N1.6b Paid as Ransom, 3,379 Kidnapped, 474 Casualties Recorded – Report

By Ralph Madugu

A report released in August this year by SBM Intelligence, an Africa focused geopolitical research and strategic Communications Consulting firm, has shown that between July 2021 and June 2022, the sum of One billion, six hundred and forty-seven million, one hundred thousand (N1647,100,000) was paid as ransom and no fewer than 3420 persons were abducted across Nigeria while 564 others have been killed in violence associated with abductions.

The 8-page report titled, “The Economics of Nigeria’s Kidnap Industry,” which contained kidnap snapshots, also showcased findings by the organization including the total number of incidents, total number of people kidnapped, total casualties, total ransom demanded and total verified ransom paid across the 36 states of the country.

According to the document, one of the major highlights of Nigeria’s instability caused by the abysmal state of insecurity is the strength and growth of the country’s kidnap industry.

Masked gunmen

It added that kidnap for ransom accounts for “very high share of the security crises the country faces,” adding that although the most dominant imperative for that industry is finance, the motivation differs according to armed groups and or geopolitical zones.

The SBM stated that the country’s geopolitical zones had their unique challenges citing what it tagged “a fratricidal civil war between the Hausas and the Fulanis which is a sub cause of the banditry and pastoral conflict in the North West; clashes between indigenes and settlers in the North Central; Boko Haram in the North East; youth gang clashes in the South West; sea piracy in the South-South and a separatist agitation in the South East.”

It however, stated that kidnap for ransom was a feature that cuts across the various zones.

The report said: “Ideologically driven armed groups with religious motivations also engage in kidnappings to make maximum concessions of prisoner swaps from the government as the Kaduna Train Attack of March 2022 has shown.

Suspected Kidnappers being paraded by Security Operatives

“In recent weeks, a new trend has noticeably emerged: the abduction of catholic priests. With the asking price set at ₦50 million per priest, the uptake in attacks on that demography is mostly financial. The Catholic Church is an international institution with the financial capacity to rescue its clergy from harm’s way.

“Although he is not Catholic, the abduction of the prelate of the Methodist Church Nigeria in May 2022 and the ₦100 million that was paid as ransom can be said to have inspired the attacks on the Catholic clergy.

Based on what the SBM said it could verify, between July 2021 and June 2022, no fewer than 3,420 people were abducted across Nigeria, with 564 others killed in violence associated with abductions adding that in the ensuing period, ₦6.531 billion was demanded in exchange for the release of captives while ₦653.7 million which was fraction of that sum, was paid as ransom.

“As of the exchange rates between the naira and the US dollar on 1 August 2022, these figures translate to $9,806,306.31 and $1,126,126.13 respectively. We have taken care not to include the later ransom payments for the Abuja-Kaduna train incident as most of those victims were released in July 2022. It was reported on 25 July 2022 that eight Nigerian hostages parted with ₦100 million each, while a Pakistani hostage paid ₦200 million,” the report stated.

The organisation opined that these figures were particularly important because of the rising poverty levels in the country.

According to the SBM, in 2020, Nigerians spent 62 per cent of their income on food, leaving very little for disposable income and nondiscretionary spending stating that over the past few years, Nigerians have become even poorer following how much they have had to part with for their loved ones, and kidnappers are adapting, and now sometimes ask for ransom payments in forms other than money.

Citing the kidnap of worshippers in a Celestial Church in Wasinmi, Ewekoro LGA of Ogun State as one of the instances where the abductors who initially requested ₦50 million in ransom payments released their victims after ₦1 million, foodstuff such as bags of rice and beans, cigarettes and gun were paid.

“Similarly, in the abduction of two children of the Sarkin Gabas of Bafarawa in Sokoto State in June 2022, the father of the abducted paid ₦2 million in ransom as well as three new Android phones. Other items such as crates of malt drinks, gallons of palm oil, codeine and water have been requested as ransom payments.

“These abductions, which are also almost evenly distributed across the country, have an impact on the Nigerian economy, as it has limited business and investment in the heaviest-hit areas. This ranges from travel to starting new businesses and attracting investments.

“On one hand, abductions in different regions can be linked to specific groups, either for ideological reasons, to extract concessions or for ransoms. For example, ISWAP and Boko Haram are most active in kidnappings in Borno State, where they often target travelers and aid workers. As ISWAP has begun to establish its presence in the North-West, illustrated by its daring attack on the Kaduna-Abuja train line where it kidnapped 72 passengers. As of the end of July, 37 hostages had been released for various sums starting from ₦100 million per abductee.”

The report stated that it appeared that the bulk of kidnappings was done by “disparate criminal gangs solely for ransoms” adding that this illustrated the extent of the challenge of illegal arms in the country, coupled with an “overwhelmed security architecture and other socio-economic factors” such as high unemployment had formed the “cocktail that has created an avenue for numerous gangs to see kidnapping as a route to make quick money.”

It posited that the frequency of abduction was a spotlight on the state’s capacity to keep its people safe, and the rise of an armed group like Ansaru who promised protection from both the government and other armed groups was a threat not just to the government’s authority, but also on state territory, leading to the influx of ungoverned spaces and other contested territories.

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