Friday 19 April 2019

Security Risk Analysis: Kidnapping Hotbeds in Nigeria (1)

Preamble: Anyone up-to-date with the security situation and dynamics in Nigeria will attest that the country is grappling with multifaceted, unrelenting threats to national security. One of such pervasive security threat is an embarrassing kidnap for ransom and extortion (KRE) pandemic. Toddlers, elderly citizens, pregnant women and religious leaders are not off-limits to daredevil kidnappers in Nigeria.
John Campbell, a former United States ambassador to Nigeria who is quite familiar with events in Nigeria agrees in his recent article that ‘Nigeria's national kidnapping crisis is expanding’. In his article titled – ‘’Time to Declare National Emergency on Kidnapping’’, the editor-in-chief of Leadership Newspaper, Mr. Jonathan Nda-Isaiah says, ‘’Traveling by road now to any part of the country is like going on a suicide mission. The Abuja – Kaduna road which connects the federal capital to the North-west states has been taken over by kidnappers. Birnin Gwari area in Kaduna State has now become synonymous with violent deaths. Taraba, Zamfara, Sokoto and Gombe roads are impassable at the moment. Virtually all the major roads in the country have been taken over by kidnappers’’.
Abuja_Kaduna Road

Kidnapping In Nigeria: Weapons Proliferation, Porous Border Nexus

There’s apparently a nexus between the proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALW) and unrelenting kidnapping in Nigeria. The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) pointed out in March 2018, that Nigeria accounts for about 70% of illegal small arms in West Africa. According to CISLAC’s report, ‘’the existing porous borders have not only paved ways for free flow of arms in and out of Nigeria but also contributed to increasing number of violent conflicts, constant human and drug trafficking which remain a challenge to authorities within and outside Nigeria’’. Also, a September 8, 2018 Daily Trust newspaper report submits that, ''the negative impact of illicit arms trafficking in Nigeria can be said to be the root of insecurity in the country, accounting for increasing violence and mass killings''. The by-product of the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in Nigeria is that seemingly innocent folks are also arming themselves in a bid to protect themselves. According to Daily Trust, residents in parts of Katsina, Zamfara, Kaduna and Kogi  states (north-central Nigeria) have resorted to secret procurement of locally-made arms for self defense due to increasing banditry and kidnappings which they say ‘appears too difficult for security agencies to handle’. 
Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons in Nigeria

Ahmad Salkida, a renowned Boko Haram conflict and terrorism reporter,
chronicled in a series of tweets, how scores of people including soldiers, police officers, vigilantes throng Tsauni, a village 35 kilometers from Tsafe LG headquarters of Zamfara, and queue to receive charm from a certain Talisman protect themselves against gunshots. 

Salkida also paints a picture of locally made guns been traded openly and that AK47 can be bought discretely in Tsauni. The above scenario is symptomatic of an ungoverned space or a failing state. It clearly portrays a clime where citizens have lost confidence in the ability of the State to protect its citizens.

More often than not, the modus operandi of many kidnapping incidents in Nigeria entails an ambush, usually on bad portions (pothole) on a road or a highway. The kidnappings often occur in the evenings or early in the morning. There are also cases where kidnappers collect the debit cards of abducted travelers (probably victims with modest ‘kidnap value’), withdraw all the money in their bank accounts before releasing them. Given the high rate of road accidents, crime – armed robbery attacks, kidnapping on Nigerian roads/highways, it is common practice for travelers in Nigeria to render testimony and thanksgiving in their place of worship if they successfully commute from point A to point B.

Kidnapping Under-reported in Nigeria, Death Penalty Not A Deterrence

There’s paucity of reliable crime data in Nigeria but one thing is sure, kidnap for ransom and extortion in Nigeria is under-reported. It is plausible that less than a quarter of kidnapping incidents in Nigeria make headlines and more often than not, an affluent individual or his/her relative is involved. The kidnapping of a Joe Bloggs out there often go unnoticed and the security agencies are unhurried in going after the culprits. Miffed by the unrelenting kidnapping incidents in Nigeria, the Nigerian Senate passed a countrywide law on September 29, 2017 stipulating death penalty for kidnappers. 

Interestingly, apart from the federal law, at least 16 out of the 36 states (Akwa Ibom, Abia, Anambra, Bayelsa, Bauchi, Cross River, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo, Kano, Kogi, Rivers, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo and Oyo) in Nigeria have specific laws which also prescribe death penalty for kidnapping yet this heinous crime persist in aforementioned climes.

