medical doctors with nothing substantial happening afterwards. He said he was yet to meet President Bola Tinubu, though, “the Minister of Health and Labour are aware of our plight.”
In the same week, another sad event occurred in Kogi State. Musa David, a pastor of the Evangelical Church of West Africa, ECWA, in Bishara, Ajaokuta, who was abducted on Sunday, November 11, was killed by his abductors on Tuesday, November 13, after his family had laboured to pay the sum of N1 million as ransom. In September, an army Major was among 26 persons that were kidnapped by gunmen at Aiyegunle Igun, a few kilometres to Kabba town in the state. Some of them secured their release after one week. The fate of the others is still unknown.
Indeed, the Lokoja/ Obajana/ Kabba Road in Kogi State has become unsafe in recent times. Unknown gunmen have been operating regularly on the road, abducting and sending people to their early graves.
But Police Public Relations Officer in Kogi State, DSP Williams Ovye Aya disagrees. He told THEWILL in a brief interview that the Lokoja-Abuja Road is one of the safest in the country as far as kidnapping is concerned.
Aya said, “Lokoja to Abuja is safe. People confuse things. If something happens at Zuba in the FCT, it is traced to Lokoja Road. If it is at Gwagwalada in FCT, it is also Lokoja. Even if anything happens between Okene and Benin City or the boundary between Kogi and Enugu States, it is always traced to Lokoja. We share boundaries with 10 states in the country, including the FCT. That is why people think any insecurity on these boundaries is taking place in Lokoja.”
Up and down the country, the story of kidnapping is getting out of hand, more so, as the dire economic situation in the country bites harder. Priests, journalists, farmers, students and soldiers, policemen, business people, children and expatriates alike have come under the assault of kidnappers.
As observed by Rear Adm. Yaminu Musa, no state or geo-political zone is spared. For example, on January 20, gunmen suspected to be bandits abducted pupils of LEA Primary School, Alwaza Community in Nasarawa State.
On March 12, 2023, about 12 residents of Grow Homes Estate, along Kuchibiyi in the Kubwa area of the Federal Capital Territory were kidnapped.
On April 8, 2023, bandits abducted over 80 children in Tsafe Local Government Area of Zamfara State. The children were aged between 12 and 17 years.
Lagos State is not also spared of the menace as kidnappers seem to have shifted their attention to residents who now stop going for social and traditional events in their villages, especially in the eastern part of the country, because of the fear of being kidnapped.
Pockets of high profile kidnappings with heavy ransom payments have been happening lately, especially during the last quarter of the year, but they have been under-reported because of the threats always being issued by these notorious criminals to their victims.
The Nigeria Security Tracker, SB Morgen, in its August 2023 report under the sub-heading, ‘The Economics of Nigeria’s Kidnap Industry 2023 Update,’ stated that the current economic difficulties experienced in the country, such as high inflation and a weak currency, would lead to more desperation and a hike in ransom demands, leaving impoverished families struggling to save their loved ones.
In statistical terms, it stated that 3,620 people were abducted in 582 kidnap-related incidents in Nigeria between July 2022 and June 2023, and at least N5 billion ($6,410,256 as of 30 June 2023) were reportedly demanded as ransom, while verified ransom pay outs amounted to N302 million ($387,179), or six percent of what was demanded.
It was however stated in the report that these figures could be higher due to underreporting.
“Kidnap dynamics differ between individual and community cases, with secrecy less prevalent in large-scale abductions. In some instances, kidnappers opt for non-monetary ransom, like foodstuff. Notably, the North-West and North-Central geopolitical zones exhibit higher numbers of in-kind ransom demands,” it says.
The report adds, “These regions have seen a surge in motorcycle demands due to economic opportunities and possibly because of their potential use in terrorist activities. Catholic priests, previously targeted for their ransom value, encountered 21 abductions during this period.”
Kaduna State, it said, was the most dangerous state for Catholic priests, who were often kidnapped during services. Abductors demanded an average of around N50 million per priest in the past, but the church no longer discloses ransom negotiations to deter further attacks.
”The North-Central region recorded higher ransom amounts, notably in Nasarawa State, where targeted abductions yielded maximum ransoms with minimal resistance. The South-South’s low ransom payments may indicate efficient police intervention or victim silence.
“We believe that the latter is more likely as kidnap victims fear re-abduction. At the state level, Edo kidnappers sought high ransoms but received little sums of money.”
Conversely, victims in Taraba paid the most, primarily due to a single incident. Zamfara, Kaduna and Niger had the highest per capita abduction rates, often involving mass community abductions.
These figures, the report said, reflect Nigeria’s security agencies’ struggle to contain kidnap for ransom. Yet, the number of kidnappers killed has not served as a credible deterrent for would-be kidnappers. This shows that the industry’s profitability outweighs the perceived threat of state intervention and police rescues.
In 2022, according to the Council on Foreign Relations and National Security Tracker, non-state actors killed 4,545 people, while kidnappers took away 4,611 others.
Similarly, in 2023, over 700 abductions were carried out across the country in its first quarter, even as electioneering for the 2023 general election were going on, and when the presidential election took place.
