Friday, 23 October 2015

Investigation: Nigeria’s Thriving ‘Kidnapping Enterprise’; How To Arrest The Scourge

This treatise is a blow-by-blow account of prevailing kidnapping in Nigeria. It touches on human trafficking and explores Nigeria’s ranking in the global kidnapping index, how kidnapping metamorphosed in Nigeria, the epicenter(s) and litany of kidnapping incidents in Nigeria, payment of ransoms to secure release of kidnapped victims, capital punishment for kidnappers, pull-factors encouraging kidnapping in Nigeria, kidnapping dynamics in Nigeria and recommendations on how to tackle or rein in the menace of pervasive kidnapping in Nigeria.

There is no gainsaying the fact that the unprecedented insecurity situation: Boko Haram bloodletting insurgency/terrorism, kidnapping et al in Nigeria, stifles social life, business activities and foreign direct investment. Kidnapping for ransom and extortion (KRE) is a lingering threat and arguably the fastest growing crime in Nigeria. Religious leaders, statesmen, nonagenarians, politicians, lecturers, journalists, students, toddlers, everybody is fair game for kidnappers in this clime. Similar to pervasive kidnapping, Nigeria is also upping the ante in human trafficking which the United Nations Office on Drugs Control (UNODC) estimates, is a thriving 40 billion dollar ‘industry’, globally.

The concomitant effect of human trafficking and kidnapping on victims apart from the risk of death or physical injury, sexual assault, is a harrowing life-time psychological torture (lack of trust, fear) or panic attacks it inflicts on them.

Insecurity, Kidnapping: A Global Menace

Every country has its own fair share of security and socio-economic challenges and Nigeria is not an exception. Though the motive may not be the same as the Nigerian kidnap for ransom and extortion (KRE) variant but it is interesting to note that the United States National Center for Missing Children estimates ‘’that roughly 800, 000 children are reported missing each year in the US’’. That equates to approximately 2,000 children per day out of which 115 are said to be child ‘’stranger abduction’’ cases, meaning that the child was abducted by an unknown individual. For the record, ‘’more people have died from guns (casualty: 1,515,863) in the United states since 1968 than from ALL the wars (casualty: 1,396,733) in American history’’).

Make no mistakes about it, one is not trying to extenuate or downplay the security challenges inherent in Nigeria but a devil’s advocate may wish to argue that the menace of pervasive gun violence in the United States dwarfs the threat of kidnapping in Nigeria yet many organizations and so-called armchair experts seldom rank the United States as a ‘’high risk country’’. Any explanation for this double standard?

Nigeria Ranks High in the Global Kidnapping Index

A while ago, Mexico was ranked first while Nigeria aced the fifth position in an opprobrious global kidnapping index which was based on reported incidents of kidnappings. Of course it is established that globally, kidnapping incidents are grossly underreported and devoid of publicity hence the aforementioned ranking is dynamic. The tendency not to report or publicize incidents of kidnapping is very patent in Nigeria where more often than not, folks seldom repose much confidence on the police. Mexico and Columbia understandably lead the pack because kidnapping is a spinoff of an unending drug-associated violence by the various drug cartels fighting for supremacy and buoyed by a complicit, corrupt government security agents. While kidnappings in Mexico, Colombia et al seem to be receding, this heinous crime is upping in Nigeria. If this trend persists, perhaps it is only a matter of time before Nigeria displaces Mexico as the ‘kidnapping capital of the world’.

How Kidnapping Metamorphosed, Spread in Nigeria

Kidnap for ransom and extortion (KRE) was hitherto the stock-in-trade of self-styled Niger-Delta militants who inter-alia used it as a bargaining chip for a fair share of the ‘national cake’. However, kidnapping is no longer the exclusive right of these geezers as this criminal enterprise is fast spreading its tentacles across the nook and cranny of Nigeria. An Igbo proverb suffices thus ‘’Aru gbaa afo, o buru omenala’’. A rough English translation of this adage says: when a crime persists or becomes the order of the day, it becomes a way of life. Amazingly, just one kidnapping incident was recorded in Nigeria in 1992 and no iota of kidnapping successively in 1993, 1995, and 1996 (according to a 2001 study by Hiscox group) but fast-forward to 2015, kidnapping has metamorphosed to a ‘booming enterprise’ in Nigeria. To give us an idea of the prevailing scenario, Daily Trust Newspaper’s report of September 26, 2015 guesstimates that about 110 persons were kidnapped in Nigeria in six months (April to September 2015) and that a dangling N1 billion was demanded for ransom within this period. As is well known, Boko Haram upped the ante with its mass abduction of over 200 school girls from Chibok in Borno state, North-East Nigeria.