Kidnapping Thrives in Nigeria Despite Militarization, Security Votes

A while ago, the Chief of Army Staff,  Lt-Gen. Tukur Buratai asserted that ‘’officers and men of the Nigerian Army were engaged in 32 states of the federation, battling terrorism, kidnapping, cattle rustling, pipeline vandalism, communal clashes, and other forms of insecurity’’. From the foregoing, it is safe to say that the Nigerian space is militarized.  Also, bring to mind that the Nigerian President, 36 state governors and the 774 local government chairmen across the country, are entitled to a whopping un-audited $670m (N241bn) yearly disguised as ‘’security votes’’. In addition to the perceived corruption-laden security vote, the Nigerian government has dissipated a walloping six trillion Naira (excluding the one billion dollars security fund requested by President Buhari to buy weapons to confront security challenges) on Defence in the past 11 years, 2008-2018. By the end of 2018 fiscal year, President Buhari would have spent N1.864 trillion (30.57%) or more of the 11 years budget appropriated to Defence since he came to power on May 29, 2015. It beggars belief that notwithstanding these humongous monies forked out to tackle insecurity, terrorism, banditry, kidnap for ransom and extortion, ungoverned spaces continue to proliferate across Nigeria. 

Risk of Kidnapping in Nigeria And Travel Safety Advisory

On April 9, 2019, the United States Department of State introduced a comprehensive travel safety information or risk ''K'' indicator to warn U.S. citizens about the risk of kidnapping and hostage taking by criminal and terrorist actors around the world. Expectedly, Nigeria made the list of 35 countries which the US government believes have a heightened risk of kidnapping. Similarly, the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the Canadian, Irish, New Zealand and Australian government’s, at different times, warned their citizens not to visit or to exercise “extreme” caution when travelling to parts of Nigeria— due to high threat of kidnapping, terrorism, crime, inter-communal clashes and armed attacks, amongst others. It is also true that the 2018 Global Law and Order Report by the Gallup Poll, ranked Nigeria as one of the most dangerous countries in the world, arguably more unsafe than war-torn Libya. 

Granted the reportage of security threats in Nigeria – ethno-religious miasma, Boko Haram insurgency, the bloodletting and banditry in Zamfara, blistering herdsmen attacks and the gruesome kidnappings in Nigeria may have precipitated the panoptic, undiscriminating travel advisories. For sure, Nigeria has her own fair share of security challenges but it is certainly not a big jungle or war-torn country out there. Peopled with nearly 200 million inhabitants, there are hundreds, thousands of Caucasians, expatriates in Boko Haram-ravaged northeast, nay, other parts of Nigeria, unhindered by the insurgency, kidnapping scourge.

Let us digress a bit so as to put things in perspective. According to data from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 39,773 people were killed in shootings in 2017 alone amid a growing number of suicides involving firearms. When adjusted for age fluctuations, this represents a total of 12 deaths per 100,000 people. Why are there no travel security advisories to people visiting the United States, warning them on the risk of being gunned down on the streets of America?

Pull Factors of Kidnapping In Nigeria

Kidnapping in Nigeria is often motivated by pecuniary gains, criminal, religious, and political persuasions. On the pecuniary or economic pull-factor, 24-year-old KRE suspect, Mukhtar Abubakar arrested by the Niger State Police Command in Magama Local Government Area of the state, says,”Kidnapping is the fastest business in Nigeria now; you can make your millions without too much stress. I love kidnapping and abducting people for easy money.” Muktar says he had planned to make billions out of kidnapping before he was arrested. There’s also a youth unemployment nexus. Recall that, while the ‘’total number of unemployed people in Nigeria increased from 17.6 million in Q4 2017 to 20.9 million in Q3 2018, the total combined unemployment and underemployment rates increased from 40.0 percent in Q3 2017 to 43.3 percent in Q3, 2018”. It is evident that the kidnap for ransom and extortion trend in Nigeria will persist if the Buhari administration fails to kick-start the ailing Nigerian economy and rein in unemployment. On the political dynamics of kidnapping, the 2019 general election recorded random kidnapping of electoral officials and politicians in parts of the country. This is the handiwork of unscrupulous and desperate politicians who work in cahoots with their criminal foot soldiers.

Another factor that fuel kidnapping in Nigeria is that more often than not, ransom (depending on a victim’s ‘kidnap value’, could be in the region of hundreds of thousands to millions of Naira) is paid to secure the release of a victim. For instance, contrary to rebuttals by the Nigerian government, a topical United Nations report confirmed what seems to be an open secret in Nigeria - that the Nigerian government paid huge sums in ransom [foreign currencies] to secure the release of the over 100 school girls kidnapped on February 19 by the Boko Haram terrorist group from Government Girls Science and Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe State and released by ISWAP on 21 March 2018. According to the United Nations report signed by Coordinator of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team, Edmund Fitton-Brown, and Chair of the Security Council Committee, Kairat Umarov, “The predominance in the region of the cash economy, without controls, is conducive to terrorist groups funded by extortion, charitable donations, smuggling, remittances and kidnapping.”

