Kidnapping is Nigeria’s fastest-growing industry – SBM Intelligence
Kidnapping has been a growing menace in Africa’s most populous country. The first major kidnap incident in the country made the headlines in 2014 when Boko Haram jihadists kidnapped 276 schoolgirls in Chibok town, Borno State. Estimates from Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, ACLED, showed that at least five times more people were kidnapped in Nigeria last year than in both Mexico and Colombia combined – countries notorious for abductions.
Over the years, kidnapping has now degenerated into a lucrative industry that yields millions to the actors. Many kidnap victims have had to cough out millions of Naira to secure their release from their abductors. A case in point was the abduction of 72 passengers in the Kaduna train attack of March 2022. “As at the end of July, 37 hostages had been released for various sums starting from ₦100 million ($230,000) per abductee,” according to a report by Lagos-based risk analysis firm, SBM Intelligence.
While that has been the case for victims who are considered well-off, victims in rural communities have had their fair share. Many rural communities are ruined by repeated ransom payments, or because they decide instead to pay “taxes” to bandits who have promised them protection. Many have had to sell their homes, belongings or land to pay for ransoms.
In “The Economics of Nigeria’s Kidnap Industry”, SBM Intel stated that between 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. In the ensuing period, ₦6.531 billion was demanded in exchange for the release of captives while a fraction of that sum (₦653.7 million) was paid as ransom.
“Nigeria’s kidnap crisis is the major player in its shadow economy. This is a major driver for the surge in such attacks–kidnap for ransom–which has dwarfed politically motivated abductions,” said Confidence MacHarry, senior security analyst at SBM Intelligence.
Interestingly, not only cash is usually being demanded as ransom, abductors sometimes demand food items, smartphones, motorbikes or even sunglasses. In one instance, the abductors of the worshippers in a Celestial Church in Wasinmi, Ewekoro LGA of Ogun State initially requested ₦50 million in ransom payments but they later released their victims after ₦1 million, foodstuff such as bags of rice and beans, cigarettes and gun were paid.
The effect of these abductions is telling on the country. For one, it worsens the problem of food insecurity in the country as many farmers have now abandoned their farms for fear of being kidnapped while many have had to sell off their harvest and farmlands just to raise ransoms to secure the release of their loved ones. According to SBM Intelligence, Nigerians spent 62% of their income on food in 2020, leaving very little for disposable income and nondiscretionary spending. Consequently, parting with huge sums as ransoms only compound the disturbing poverty level of people.
On another hand, businesses and investments in the heaviest-hit areas have been largely impacted with many businesses spending fortunes to protect their assets. This dampens the level of productivity in the country as a whole.
The authorities have said they have tried alternative methods to curb kidnapping, such as registering mobile phone SIM cards to better track their owners. Lawmakers have also passed a bill criminalising payments to kidnappers, but observers say enforcement will be impossible. On the part of the Nigerian security services, they have said they are “in a hurry to see” kidnapping tackled, partly because insecurity drives away investors. However, their efforts in a country where more than seven out of 10 Nigerians are under 30 and the official unemployment rate stands at 33 percent might seem like a drop in an ocean.
“The effect is widespread– on education, families are afraid to send wards to school; on travel and logistics, it has led to increased costs because of the uncertainty of security,” MacHarry added.
In addition, many forest areas which host these criminals are difficult to access let alone control. Coupled with this is the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. According to another report by SBM Intelligence, Nigerian civilians are in possession of more arms than security officials. “The number of small arms in circulation in Nigeria, in the hands of civilian non-state actors is estimated at 6,145,000, while the armed forces and law enforcement collectively account for 586,600 firearms,” the 2021 report said.
While the Nigerian security services continue their attacks on these terrorists, a toxic mix of small arms proliferation, youth under/unemployment and a large tract of ungoverned spaces is likely to undermine these efforts.