The Epicenter of Kidnapping in Nigeria
Not long ago, South-East (particularly Abia state) Nigeria was reputed as the kidnapping capital of Nigeria but that seem to have changed now. While a survey by the CLEEN Foundation (Center for Law Enforcement Education) shows that people are more likely to be kidnapped in South-West geopolitical zone of Nigeria than any other region, Daily Trust newspaper opines that kidnapping is more prominent in the South-South geopolitical zone of Nigeria. This disparity can be reconciled by the method of extrapolating the data and the shifting or dynamic nature of kidnapping. Kidnappers are amorphous and are not bound by geographical boundaries. Places or states noted for high incidents of kidnapping in Nigeria, in no particular order, are: Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Enugu, Imo, and Kogi. If the kidnapping of the 276 or so Chibok school girls and several others kidnapped, conscripted by Boko Haram is factored in, then North-East Nigeria can also be said to be a haven for kidnapping. However if the motive is strictly the kidnap for ransom and extortion (KRE) variant, we can safely extrapolate that such kidnappings are generally predominant in the Southern and middle belt of Nigeria than in the core north.

One Kidnapping Too Many: Litany of Recent Kidnappings in Nigeria
Recall that Prof. Kamene Okonjo, octogenarian mother of Nigeria’s erstwhile Minister of Finance Dr. (Mrs.) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was kidnapped in 2012. Kate Eni and Patience Egebeni, both Cousins of former President Goodluck Jonathan and one Mrs. Rosemary Osahagolu, the Vice-Chancellor of Rivers State University of Education fell victim to kidnappers. A Head of Department at the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO) was kidnapped from her home; N20million was reportedly demanded as ransom. A United States Missionary was once kidnapped in central Nigeria while three women were abducted in Bayelsa State and one of them was later found dead. In a related incident, 3 women were abducted in Ekiti state. A regent was kidnapped in Ondo state and N20million ransom was demanded, an Anglican Bishop was kidnapped and N40million ransom was demanded, an Israeli expat was killed in Nigeria in kidnapping attempt so also a catholic priest was kidnapped in Kogi State. Gunmen kidnapped Sun Newspaper’s Deputy MD’s wife – Mrs. Toyin Nwosu in Lagos and was freed after a former governor of Abia state – Orji Uzo Kanu reportedly ‘’intervened’’ (euphemism for ransom payment?). Also in Lagos state, a nanny kidnapped 3 children under her care. The son of the vice chancellor of University of Port Harcourt was also kidnapped in Rivers State. A prominent hotelier was kidnapped in Niger state by gunmen. A 92-yr-old monarch was kidnapped in Bayelsa and also one Professor Zibokere Daukiye was kidnapped in Bayelsa State, South-South Nigeria. Not to be outdone, gunmen abducted the District head of Wamakko in Sokoto state. One of the latest high profile victim of indiscriminate kidnapping in Nigeria is a septuagenarian former Secretary General of the Federation (SGF) - Chief Olu Falae supposedly by Fulani herdsmen. Chief Falae insists his family paid a N5 million ransom to secure his release and this has been corroborated by the alleged culprits who now in police custody. These are just random examples.

Ransom Money: To Pay or Not To Pay
Ndigbo have an aphorism that utmost finesse and precision is needed in handling a tsetse fly that perched on a man’s balls. Same principle applies in trying to exonerate a kidnap victim from the clutches of his abductors. Granted payment of ransom to kidnappers to effect release of their victim is a moral issue and it encourages the goons to wallow in this crime and the Nigeria police frown at such practice but it appears payment of ransom is a hobson’s choice when push comes to shove especially in country where there is no guarantee that the security agencies will live up to expectations. Kidnap victims in Nigeria are more likely to promptly waltz free if the victims well-wishers play ball than when they want to play James Bond. In 2013, the former deputy governor of Anambra State, one Dr. Chudi Nwike was killed by his abductors not because ransom was not paid but because the kidnappers demanded N30 million but the family came up with a paltry N5 million. According to the report, the kidnappers subsequently rang the wife of the deputy governor and urged her to ‘’use the N25 million balance to bury her husband’’. In September 2015, the Edo State Police Command reportedly uncovered the lifeless body of a lecturer of Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Professor Paul Erie who was abducted three months earlier. The kidnappers were said to have demanded ‘’a huge sum of money’’ for his release. Not sure whether his family paid the amount or not before his corpse was discovered in a shallow grave.  In Aba, Abia state, abductors of one Mrs. Chioma Chukwura reportedly killed her after they became suspicious that they were been trailed by security operatives in the process of trying to pick up the ransom money. Of course recall Chief Olu Falae asserted that his family paid a N5 million to secure his release. Perhaps Chief Falae may not have come out alive if his family didn’t do the needful.  