Aim: This security risk analysis of kidnapping hotbeds in Nigeria is aimed at harvesting nuggets of data on reported kidnapping incidents across the nook and cranny of Nigeria. While there are one-offs, it is evident that many kidnapping incidents in Nigeria seem to recur within some geographical swathes, environments where such incidents happened in the past. We can make a couple of deductions from this: it is most likely that there is poor security in such areas. Secondly, it is probable that the masterminds or foot soldiers of kidnappings in those areas are by acts of omission or commission, not behind bars. They are emboldened and bask on impunity. Since they still lurk around, it is a matter of time before they kidnap their next victim(s) and extort ransom. Unmasking potential kidnap hotspots will enhance security awareness and ultimately aid prevention. It is hoped that this research will help us tack together - a kidnapping heat map in Nigeria, and also help crime fighting, and law enforcement. It is very important to stay ahead of security threats and risks in Nigeria otherwise you may be inadvertently setting yourself up to become another statistic.

This research is driven by public and social good and most of the data here are in the public domain. There is no intent to de-market Nigeria or to stereotype kidnapping neck of the woods cited in this piece. It is possible that some of the cited hotbeds of kidnapping in Nigeria could become safe and serene in the near future but for now this is what it is; better to err on the side of caution. As a passionate security analyst and a subject matter expert (SME) on security and kidnappings in Nigeria, this is my humble way of adding altruistic value to humanity.

Research Methodology: A lion's share of the data harvested and collated in this research stem from Open Source Intelligence (OSINT), Social Media Intelligence (SOMINT), Human Intelligence (HUMINT) and from my years of painstaking observation, analysis and chronicling kidnap for ransom and extortion (KRE) incidents, dynamics in Nigeria as a Subject Matter Expert (SME). This security risk analysis encompasses the 36 states of Nigeria but because of its extensive nature and swathes of territory involved, we shall analyze KRE in the various states but compartmentalize them into Nigeria’s six (6) geopolitical zones.

Kidnapping Hotbeds in Nigeria

In north-central Nigeria, no fewer than 40 kidnapping incidents were reported in Jos, Plateau state between January and March, 2019. About 90% of the victims are said to be children aged two to nine and the depressing aspect is that these kidnappings happen despite the plethora of security agencies – the Police, Army, Air Force, Navy, DSS, NSCDC, within Jos metropolis. Also, the Kaduna – Birnin Gwari road, Kaduna-Abuja road, and Abuja – Lokoja roads which link Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, Abuja with most cities in the northwestern and north-central parts of Nigeria are unarguably the most dangerous roads in Nigeria due to the activities of kamikaze gunmen and bandits who abduct travelers for ransom. On the Kaduna – Abuja expressway, many victims are reportedly ambushed around Rijana and Katari villages. This stretch of road is interspersed with three forests - Rijana or Birnin Gwari and Akilbu forests where these bandits ensconce their victims.  "Prominent Nigerians, including senators, serving senior military officers and politicians have been forced to take trains to Kaduna for fear of being abducted by the notorious kidnappers operating along the Kaduna-Abuja Expressway."

Kogi state, especially the Obajana – Kabba road, Okene-Kabba road, Okene -Lokoja road and Itakpe-Adogo road in Adavi Local Government Area of Kogi state are arguably the most notorious kidnapping hotbeds in Nigeria. An American missionary, Phyllis Sortor was kidnapped from Hope Alive Nursery/Primary School in Emiworo, Ajaokuta Local government Area of Kogi State on February 23, 2015. Hajia Hawawu Bello, mother of the incumbent Governor of the State, Alhaji Yahaya Bello was kidnapped from her Nagazi residence in Adavi Local Government Area. On April 15, 2019, The Cable reports that, ''Henshaw Ativie was kidnapped alongside his wife and children in Itakpe-Adogo road in Adavi local government area of Kogi state''. The family apparently ran into gunmen on their way to Edo state. The abductors forced the vehicle to a stop by shooting at the tyres before ordering the occupants to come down and later led the man and his wife into the nearby bush and left the three children stranded by the roadside.

Nigeria’s former Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh was ambushed and shot in the evening of December 18, 2018 by gunmen while returning from his farm between Koso and Kugwaru communities, along Abuja-Keffi highway. Another retired senior military officer, Major General Idris Alkali was also killed in Jos, Plateau while driving from Abuja to Bauchi. General Alkali’s body was later found in an abandoned well in Gushet, Shen, Jos Local Government Area of Plateau state.

In southwest Nigeria, in Ondo state, the Owo-Oba Akoko road and Akure-Owo Expressway, specifically at Amurin Village in Owo Local Government Area are ill-famed for kidnapping. Kidnappers donning police uniforms are said to operate unhindered even with the presence of security operatives along that road. Apart from the sporadic kidnappings along Akure-Owo-Akoko roads, there have been reports of robberies and killings on same route, with no respite and solution in sight.

