Security experts have accused commercial banks of encouraging the kidnapping epidemic in the country, as some ransoms are paid into bank accounts.
The experts and analysts, who have backgrounds in military, intelligence, and policing, also stressed that abductions had become an industry enabled by the financial institutions that received ransoms. They advised President Bola Tinubu and security to end the epidemic.
Previously restricted to the North-West, abductions have in recent times spread to other parts of the country, including Lagos, Ogun, Nasarawa, and Delta states, as well as the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
In the past weeks, several incidents of kidnappings have been reported in the FCT, with over 25 persons taken away by suspected bandits who demanded huge ransoms for their release.
Speaking on the complicity of banks in the growth of the abduction business, the Managing Director of Beacon Consulting, Adamu Kabiru, affirmed that banks were involved in collecting ransoms.
Speaking in an interview on TVC, the security and risk consultant categorically stated that two banks were involved in two kidnap-for-ransom cases, which he was aware of.
He said, I will shock you today to tell you that in almost all the cases where my company was involved, the money was collected through our banking system, and I say this with a sense of responsibility. In almost all, it was only in very few circumstances that cash was collected and taken to these guys (kidnappers).
They are so brave and bold that they provide account numbers. Two banks are guilty, and because this is a public forum, I will not mention the banks’ names.
But of course, if the security agencies are interested and they listen to this, I will be happy to provide it to them if they don’t already know.
He urged the financial regulators to live up to their billing by ensuring the ‘Know Your Customer’ policy is effectively implemented by banks.
Adamu said, “So, even our financial regulators have a responsibility to ensure that banks play the Know Your Customers element very well.
Know Your Customers
“If they play that KYC element very well, it will be very easy, for instance, to descend on those account numbers and, of course, arrest whoever is the holder of that account. But as of today, that has not been done.”
The former intelligence officer noted that the Money Laundering Prohibition and Prevention Act 2022 prohibits individuals and corporate bodies from paying or receiving cash payments exceeding N5m and N10m, respectively.
The law provides for 24-hour timeframes for all financial institutions or designated non-financial institutions to file suspicious transaction reports with the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit.
Adamu admonished the security managers to “wake up from their slumbers’’ insisting they had the technical capacity to track the kidnappers.
The obstacle to rescuing the victims, he explained, was the fear that the abductors could kill the victims.
He said the nation lacked the tactical ability to rescue the hostages, noting that this could be achieved with good intelligence and well-trained personnel who could carry out multi-faceted rescue operations.
Speaking in an interview with us on Sunday, Adamu stressed that the payment and withdrawal of money paid for ransom could not be made without the involvement of some bank officials.
He said the industry was fed by a line of other businesses, including informants, weapons and ammunition suppliers, and the “vulnerabilities that exist in our banking system.
He added, One can conclusively say that a kidnap-for-ransom industry exists in Nigeria and that it is a thriving one. The industry is fed by a value chain that includes businesses like informants, weapons and ammunition supplies, drugs and essentials supply etc.
It also includes those who assist them in collecting and laundering the proceeds. It is a security and financial issue. Some of the drivers of abduction are the socio-economic issues and the vulnerabilities that exist in our banking system.
The financial sector in Nigeria remains a vulnerable point for money laundering and the financing of illicit transactions and terrorism. Details of this are in the last GIABA review of Nigeria’s compliance with global protocols and standards on money laundering and financing or terrorism.
As an example, banks still have a comfortable number of their staff members supplied by third-party contracts and the issue of KYC,” he submitted.
Kidnapping now business
Corroborating Adamu’s position, a retired Commissioner of Police, Emmanuel Ojukwu, hinted that the banks might be complicit in the kidnapping business.
Ojukwu said, “Crowd-funding for ransom payment has been hyped. It is not a pleasant solution; it sort of reinforces the crime. The banks are probably involved in all of this, for how do such funds get pooled, and where do they end?
Bank customers have been finding it tough to get cash for their transactions, how come millions are being sourced for kidnappers?
I suppose that banks and NFIU should begin to ask questions on how these funds are trafficked and where they end up. There is technology to track such funds.
The Chairman of the Association of Corporate Affairs Managers of Banks, Rasheed Bolarinwa, could not be reached for comments on the allegations against the banks as of press time on Sunday.
However, a top official of the bank who chose to speak under condition of anonymity, because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, said the ransoms allegedly paid into some bank accounts might have been paid into tier-1 accounts with inadequate Know-Your-Customer requirements.
He said, During the era of a former CBN governor, Lamido Sanusi, banks were allowed to open some accounts with little KYC requirements. These tier-1 accounts could be used to perpetrate such evil acts. However, I’m still not sure if that is possible because there is a limit to the amount that can enter such accounts. Only current or corporate accounts can handle huge amounts, often paid as ransoms. But the CBN is already handling these issues by asking bank customers to link their BVN to NIN before April ending.
But Chidi Omeje, a security analyst, lamented that kidnappings had become a big industry, turning over billions in a matter of months.
He said, It’s a huge industry, one of the biggest industries in this country. If we check the figures, we will discover that those guys have a monthly turnover of billions. So, it’s a huge industry and a very horrible one at that.
I think it’s a pity that we have come to this level that such an odious enterprise is now becoming such a huge industry.
He argued that banks had contributed to the growth of the abduction industry “because most of the ransoms are not paid with cash.
Omeje said, Of course, they (banks) are quite complicit because most ransom payments are not done with cash; they are done through bank payments and transfers or whatever.