Kidnappings in Nigeria: Accusing Fingers

It is trite that kidnappings in Nigeria are perpetrated on the façade of economic rationalities or as an instrument of political coercion/intimidation, terrorism (e.g. Boko haram’s abduction of the Chibok school girls) but some worrying dimensions are the allusion that proceeds of kidnapping (ransoms) could be fuelling insecurity (terrorism) and the alleged culpability of security agents by acts of commission or omission. Lately, the Human Right Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) pressed for a probe of security agents’ alleged role in kidnappings in Nigeria alleging that evidence it amassed from eye witnesses and relations of victims of kidnapping who were eventually freed after huge payments changed hands, suggests that some police commissioners, especially in the South-East, pegged police ‘settlements’ at N1 million, to be paid by family members of kidnapped folks before the police could swing into action on a reported incident of kidnapping. A notable case was an allegation that after a certain family member in a South-East state ‘settled’ the police, the kidnappers had to increase their ransom demand from N3 million to N5 million because the kidnappers contended that if the family could pay N1 million to the police, they must pay N5 million to them. It also appears that the more prominent or influential a kidnap victim is in Nigeria, the likelihood that the security agencies will throw its hat in the ring and solve the riddle to forestall public embarrassment and outcry. Not so for small fry victims of kidnapping. The foregoing explains why relatives or associates of many kidnapped victims in Nigeria rarely go public or bother to get security agents involved. Bad eggs in the security agencies are rubbing the names of the agencies in the mud. Just recently, the Sun Newspaper reported the arrest of 38-year-old Corporal I.L.O. Peter, serving at Oguta Division of the Imo State Police Command and Constable Nicholas Ogbianu, 37, who was dismissed from the Delta State Police Command in Onitsha, Anambra State, for robbery and for impersonation respectively.

Capital Punishment For Kidnapping, A Paper-tiger?

Sometime in 2009, the 36 State governors in Nigeria met at the Kwara State Liaison office in Abuja under the auspices of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF). At the end of their meeting, they issued a communiqué which inter-alia, urged the federal government ‘’to bring the full weight of the law on culprits of kidnapping’. True to their words, kidnapping currently attracts a death sentence in the following states: Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Enugu, Imo, and Kogi. The then Delta state governor reportedly refused to assent to the death sentence bill passed by the State Assembly, one is not sure if the Bill became a law, willy-nilly. As a matter of fact as I was penning this piece, news filtered in, that three medical doctors and a lecturer were kidnapped in Imo and Kogi States respectively despite the fact that kidnapping attracts a death sentence in these two States. Given the geometric progression of kidnapping in Nigeria notwithstanding capital punishment for kidnappers, one wonders whether a death sentence is indeed a deterrent, an antidote to kidnapping?

Pull Factors of Kidnapping in Nigeria: The proliferation of kidnappings in Nigeria is a function of one or a combination of the following factors:

1.     Instrument of Political Coercion and Intimidation: A Security Consultant - Chigozie Ubani attributed some kidnap cases to politics, “I see political actors who engage the services of these young men in the course of protecting themselves, intimidating their opponents, electioneering, and soon after, the kidnappers are dumped.”

2.     Porous illegal borders, proliferation of small arms haven’t helped matters either. Nigeria is said to have more than 1,479 illegal, porous borders which undoubtedly encourages wanton smuggling and proliferation of light weapons.

3.     Unprecedented unemployment rate, abject poverty in the midst of plenty: When a popular human right activist – Chief Mike Ozekhome was kidnapped, he was quoted as saying that his abductors ‘’spoke Queens English and claimed to be graduates’’. The blokes claimed they took to kidnapping because of lack of employment.