The Ikorodu (Ishawo) part of Lagos state is notorious for kidnapping, cult rivalry, ritual killings (Badoo) and other security challenges. Epe axis of Lagos state is also another kidnapping hotbed. Both are riverine communities with a plethora of creeks; it appears the kidnappers sail from neighbouring Ondo communities. Six male students of Igbonla Government College, Epe, Lagos, were abducted from their school premises on May 25, 2017 and were finally released at Aboto Creek at Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State. As recently as April 6, 2019, the Director of Lagos State Fire Service, Mr. Rasaki Musibau, and six others were kidnapped at Iwoye Bridge, Itoikin-Epe road, in Ikorodu. Sequel to this, the Nigerian Army established a Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Epe with a view to taming the wanton security challenges prevalent in this area. Similarly, the FESTAC axis in Lagos used to be notorious for kidnapping during the reign of billionaire kidnapper, Chukwudi Onwuamadike, a.k.a Evans.  

In south-south Nigeria, the hotspot of highway kidnapping is the dreaded East–West Road connecting Warri/Sapele through Patani and Port Harcourt. "Elele to Umudioga, Egbeda, Ubima, and Omuku roads are no go areas in the evenings (from 6pm) due to heightened kidnappings. Travelers are advised to be very cautious or possibly avoid commuting through Elele-Ndele Rumuji-Emuoha-Choba -Port Harcourt’’.

In south-east Nigeria, the Owerri-Port Harcourt road is a notorious kidnapping hotbed. Kidnappers lay ambush at a particular failed portion of the road around Nkaraha in Ohaji-Egbema Council Area of Imo State. About 40 travelers were reportedly kidnapped along this stretch of road within three months, including five members of the National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) who were travelling to Rivers from Ondo State for their orientation. The high rate of kidnapping along this road is attributed to unremorseful militants that have found a safe haven in the forest around the Port Harcourt-Owerri Road.

In the northwest, just recently, the governor of Katsina state, Aminu Masari publicly lamented that, ‘’bandits and kidnappers have taken over Katsina state’’. According to governor Masari, “These bandits strike at will, maim at will, destroy lives and property at will’’. He went further to opine, “In other parts of the state, we also have kidnappers who not only take people on the road but in the comfort of their homes’’. The Acting Executive Secretary of the Zamfara Emergency Management Agency (ZEMA), Alhaji Aminu Umar, recently stated in Gusau that 227 residents were kidnapped, 408 people killed, 126 injured and 248 houses destroyed by bandits in Zamfara from December 2018 to date (April 2019). Mr. Umar says ‘’the figures could be higher because many cases had gone unreported’’. “Routes such as Gusau-Magami-Dansadau, Kuceri-Danjibga-Keta-Wanke, Kaura- Namoda -Moriki-Shinkafi and Zurmi-Jibia – Katsina are very risky, especially at nights. This is not to say that one cannot be kidnapped even at day time,” a resident Aliyu Ashiru said.

In northeast Nigeria, at the peak of the Boko Haram blistering attacks, the Maiduguri – Dikwa – Gomboru road, Maiduguri – Damboa road and Maiduguri – Baga road, Konduga – Bama, and Bama – Bankiand Bama – Gwoza roads in Borno state and the 120-kilometre Damaturu-Biu Road in Yobe state were respectively closed for several months, years due to persistent Boko Haram ambush and mass abductions along those roads. On April 12, 2019, Premium Times reported that a prominent businessman based in Jimeta-Yola, Adamawa State, Abubakar Bashar, was kidnapped while returning from a farm along Yola-Numan road.


It is evident that kidnapping for ransom and extortion is unrelenting in Nigeria. More worrisome is the fact that the security agencies seem to lack the capacity and have no clear-cut strategy to rein in this pervasive security threat. Security is a collective responsibility and security awareness is fundamental. It is also a given that prevention is better than cure. Individuals must make conscious effort to be in the know about goings-on around them and to do the needful. Also, given that kidnapping in Nigeria has morphed into a dangerous trend, high time it was treated as a national security problem. A proactive, holistic and collective approach and response is exigent if we must rein in kidnapping in Nigeria. The Nigerian government should go beyond treating the symptoms of kidnapping but go the whole hog of fixing the root, remote and immediate causes. As they say, you don’t keep doing the same thing the same way and expect a different result.

(C) Don Okereke is a security analyst, consultant, a writer, researcher, and a subject matter expert on security trends in Nigeria.

April 19, 2019

This comprehensive analysis encompasses the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria hence the essay is serialized. Click on this link to read:

Security Risk Analysis: Kidnapping Hotbeds in South West Nigeria

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