Freedom Fighters Or Kidnappers? Why Human Hostage Business Has Become Attractive To Nigerian Youths

Kidnapping is no longer a new thing in Nigeria and it is unfortunately one of the country’s biggest challenges. The issue of kidnap in Nigeria which was uncommon in times past has now matured into varying forms. There are different types of kidnapping beside the one for ransom which is the most prevalent. There are kidnappings for political reasons, for rituals, for religious reasons and of course the original type which is the kidnapping of children by a parent on of custody issues.


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Niger Delta militants

Kidnapping in Nigeria was introduced by the Niger Delta militants who were known to be freedom fighters at the time. They targeted foreigners, especially Americans and the British, mainly to draw attention to their plight of environmental degradation, caused by oil and gas exploration and production, and to also gain their freedom from being oppressed by the oil lords in their region. The hostages were usually kept for a week and released after a press conference, which would be broadcasted by CNN and BBC. This trend continued and actually brought the desired publicity to the Niger Delta issue.


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When the Niger Delta kidnappers started their kidnap business, they demanded for huge sums of money from the oil companies as ransom for the staff and foreigners they kidnapped and luckily for them, they always had their demands met and got the exact amounts of money they asked for. The introduction of this large sum of money at that time, made the militants rethink the whole process of taking hostages and releasing them after achieving the publicity they desired. They also saw it as a means of financing their arms and ammunition purchase.

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With the kind of money they were making, greed set in and they deviated from the main motive of their fight. They forgot about the interest and rights of their people which they were initially fighting for and focused more on squeezing out money from the oil companies. This business proved very lucrative but it wasn’t for too long as the international oil companies got wiser and smarter. They re-strategized and hardened the protection around expatriates and other company employees, so the militants turned their attention on high net-worth Nigerian individuals.


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The trend continued, until the federal government of Nigeria introduced the amnesty program. The militants surrendered their arms and ammunition and stopped the kidnappings. But it was too late. Kidnapping had birthed so many copy cats, especially in the southern and northern regions of Nigeria. All types of kidnapping came into play. Kidnappers were busy carrying out virtual, express and political kidnappings. Wealthy, influential, high-profiled Nigerians were also kidnapped, including their relatives. Kidnapping became so rampant that Nigeria took its place as the third most likely country where an individual can be kidnapped, according to the Global Kidnapping Index. Foreign embassies and consulates were constantly issuing travel advisories on the no-go areas in the country.


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Over 200 school girls were kidnapped by the Boko Haram insurgent group in the North-East of Nigeria. The uncle of the former President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan was kidnapped. The mother of a top minister of the government was also kidnapped. The traditional ruler of Daura community which is president Muhammadu Buhari’s hometown in Katsina State, Magajin Garin Daura, Musa Umar was also kidnapped by unknown gunmen in May 2019. He is the father in-law of Colonel Mohammed Abubakar, the Aide de Camp (ADC) of president Buhari.


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Magajin Gari of Daura, Musa Umar

Some high profile cases were not reported and quietly settled. The low risk and high reward crime festered uncontrollably across the country. The security and law enforcement agents also were under pressure to re-strategize and find quick solutions to the national menace. But in a country of so many disparities, all efforts to bring the crime under control has been very difficult and has proven abortive.


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The Nigerian economy has not been doing well due to corruption in high places. There is widespread unemployment, poverty, illiteracy, greed and politics; all anchored on low morality and corruption. Some people go hungry for days, while others are busy embezzling public funds and living flamboyant lifestyles. The quest for money has become the daily preoccupation of the citizenry.


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Many jobless Nigerian youths have suddenly began to develop interest in the kidnap business as it seemed to be the easiest of all crimes and the most lucrative because of the huge amounts of money made from it. Another reason youths are picking interest in kidnapping is because of lack of jobs and the lack of capitals to start up businesses or learn trades. With time, even the ones with jobs have quit their jobs to join the ‘human hostage’ (kidnap) business because their jobs aren’t paying well. In fact these days, more Nigerian youths are joining the crime scenes and doing the unthinkable in order to survive, make end meets, and also due to peer pressure, and for others, because they want to live large.


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Picture of arrested kidnappers

For the practice to be reduced or brought to a total end, the government and security agencies have to be fully involved and bring up new strategies on how to curb the menace. Kidnap is a low risk high reward crime, so the first thing to do is reverse that trend by making kidnap a high risk and low reward adventure. The criminal justice system must be made effective to arrest, prosecute and give stiff jail sentences.


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This will serve as a deterrent to those thinking or planning an adventure in kidnapping. Secondly, there should be a government policy on non-payment of ransom, then empower the security agents with the necessary tools to fight kidnappers. Otherwise, the present kids-gloves approach of the government will escalate this crime until we achieve the number one spot of kidnapping in the world.


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The government should also look into the issue of unemployment which is one of the major causes or reasons most youths delve into the kidnap crime and every other crime. Generating jobs for citizens, especially the youths, can have a huge impact in the fight against all crimes. When people are gainfully employed, they do not need to commit crimes. They should also not just be employed but should be well payed. The Nigerian government should also work on the country’s economic state. There are so many lopsided issues with the economy which have caused and have contributed greatly to the high poverty rate of the country. So this should be looked into as well.

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