4.     Lack of intelligence, sophisticated technology
5.      ‘National Cake Syndrome’ and resource control connection: Niger-Delta youths arguably popularized kidnap for ransom in Nigeria as an instrument of recouping their own fair share of the national cake and to press home their demand for resource control.
6.     Religious connotation: Boko Haram Islamic Sect basks on a warped ideology that ‘’Western Education is Forbidden’’ believe young girls have no business attending schools but should be in their husbands place hence their kidnapping of the Chibok school schools to dissuade other girls from attending schools and also as an instrument of coercion

Forecasting The Future of Kidnapping in Nigeria

Granted mortals are not omniscient and cannot say with cast-iron certainty how future events will pan out but we can at least make very coherent extrapolations, forecast the future based on previous, ongoing scenarios and other variables thrown into the mix. For a start, the Nigerian economy is not in the best of shape. Some argue Nigeria may be sliding to a recession if urgent steps are not taken to check the current economic downturn. Crude oil prices, stocks, the Naira (Nigerian currency) have continued to plunge. Banks and other organizations are laying off staff. Unemployment, abject poverty is at an all-time high and there is no safety net. Despite the so-called bailout largesse to state governors, backlog of salaries are yet to be cleared. In the Niger-Delta, the security situation is quite fluid due to the imminent end to the hitherto mouth-watering amnesty largesse, scholarships and contracts (crude oil pipeline protection contract, amongst others) that empowered Niger-Delta youths and birthed nouveau-riche dollar millionaires/billionaires. Let’s hope the forthcoming gubernatorial election in Bayelsa state will not witness an upsurge in political brinkmanship and kidnapping. It also appears Nigeria’s counter insurgency operation in the North-East has seen more security personnel deployed to that area thereby creating a security lacuna in the southern flank. Now that Boko Haram is been outgunned and hemmed in, with no possibility of holding and occupying territories, the probable and feasible option left for the sect is to wage some kind of guerrilla warfare (random suicide bombings, drive-by killings), with kidnapping in the mix. Prognosis: the butterfly-effect of a combination of the aforementioned factors is that violent extremism and kidnapping trend in Nigeria will persist if the aforementioned pull-factors are not reined. In her October 2015 essay, Red24’s Special Risks Analyst, Nicole Elliott reckons kidnap for ransoms and extortions (KRE) and short-term kidnappings are ‘’established threats in Nigeria’’ and are  ’unlikely to change in the foreseeable future’’.

Recommendations: How To Tackle, Rein in Kidnappings in Nigeria:

That kidnapping continues to be rife in Nigeria despite the very drastic death penalty imposed on perpetrators of this vicious crime is evidence that once an individual makes up his mind to commit a crime, even a death penalty does not dissuade him from that act. A multi-faceted, holistic approach (immediate, short and long term measures) will go a long way in drastically reducing if not stamping out kidnappings in Nigeria. The following steps will help stave off and curtail kidnappings in Nigeria:

1.     Common Sense, VIGILANCE and Resilience! It is established that security is the primary responsibility of every government but every responsible individual have a role to play in his personal security and safety and must not throw caution to the wind, especially in our clime where the government is bedeviled by challenges in all fronts. There is no better time than now for all Nigerians to be security conscious and ensure they do their part towards ensuring their personal safety and security. Kidnappings don’t just happen pronto. The bad guys do their own research and usually trail their victims for a while before striking. If you are driving and you notice a car trailing you consistently, NEVER drive straight to your home, better to enter a public place. Seldom have a predictable or regular routine or route. Don’t disclose your travel itineraries to strangers or third parties. If you feel unsafe, go out in groups. Carry out a due diligence on domestic aides: house helps, drivers, private security officers as the disgruntled and unscrupulous amongst them can engineer the kidnapping of their paymasters or his wards. In this age of social media and internet, folks MUST desist from unwittingly leaving a trail of their travel plans, material acquirements, schools their wards attend amongst others. This applies mostly to nouveau-riches, so-called celebrities who bask on flaunting their material possessions on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Etc.). Bear in mind that even without obviously saying where a picture was taken, recent cameras, Smartphones and gadgets have a way of embedding GPS locations on pictures which will enable an interested party to extrapolate where the picture was shot. The good news is that the GPS feature on these techies can be turned off and on. Feel free to turn it off if need be. There are times when things just go wrong no matter how careful one is. If this happens and one falls prey to kidnappers, it is advisable to comply with their instructions. Don’t go arguing or trying to play James Bond to avoid been killed by the abductors. If a victim, be mindful not to menacingly stare at your abductor(s) as this may give an impression that you can identify him/her. That is on the personal security, safety side of things.

2.     To the Nigerian government, it is trite that Nigeria is grossly under-policed. Whereas the United Nations recommends a Police to people ratio of 1:400, Nigeria can only boast of about 371,000 policemen, grossly inadequate for a country of 170 million people. The reasonable thing to do is not only to recruit more policemen but also ensure they are well motivated and kitted.

