In the past 180 days, a total of 2,371 Nigerians were kidnapped in 281 incidents across the country.
As a result, 237 people died during the kidnaps. But more worthy of note was the economics behind it. According to a newly released report by SBM Intelligence, as of June 30, the total amount of ransom demanded was N10 billion ($19.96 million).
This staggering figure, which tells the story of a staggering country, was slightly higher than the amount of ransom paid between June 2011 and March 2020: $18.34 million.
An earlier 2021 report by Techpoint had revealed that 57 per cent of fintech startups reportedly generate yearly revenues of $5 million. And frozen shrimps and prawns, Nigeria’s fourth largest agricultural export, according to Nairametrics, generated an estimated N9.85 billion between 2019 and 2020. In comparison, in six months, N10 billion has been exchanged between kidnappers and Nigerians seeking their freedom and safety.
Confidence MacHarry, the lead security analyst at SBM Intelligence, told FIJ that the increase in kidnappings in February and March, which were more than the kidnappings in April, May and June, coincided with the crisis in the South East involving ‘Unknown Gun Men’ kidnapping security officials, and security officials also kidnapping residents.
“For the North East, that was when the stalemate between the Nigerian Army and Boko Haram started to take form. The stalemate usually takes place towards the beginning of the rainy season so they always try to make a dash for as many successes they can get.”
MacHarry explained that due the difficulty of navigating the terrain during the rainy season, the military tries to make as much progress as possible. But it has been different this year and the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP), which has now absorbed Boko Haram into its ranks, has increased its attacks on the military despite the rainy season.
Niger State saw a record of 28 kidnap attempts, the highest in the country, with a total of 643 victims, and 58 recorded deaths as a result of the kidnappings. Niger state is the largest in the country, and one of the most important food producing states. Delta State had the highest rate of kidnapping in the South South, while Oyo, Soun and Ogun States had high levels in the South West.
“Oyo State has been the centre of the pastoral conflict where people attribute many of those attacks to Fulani herdsmen. In Ogun State, we have seen kidnap attempts by state actors, not Nigerian state actors but policemen from Benin Republic coming in to abduct Nigerian citizens that are activists against the land grab by the Benenoise government of Nigerian territories.”
Yewa North and Yewa South, two local governments in Ogun State bordering Republic of Benin, have become centres for smugglers, Nigerian Customs officials, kidnappers and the Beninoise Army who intervene in community clashes at the border. This has made border regions epicenters for kidnapping activities alongside other activities.
“One of the key things that fuels the kidnapping industry is not only inflation but also food insecurity which is exemplified by just ransom demands from nine bags of rice. It calls into question the average worth of the Nigerian life, if it is one bag of rice, or two bags of rice. As inflation goes up, ransom demands are also going to go up.”
In comparison between the kidnappings in the north and the south, an unofficial consensus last year found that the amounts paid for ransom in the south were higher than the north before the advent of mass kidnappings that has characterised the north where as much as N800 million has been demanded as ransom.
In its 2020 report, SBM Intelligence had stated that kidnapping was a “national emergency that must be seen as such because it strikes at the legitimacy of the country’s longest democractic stretch.”
In the long term, MacHarry said, there is bound to be an increase in kidnapping, an increase in ransoms being paid, and an increase in poverty in Nigeria. Currently, 41 per cent of Nigeria’s population lives in extreme poverty, and the rise in inflation since the border closure by Muhammadu Buhari’s government, further exacerbated by the coronavirus and lockdown measures, and floods and banditry in food producing states has become a powerful equation for a rise in kidnappings across the country.
“The Nigerian state has lost control. It is fighting for legitimacy, it is also fighting for sovereigncy and territoriality. For the long term what we are going to see is that even when states of emergency are going to be declared, we are going to have security forces having real problems trying to enforce that state of emergency because it has lost the monopoly of violence and it has also lost the monopoly of the state.”
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