The scourge of kidnapping took a political dimension in April 14, 2014 when over 300 female students were kidnapped from the Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State by the dreaded Islamic sect, Boko Haram.
An NGO, Save the Children, said that since the Chibok episode, “more than 1,680 schoolchildren were kidnapped in Nigeria, with the fear of attacks stopping some children from ever attending school.”
Over 180 schoolchildren, the NGO claimed, were killed and nearly 90 injured in 70 attacks between April 2014 and December 2022, with an estimated 60 school staff kidnapped and 14 killed. Twenty-five school buildings were reportedly destroyed during that period.
It said that the majority of these attacks took place in the North-West (49 attacks), followed by the North-Central (11 attacks).
The Chibok attack by Boko Haram terrorists marked the period of politicisation of kidnapping with complicated security implications for the country as Nigeria has since bled from that incident both in terms of loss of human lives and property.
Consequently, the scourge has spread from the North-East states to Kogi, Kwara and Niger in the North- Central and Zamfara, Kaduna, Kebbi and Katsina in the North-West. In the South-South and South-East, herders and militants have been having their way. In Nigeria of today, kidnapping has become big business, according to Minister of State for Defence, Bello Mohammed Matawalle.
USA, CANADA TRAVEL ADVISORY
Insecurity has risen to such dangerous heights that the United States of America and Canada, last week issued warnings to their citizens in Nigeria to avoid major hotels in the country, citing some security threats targeted at these hotels in the larger cities of the country.
The US urged its citizens to be vigilant at major hotels, be alert to their surroundings, keep a low profile and review the travel advisory for Nigeria before checking into any hotel.
The notice reads, “The U.S. government is aware of credible information that there is an elevated threat to major hotels in Nigeria’s larger cities. Nigerian security services are working diligently to counter the threat.”
For the Government of Canada, its citizens should avoid non-essential travel to Nigeria, including in Abuja, “due to the unpredictable security situation throughout the country and the significant risk of terrorism, armed attacks and kidnappings.”
The Canadian High Commission even listed the states that its citizens should avoid. They are Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Sokoto, Zamfara, Plateau, Kogi, Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Yobe and the Niger Delta states of Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Delta, Imo and Rivers “with the exception of Rivers’ capital city, Port Harcourt, where we advise against non-essential travel, due to the risk of terrorism, armed attacks, kidnapping, inter-communal and sectarian violence.”
THE SECURITY ANSWER
The Inspector-General of Police, Olukayode Egbetokun, said the Nigeria Police Force has stepped up its activities and in the past few months, successfully tamed the rising incidence of crime, particularly armed robbery and kidnapping.
Within the period, he said, the Police arrested 288 armed robbery suspects, 187 kidnap suspects, 198 homicide suspects, 59 suspects for possession of prohibited firearms, 168 suspects involved in cases of rape, defilement and other sexual offences, 265 suspected cultists and 1,891 other suspects for various crimes within the past five weeks.
According to him, the internal security situation in the country is better than what it was five months ago in spite of the prevailing economic hardship.
NSA Ribadu shared IGP Egbetokun’s sense of optimism over insecurity and kidnapping in the country.
He said, “Although as of today, we have about 26 of such people now in their den, 13 from the university in Gusau, five NYSC members and a few others, the era in which they move in and pack students in their hundreds is no longer tenable under this administration. Organised kidnapping is coming down considerably.
“Records show that we record an average of 1,600 violent deaths on the average daily through those who undermine the state to make life very difficult for our people.
“We went to work, as at the time we took over, in the Niger Delta, the production of crude oil was at 1.1 million or 1.2 million. We had less than 20 cargoes a month. We worked and took crude oil production to over 1.7 million barrels and exported crude with 26/27 cargoes.”
Ribadu expressed the hope that the lives of people, mostly peasants in the northern part of the country, which had turned upside down because some communities there stay for more than 10 years without going to the farm or market to buy and sell, will soon experience a renewal.
THEWILL investigation shows that in addition to manning their command posts, many state commands of the Nigeria Police Force have been tackling kidnapping through the sharing of intelligence, particularly those sharing boundaries.
On this, DSP Willima Ovye Aya, who said Kogi shares borders with 10 states, including the FCT, told THEWILL that all other commands in the respective states share intelligence on kidnapping, adding that, “although pockets of kidnaping still happen across the country, the police are doing their best.”
Aya’s counterpart in Enugu, DSP Amarizu Ebere, did not respond to repeated calls to his phone.
The Programme Manager, National Crime Agency UK, Chris Grimson, who participated in that workshop organised by the ONSA and British Embassy in Abuja said the workshop was a fallout of a number of agreements between Nigeria and the United Kingdom to create a multi-agency kidnap fusion cell composed of a multi-dimensional layer of public, security personnel, the media and army for the purpose of information sharing and management that supports the effectiveness of police commands across the length and breath of the country.
“We appreciate what the security forces are doing to contain kidnapping in the country. But they should do more and faster,” said NMA President, Dr Oginmah.