3.     Tackle unprecedented unemployment. It is foolhardy to expect tranquility to prevail in a country rich in human and natural resources where official unemployment guesstimate hovers around 8.2 percent in the second quarter of 2015. Former President Obasanjo once averred that unemployment is a ticking time bomb in Nigeria.

4.     Ramp up quick prosecution of culprits: Quick dispensation of justice will go a long way in stemming the tide of kidnappings in Nigeria. As they say, ‘’justice delayed is justice denied’’. It portends danger when culprits waltz or wriggle out of prosecution and penalty. Sometime in October 2010, a traditional ruler and a college provost were kidnapped in Ekiti state by a band of kidnappers. While taking the victims to a hideout in Delta State a fatal accident occurred at Kabba in Kogi State during which both victims were killed while the kidnappers were seriously injured. The kidnappers were arrested by the police and charged to court. The trial court ordered that the kidnap suspects be remanded in prison custody but they subsequently escaped from prison in 2014 during a violent attack on the Lokoja prison by unknown gunmen. In September 2013, Nigerians were told that a combined security team drawn from the Nigerian Army and Department of State Security Service (DSS) arrested a notorious kidnapper, one Kevin Prosper Oniarah, also known as Kevin Ibruvwe who allegedly masterminded the kidnapping of Human Rights Lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome but two years down the line, no progress is made in the prosecution of this alleged kidnapping kingpin. The foregoing characterizes the shoddy prosecution of criminals in Nigeria.

5.     Deploying State-of-the-art technological gadgets. When we say novel gadgets, it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Some simple security gadgets like pepper spray if well and timely deployed, can immobilize prospective kidnappers. A pen recorder can record evidence. While it is truism that the process of telephoning the family members of the victim of kidnapping presents a weak spot, there are cases where kidnappers try to circumvent this by constantly changing their location or been inside a fast-moving car while making ransom demands. The simple logic here is that the principle of tracking calls exploits extrapolating the nearest GSM masts transmitting the call at a particular point in time. This becomes a problem in a clime where tracking a call in REAL-TIME is difficult. To rein in kidnappings in Nigeria, Nigerian Security agencies MUST be several steps ahead of kidnappers in terms of deploying state-of-the-art equipment that can track GSM calls in REAL-TIME as is the case in most Western societies.

6.     Set up a well-equipped anti-kidnapping squad in in all Divisional Police offices across Nigeria and encourage information/intelligence sharing amongst the security agencies.

7.     Purge the Security agencies of bad eggs even from the point of enlistment: Very stringent background checks MUST be carried out on prospective enlistees into the security agencies (the Army, Navy, Air force, the Police, Department of State Security (DSS), National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), other sister organizations, not forgetting the Private Security Industry in Nigeria. Merit and passion for the profession must be the yardstick for recruitment into the security services as against the current norm where the aforementioned benchmarks are sacrificed in the altar of cronyism, godfatherism and the almighty ‘’quota or federal character’’ system.  The allegation by the HURIWA of a direct or indirect involvement of security agents/agencies in incidents of kidnappings in Nigeria must not be swept under the carpet. We call for a proper investigation and punishment of culprits where culpability is established.

8.     Public awareness and enlightenment campaigns: The National Orientation Agency, similar agencies, including electronic and print media platforms must embark on anti-kidnapping awareness campaigns.

9.     Rein in Fulani Herdsmen, Cattle rustlers: An emerging threat dynamic to kidnapping in Nigeria is the alleged connection of Fulani herdsmen in this ignoble trade. These folks supposedly engineered the kidnapping of Chief Olu Falae and that of the traditional ruler of Apaa-Bunu community in Kogi state, one Oba Adebisi Obademi. Aftermath of the kidnapping of Chief Olu Falae, Fulani herdsmen have reportedly embarked on self-registration in South West. This sounds like a good idea worth replicating across Nigeria. On the other hand, we urge folks to desist from cattle rustling since some of the alleged kidnappings masterminded by Fulani herdsmen are in response to the frequent rustling of their cattle by their host communities. Fulani herdsmen must play by the rules, not graze on farmlands. Some people have also advocated for microchips to be implanted on livestock to stem the tide of cattle rustling, poaching.

Security is a collective responsibility. All hands must be on deck to rein insecurity, kidnapping in Nigeria.

Written By:

© Don Okereke
(Security Analyst/Consultant, Writer/Blogger, Ex-Serviceman, Change Agent)

Bookmark my blog: Follow me on twitter: @DonOkereke for cutting edge Security/Safety news/developments, bespoke due diligence investigation, research, background screening, security and cultural awareness training, threat/risk assessment/alerts and travel advisory of specific locations across Nigeria.

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