Kidnapping in Nigeria: Why?

“We are going to put into action new efforts to strike fear into the Christians of the power of Islam by kidnapping their women” said Boko Haram in March 2012. []. Haram, the Islamist militant group leader pronounced a threat to kidnap Christian women in Nigeria, but will not hurt or sexually harass the women, but instead would demand as ransom that the families leave the Islamic areas of Nigeria. Nigerian Christians from the North of Nigeria are under attack of bombings and are being kidnapped due to which they are forced to flee to the South or cross the border into Cameroon.

Is it only the religion, the cause for the horrendous and worrisome kidnapping that is seen in Nigeria for many decades? The answer is a simple NO.

Kidnapping has become a major issue in Nigeria, especially in selected parts of the country due to mainly monetary ransoms. There is no freedom of moving in the streets without fear of intimidation and the risk of being kidnapped, tied down feet and hands, harassed or killed is common, and it is even worse when your skin is white to a kidnapper, as white skin means money for the locals.

Kidnapping is to take somebody somewhere by force in order to  get money for returning them, the main challenge about kidnappers in Nigeria is that in some cases, the victims are killed before the ransom is demanded []. The challenges of kidnapping, has come to stay in Nigeria, with the militants of the Niger Delta when they were clamouring for emancipation and the right to own their oil. The expatriates were their major targets, they were kidnapped, held and demanding for ransom.

In the early times as 1960s, kidnapping was not a known fact in Nigeria, but later which became rampant in the late 90s and further concluding in this day’s huge and pandemic situation. Due to the ineffectiveness with the responsible authorities, this issue is not bound to prosecution or remedial action many a time. The kidnappers always see the riches of someone as their belonging and in order to make it theirs, they use power, weapons and violence – and neither colour nor the region is immaterial for them. The major kidnappers in Nigeria now, are young men from the East, and South Eastern parts of Nigeria.

In 1999, statistics show that the top 10 countries for ransom kidnappings were: Columbia, Mexico, Russia, Brazil, Nigeria, Philippines, India, Ecuador, Venezuela and South Africa.  This is in order of occurrence as at today, Nigeria has moved forward, we are the fourth in position, of the class of kidnapping for ransom countries in the world of kidnappers, [see.]. This is due to the fact that kidnapping has become a lucrative business that kidnappers would have wished to hand down to their children as a legacy. It is one of the means of getting rich without much sweat.

Kidnapping in Nigeria, though existed, but still was relatively unknown; but in February 2006, it soar high as a result of the Niger Deltans fighting for their share in the national cake in oil resources. The youths in the region became restless and turned to militants, kidnapping foreigners who are oil explorers because of the deplorable environmental condition and clamouring the development of their region. In those days, the oil explorers were held for few days and set off when ransom was paid, unlike today, when the payment of ransom is not a guarantee for freedom.

Undoubtedly, Nigeria is facing the major security problem in concern to the oil and the foreign construction workers. The year 2006, January 11th occurred to be the first reported case of kidnapping four expatriate oil workers who were working on the AE fields of Shell Petroleum. Again the 5th day of February 2007, nine Chinese workers were kidnapped and later released after 1.5 weeks, in the Southern State of Nigeria. An American and a British expatriate were held hostage during January and February of 2007, where only the British as released later []. Though in the 2000s the kidnappers targeted mostly the white – skinned oil workers, the recent past has changed their interest towards the local Nigerians, who are assumed as rich in the sight of the kidnappers.

The story of kidnapping does not limit only to expatriates or white skinned, or is not restricted to men alone; but also women and children are being caught to the prey of the kidnappers. It came to light that during mid 2007 a Nigerian – British girl, who was just four years of age, was kidnapped on her way to school. The eighty-two year old former Professor, Kamene Okonjo who was kidnapped during 2012, [] shows the rise in kidnapping of women. Kamene Okonjo, the wife of a traditional king of the Niger Delta, and the mother of the present Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who is one of Nigeria’s most famous ministers and a recent nominee as President for the World Bank. Former US Ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, says that the disappearance of Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s elderly mother is not only for a large financial deal, but also due to the sudden hack in Nigeria’s fuel subsidy program during early 2012 which doubled the fuel and food prices overnight [].

