Insecurity in Nigeria has risen sharply in the last few years. In every region of the country, there are at least two major security crises, and we have reached a point where the Nigerian military was, as of December 2019, deployed on policing duties in every state of the country bar Kebbi and the FCT. In all of these, the spate of kidnapping is a feature in all parts of the country. Kidnap for ransom is a lucrative business in Nigeria as the case of Chukwudi Dumee Onuamadike, better known as “Evans‘, as well as Hamisu Bala Wadume who operated out of the North East until he was arrested in 2019.
In terms of the absolute number of reported kidnap incidents, four of the top 10 states with a high number of kidnap incidents over the last decade are in the South-South geopolitical zone, with three of them, Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers being a part of the Niger Delta. These three are also the states with the strongest history of Niger Delta militancy. Kaduna – the state with the second-highest number of incidents – also has a significant history of violence, especially along its connecting road to Abuja. While it is not in the top 10, Abuja has the 11th highest number of kidnap incidents over the last decade, and there is anecdotal evidence that some of the perpetrators responsible for Kaduna’s high rate of kidnap attempts have extended their operations into the federal capital.
The makeup of the top 10 changes when the total number of fatalities from kidnap attempts is being accounted for, as Bayelsa from the Niger Delta falls off the list while both Rivers and Delta fall much lower down the list. This becomes even clearer when we organise the list to show the average number of fatalities per kidnap attempt. Once this is done, all the Niger Delta states fall from the top eight. All but one of the top eight fall within the North, with Lagos being the only southern state featuring. It would appear that in the south, while kidnapping may be frequent, the selection of victims is more targeted and the kidnappers see it more as a business transaction, trying hard to extract money from their criminal activities. This targeted approach makes their victims less expendable as they are usually fewer in number at a time.
Between June 2011 and the end of March 2020, at least $18.34 million was paid to kidnappers as ransom in Nigeria. Even more frightening is that the larger proportion of that figure (just below $11 million), was paid out between January 2016 and March 2020, indicating that kidnapping is becoming more lucrative. One reason why kidnap for ransom has come to stay is the economics surrounding it. The data available to SBM indicates that in US dollar terms, between the $545,000 paid to secure the freedom of Ernest Ohunyon in Edo state in November 2011, and the $6868 paid to free Ojo Ekundayo and Benjamin Iluyomade in Ondo state at the end of March 2020, at least $18,343,067 changed hands between victims and kidnappers. It is important to point out that in the earlier years, there were fewer incidents, and larger amounts changed hands. Now there are a lot more incidents for smaller amounts, but the sheer number of incidents, speaking to the democratisation of the kidnap industry, means that the kidnap economy now makes more money. Crime, in this case kidnapping, does appear to pay.
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