Company fraud, money laundering and trafficking are some of the most-known forms of organized crime. In as much as these and many others are perpetuated in Nigeria, kidnapping is the most scare for any social class.
For a sordid business born of organized crime and one that’s a threat to the peace of society, kidnapping in Nigeria appears to be growing.
But, the actors are no longer just targeting the rich, elite, or expats in Africa’s largest economy. Poor villagers who have little means of livelihood are now becoming victims, a cause for worry in the country’s already question security system.
A Diversifying Threat
As normal as we know it, kidnapping victims are affluent and notable people, some of whom have solid business involvements and even economic influence. Due to their value and the weight of the ransom that can be extracted, wealthy victims are usually kept alive.
However, the illicit business is setting its sights on a different, less rich class of Nigerians. According to a new report from SBM Intelligence—an Africa-focused geopolitical research and strategic communications consulting firm—most victims are now poor villagers, a large proportion of which are kidnapped indiscriminately.
Abducting businessmen for ransom is not normal, and is frowned upon. But preying on the less privilege goes farther from what society deems usual. Considering that more than 82 million people in the country live on less than USD 1 a day, which means that 40 percent of Nigerians are poor, jeopardising the freedom and lives of rural dwellers is worrisome,
The report, titled The Economics Of The Kidnap Industry In Nigeria, states that these victims often struggle to pay ransoms quickly because of their relative poverty, and are much more likely to be killed by the actors in the event of failure.
As kidnapping in Nigeria becomes a dubious means of making money, mostly for unemployed youths looking for a means of livelihood, there has been an uptick in fatalities. This coincides with the increase of bandit attacks on villages, especially in Zamfara and Kastina States in the northern part of the country.
“As these kidnaps are less target at specific persons, the bandits are less deliberate in avoiding the death of their victims, compared to earlier attempts that appeared to have specific targets in mind,” the report said.
Nigerian ruralities are less secure than its cities, a strong possible reason kidnappers are looking to get victims from villages. In January 2019, 16 villagers were abducted by armed bandits in Zurmi, a local government area in Zamafara state.
The abductors demanded NGN 8.5 Mn (nearly USD 22 K), but the community was only able to pay NGN 3 Mn (USD 7.7 K). A similar event occurred in Rivers State, one which involved a ransom of NGN 6 Mn (USD 15.5 K) for 4 public staff.
Businesses In Aware
In all of Africa, Nigeria has the highest rate of kidnaps for ransom of both locals and foreigners. It is often in the top 10 countries in the world for kidnapped foreign nations in the bimonthly Kidnap and Ransom insight report from U.S-based security consultancy, Constellis. Nigeria was the No. 1 country for kidnap incidents in 2014.
According to the United Nations, armed banditry impacts commerce and daily life in devastating ways, as goods, lives and properties are often lost in the process. One of Nigeria’s most important commercial thoroughfares, the Abuja-Kaduna highway, has become the breeding ground for the scourge of abduction for money.
Foreign workers have become targets, but, for most businesses, there is a greater risk when they are on work-related travel. It is believed that up to half of the kidnapping cases in Nigeria occur during road travel.
According to Control Risks, kidnappers often select targets based on perceived wealth during roadside ambushes, roadblock of in-traffic congestion attacks.
Nevertheless, there is a little beyond. Commercial truckers have become subject to shakedowns from time to time. In every corner of the country, bandits who are aware that long-haul drivers move around with cash advances provisions see an opportunity.
The number of kidnappings has been increasing, up 30 percent in Africa from 2013 to 2014 and rising in the Middle East.
The Rich-Poor Conundrum
Wealthy victims are more subject to larger ransoms than poor targets. But the proceeds gotten in general makes kidnapping in Nigeria a pressing concern. Now, almost anyone who appears to have the most minimal resources or access to resources is a likely victim.
SBM says the total money spent on ransoms in the past 9 years is n USD 18.34 Mn (more than NGN 4 Bn). More worrisome is that a huge chunk of the figure, about USD 11 Mn was paid out between January 2016 and March 2020.
Lagos, Abuja, and Port Harcourt are Nigeria’s unofficial most targeted areas in terms of kidnapping. Though these places have tight security, they are not immune from the general waves of crime, of which kidnapping is but one part.
Nevertheless, the report says that the top states were kidnapping is most rampant in the country, over the past 10 years, are in the South-South geopolitical zone.
Rivers, Kaduna, Delta, and Bayelsa stand as the most affected states in the states, being a part of the Nigeria Delta where militancy is a growing concern and threat.
Rivers State, according to the report, has 120 kidnap cases between 2016 and 2020, followed by Kaduna, with 117. Delta is third, with 96 cases of kidnap, Bayelsa is fourth with 85 and Borno fifth, with 82 cases.
Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, was not among the top 10—neither was Lagos—but the report says there is “anecdotal evidence that it has become an operation base for some high-profile kidnappers from the northern part of the country.
Kidnaps may also be getting more sophisticated. Last year, a certain gang of abductors demanded NGN 4.5 Mn (over USD 11 K) worth of Bitcoin payments in order to protect their identities and make it harder to trace the transaction.
It may be that current Nigerian victims are so poor that ransoms are low. The report cites an estimate that ransoms can range from USD 1 K to USD 150 K depending on the economic situation of the victim and their family.