Nigeria continued to experience a high level of kidnap for ransom throughout October, with high-net-worth individuals particularly targeted. As has been the case throughout 2017, kidnap for ransom gangs targeted political figures, senior police officers, Christian clergy, public sector workers, celebrities and foreign nationals with the intention of extorting large ransom payments. In recent recorded incidents, kidnappers demanded high sums ranging from 25 million naira (US$70,000) to 200 million naira (US$555,000).
Incidents took place throughout the country with high-profile abductions reported in the southern states of Delta, Edo, Abia and Delta, and in the central states of Ekiti and Kogi. For example, on 23 October Fulani herdsmen abducted a retired police chief along with his wife and one other at the Ikpeshi quarry site in Akoko Edo Area, Edo state. The herdsmen reportedly demanded 25 million naira (US$70,000) for his release; the victim was released two days later after an unspecified ransom was paid. Nomadic herders (including Fulani) from northern Nigeria have been increasingly implicated in violent clashes with settled agricultural communities in the centre and south of the country, with approximately 2,500 people killed during inter-community clashes in 2016. Increasing violence from Fulani groups and central and southern farmers is a major long-term security concern for Nigeria and there is the potential for an increase in kidnappings in central Nigeria as a result.
Criminals responsible for kidnappings in Nigeria are often armed and prepared to use violence. In another high-profile incident kidnappers in Edo state abducted popular musician Ambassador Osayomore Joseph from his home near Benin City on 3 October. The kidnappers contacted his family and demanded 200 million naira (US$555,000) for his release despite Joseph’s family said they were unable to raise the money. During the abduction the kidnappers reportedly shot and wounded Joseph’s wife.
Threat to foreign nationals
Foreign nationals were also targeted in October. On 13 October, unidentified armed men kidnapped four British humanitarian workers in Burutu, Delta state. The victims were reportedly taken to militant hideouts in the state’s coastal creek areas. Delta state’s police commissioner Zanna Ibrahim said the suspects were a local militant group called the “Korowei” who may have carried out the abduction in response to military operations in the area. The previous day gunmen kidnapped Italian priest Fr Maurizio Pallu who was working in Benin City, Edo state. Pallu was released along with two Nigerian nationals five days later on 17 October although it is not clear if a ransom was paid.
The high rate of kidnap for ransom incidents in the country is unlikely to abate in the short to medium term. An IMF report from August 2017 concluded that Nigeria’s economic backdrop “remains challenging” and that “near-term vulnerabilities and risks to economic recovery and macroeconomic and financial stability remain elevated.” Poverty and unemployment are to a large extent drivers of violent crime (including kidnap for ransom) in the country; the current unemployment rate is estimated to be around 14.2%, approximately 29 million people. Compounding this, Nigeria’s security forces are overstretched and underfunded owing to the country’s complex security challenges including the ongoing Islamist insurgency in the north, the Biafra secessionist movement in the south, maritime piracy in the Nigerian Exclusive Economic Zone and inter-ethnic violence.