In Nigeria, kidnapping for ransom has become a feature in all parts of the country with thousands of people falling victim.
Between the year 2011 and 2020, Nigerians paid at least $18.34 million (N7 billion) as ransom to kidnappers, a report on the country's kidnap industry shows.
The report from SB Morgen (SBM) Intelligence published early this month captures the kidnap cases that occurred from June 2011 to the end of March 2020 using data collected from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, the Council for Foreign Relations' Nigeria Security Tracker, newspaper reports including PREMIUM TIMES, and SBM Intel's own countrywide network of researchers.
It also contains the breakdown of name of victims, date, state and amount paid respectively. According to SBM, 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 being Bayelsa - 85, Delta -96 and Rivers - 120. Others states with high kidnap incidents include Kaduna - 177, Borno - 82, Kogi - 59, Edo - 55, Ondo - 54, Katsina - 52 and Taraba - 47.
"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", part of the report reads. It also notes that "victims that are unable to pay up as quickly as expected are more likely to be killed by the kidnappers".
Specific targets, bandits
The report says up until late 2018, kidnap attempts were targeted at specific victims who were mostly politically-exposed persons, business people and their close relatives, or expatriates.
"The sudden uptick in fatalities per attempt coincides with the increase in attacks by bandits on villages especially in Zamfara and Katsina states, a situation which has gradually extended to Kaduna and Niger states. These bandits have also been involved in kidnapping besides attacking villagers and travellers, or doing both at the same time. As these kidnaps are less targeted at specific persons, the bandits are less deliberate in avoiding the deaths of their victims compared to earlier kidnap attempts which appeared to have specific targets in mind.
"This points to the democratisation of insecurity in the North, specifically with respect to kidnapping, which is a huge reversal from a decade and a half ago where kidnapping attempts were mostly in the Niger Delta, before slowly spreading to the South-East and across the country.
"Overall, Nigeria is becoming less safe each year. Kidnapping has increased in almost all states, but the sharpest rise have been in Kaduna, Rivers, Katsina, Zamfara and Taraba, while only Bayelsa in the entire country, saw a fall in the number of incidents compared to the period of 2011 to 2015."
"Kidnapping has become "safer" for the victims in Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Borno, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo,
Ekiti, Kano, Kwara, Lagos, Nasarawa, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Plateau, Rivers, Taraba and Yobe as these states saw fewer deaths per kidnap attempt. For all the other states, the prospect of being attached has become a more dangerous proposition", it says.
The report also reveals that the rising levels of youth unemployment is a major factor responsible for the growth of kidnap cases.
Nigeria's unemployment rate rose from 18.8 percent in the third quarter of 2017 to 23.1 percent in the third quarter of 2018. UN estimates for youth unemployment last year were above 20%. In the South, the persistent problems of unemployment meet with political patronage by politicians.
"Previous SBM research has shown that the crime rate soars during election periods and politicians key into the mass idleness of young people by using them for political violence. Nigeria has a problem of large swathes of ungoverned spaces, areas of the country that are without government or security presence. This puts residents at the mercy of whichever criminal elements are in the ascendancy."
"In Delta state for example, criminal elements have capitalised on this problem by attacking communities. One of such incidents was reported in November 2019 when sea pirates raided Opurudiegbene community in Burutu, carting away generators, household appliances and an unspecified amount of cash."
"Three children were kidnapped following the attack, and there is no record of them being rescued. Kidnap syndicates who operate out of the North rely on big forests as their staging areas. For example, Rigasa and Birnin Gwari are areas in Kaduna with large forests that have been used as hideouts."
"With the economy set to enter into another recession as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the government needs to be deliberate about addressing the country's myriad problems - including the unemployment and insecurity issues that currently afflict a majority of Nigerians."
"In addition to deploying hard solutions - including effectively training, equipping and deploying police and military assets into the most affected areas, addressing inter-agency conflict in order to foster cooperation and coordination, and upskilling police across the country; the federal and state governments must also create the soft regulatory framework to enable effective policing."
"Sensible regulation and economic reform that includes a Marshall like Plan for the North East and North West regions and significant sub-national autonomy that will significantly satisfy the southern regions, particularly the South East and the South South."
It urged state governments to take the lead in promoting harmonious relations with long neglected communities (which will aid intelligence gathering) while engaging with Abuja to develop policies which address their needs as well as offer support to industries within their jurisdictions which possess comparative advantages in order to create a diversity of economic opportunity across the country.
"Finally, the rule of law must be strengthened all over the country - the introduction of full electronic court proceedings in Borno, the country's first is a symbolic step in the right direction. While the rule of law is a fragile patchwork everywhere, hard-hit parts of the country, especially in the north, are so disconnected from the judicial system that many Nigerians are increasingly turning to alternative forms of dispute resolution.
"This is a national emergency that must be seen as such because it strikes at the legitimacy of the country's longest democratic stretch", the report suggests.