In usual, the women who are kidnapped in Nigeria, are not bound to be treated as same as kidnapped men are treated. Women are exposed to all kinds of inhumane treatment by the kidnappers. The kidnapped women undergo not only physical and emotional aggression and harassment, but also sexual violence. 2010, 9th September, in Easter Nigeria, the women kidnapped were raped severely by the kidnappers. Also one woman in Aba Abia was forced into sexual intercourse with her eldest son, and on refusal the kidnappers killed him, following which she was mercilessly pushed into having sex with her second son in the presence of the kidnappers []. In addition to adult women, also young girls and young school children [including boys and girls] are being kidnapped, The Abia State has become so popular for kidnapping – especially women and for further sexual violence. It could be heard that women are certainly becoming victims of the kidnappers, on a regular basis.

Respect for human dignity and freedom from degrading and inhumane treatment are degraded in the lives of these women who are being kidnapped and treated with vulgar and cruelty. Raping a woman, or compelling her to have sex with her own sons impacts on both the mother and her sons in a very strong manner; it leads to serious psychological consequences, which may result in ill – health conditions and even suicide attempts or deaths. Also during kidnapping of men, it is not only the male victims are affected, but the whole family, and of which mostly relies on the woman – whether it be a mother, sister, wife or daughter – not in terms of only taking the responsibility of upholding the family or going in search of funds, but their gender interests the eyes of the kidnappers. In this context what is the State’s responsibility in terms of protection. Nigeria being a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the African Charter on Human Rights, is obliged to protect its citizens from all forms of kidnapping and inhumane treatment.

But it is fact that political undertones cannot be separated from this act of kidnapping.  Politicians are known to use any tool to frustrate the efforts of their opponents, and this became a good tool for political opponents of the ruling party and the hands can be seen in the lives of jobless youths and militants.

The cases of kidnapping showed that there are kidnappers that are criminals and there are the political motivated kidnapping incidences. Notwithstanding, the largesse from the ransoms being paid by the victims companies and / or family members as the case may be, becomes a credit card that these kidnappers cannot live without, kidnapping is extended to Nigerians also as long as these victims can afford the ransom. Politically, the plans of the kidnappers are also to kidnap, in order to destabilize the governance of the nation.

Kidnapping has its own consequences and implications on the nation, the kidnappers who began with foreigners, are today using it as a tool to kidnap women, girls and girl children and force them into rape and sexual exploitation.

It is unfortunate that the moral decadence in Nigeria is reflecting and impacting negatively on the youths because the leaders cannot be entirely exonerated. It began with them; the youths were used to perpetuate all their heinous acts after which these youths are dropped like soiled napkin. The youths who were brought out of the rural areas, and from their traditional agricultural trade, and promised better jobs in the urban cities, were later left with no employment. This imbalance in wealth instigated the youths to start demanding money, though first in small scale, and later by using weapons and demand in ransoms by kidnapping.

The statistics from the Manpower Board and the Federal Bureau of Statistics show that there are about 80 million Nigerian youths, representing 60 per cent of the total population of the country. It is saddening that, 64 million of Nigerian youths are unemployed, and the remaining 1.6 million are under-employed. The cliché is; Nigerian graduates are unemployable, as unemployable as these youths are, they are being pushed out of the universities in their millions yearly. Whether we like it or not, these graduates will still be the ones to take over the nation in the nearest future, as Nigerian leaders.

The underdevelopment of Africa in general, is the very low per capita income of these countries, which is as low as $1,500 for some countries such as Ethiopia, Chad, etc. and Nigeria as $2,748 (Source:- World Bank:2010), where as many developed countries have high per capita income, up to $39,000 and above.  The quality and standard of living is affected due to this, and results in poor education, health, employment, etc. while in developed countries, enrolment for both primary and secondary schools is well over 90%, the enrolment is as low as 30% for primary schools and 10% for secondary schools in many of the African countries – including Nigeria (

It is an undeniable fact that kidnapping has become one of the greatest social problems which have come upon as a pestilence in Nigeria in her 50 years of existence as a sovereign nation. In order to curb kidnapping in Nigeria is to create job opportunities for the youths, and to increase the education facilities in order to increase the number of school goings and university graduates. It is the role and responsibility of the State to establish a centre to support the psychologically affected victims of kidnapping – especially for the women and girls. The government should find appropriate ways to stabilize the country’s political systems and also enforce a mechanism to strengthen the law and governance of the nation, which would make sure that the perpetrators would not go unpunished.

Most of all ‘kidnapping’ should be treated as a serious issue of the country, and the government should ensure protections to not only victims but to all citizens – with special concerns to women and girl children, since as for these people concerned, kidnapping does not only result in mental and physical threat, but also more towards sexual harassment and violence.

Olutosin O. Adebowale | Nigeria