And do not forget there was a time when they said we should do these NIN and BVN, and they told us how they would use it to catch criminals. Can’t you see that nothing is happening?
This is where offices like the NSA, EFCC, and DSS come in. We have a lot of agencies that should be on this, but nothing is happening. Are you telling me that the NCC cannot track phone numbers? Banks are complicit, and it is quite shameful.”
Also, a former Assistant Director in the Department of State Services, Mike Ejiofor, agreed that abductions had become an industry in Nigeria, adding that banks could collaborate with agencies to trace the kidnappers using marked monies.
I remember that when (Ex-CBN Governor Godwin) Emefiele’s wife was kidnapped; money was marked, and it led to arrests. The problem is that most people paying ransom are weary of the security forces. If they collaborate to get some of the marked money, it could lead to arrests too.
The money may not necessarily be from the Central Bank because it is not the Central Bank that gives them the money.
On his part, Dickson Osajie admonished the banks to discharge their responsibilities while calling for enforcement of relevant banking regulations and laws to monitor and track the activities of banks involved in receiving ransoms.
The security expert said, “Nigerian banks have to wake up to their responsibilities. During the ENDSARS revolution, the CBN was able to track down its sponsors. It’s been over 13 years now since Boko Haram has been ravaging the country; why have we not been able to track its sponsors?
The banking sector is not doing enough. What these kidnappers are capitalising on is online banking because you don’t need to go to the banks. Your KYC is not verified. You can just open an account anywhere.
“More attention should be given to these online banking services. If we don’t do this, we will continue to suffer from that trend. Banks must ensure that customers follow all the rules and regulations so criminals don’t capitalise on them. It is disconcerting and Nigeria is currently on a dangerous path. We need everybody to come on board to tackle these issues.
There should be an additional regulatory agency under the CBN’s supervision that will help monitor the menace. They will be in charge of policing all the activities of the banks about this criminality and ensuring that banks are complying with the rules of engagement.
Continuing, he reasoned, “We should have a banking police, just like an agency that will ensure that the banks keep track of everyone with an account with them. The NIN and BVN should also be made very important. The process of our NIN is very porous. Many people who are not from Nigeria have NIN.
Osajie frowned on the spate of abductions which he said had become a big criminal enterprise.
They (kidnappers) see it as a business industry. The industry is the kidnapping market, and the business aspect is the money they are making from kidnapping. They have discovered that the risk implications are very slim.
On what the banks could do to address the abduction crisis, the Managing Partner of Chive-GPS, Nnamdi Chife, said, “The banks can freeze such accounts and notify the security authorities; it’s usually under a “suspicious transaction report.” That way, the KYC of these criminals can be gotten, tracked, and arrested.
Speaking further, he added, “Nigerians are participating in the crime due to the rewarding experience for the criminals and the absence of a security architecture to curtail the menace. Let’s not forget the involvement of foreigners in enabling the crime, especially in the North-West and North-East and down to the South.
A retired DSS officer, Akin Adeyi, also believed that the banks were culpable for the epidemic of abductions.
He stated, “Imagine N100 million entering a forest. Will the money sit inside the forest? It will go into the banks. In those days when security was still working well, you gave them marked money, which in turn led to their arrest.
“But these days, they collect the money. We don’t even know whether they still mark them. So, the banks and everyone else are culpable in this kidnapping business. There are security features that can be attached to these funds. These kidnappers have their godfathers.
A security analyst, Anselm Ozueh, charged the Federal Government with punishing banks and other perpetrators of kidnappings.
He argued, “It is both a business and an industry. And as far as I am concerned, both are the same. However, it is important to note that it is a criminal activity. Whoever is involved in that chain, be it an informant or resource person, must be punished.
In this line of business, whoever is playing any role should be treated as a criminal. So, if any bank or any institution is aiding and abetting this kidnapping business in society, there has to be a law that will punish them. The way money laundering is checked is the same way these monies involving kidnapping should be checked.
Patrick Agbambu said paying ransom to kidnappers had contributed to the growth of the abduction industry.
Now, when you pay the ransom, of course, either through transfer or cash movement, either way, you have transactions with the banks, he said.
A security analyst, Jackson Ojo, expressed worries that abduction was a growing business.
Ojo noted, “The abduction spate in Nigeria is gradually becoming a business industry for people that are taking it as a form of trade whereas it is an abnormality that is becoming a norm in the country.
Nobody is stealing cars again or robbing people on the road, rather, people are swinging into the kidnapping business.
He noted that banks were not entirely to blame for the booming business, saying, “I will not blame the abduction business on banks totally because they have regulators that are in a position to sanction any of the banks.
If a single bank had been sanctioned and de-registered, I don’t think any bank would continue to boost the abduction business.
Even if one detects such and reports to the regulators, nothing might be done because the people in government are the principals of all the banks. The regulators, too, are afraid because they know the personalities behind the banks.
Retired Colonel Hassan Stan-Labo said kidnapping and banditry were thriving because “government officials gain from the big-time business.
The abduction menace has always been a big-time business in Nigeria all along. We have been fighting terrorism and banditry for over 10 years, and certain deals have been perfected to a point whereby some individuals are just making their cool money out of this, including government officials.
I know there was a time when government officials were ready to release money from the treasury to pay and release individuals because they have some cuts from such money released.
But look at the way Israel is fighting the Gaza war, they said they are not just fighting, but we want to make sure that this does not happen again, he added.
On whether banks were complicit in the kidnapping business, the retired col. said, “Banks are business enterprises. When one is into business, profit is one’s major concern.
“The way we see banks declaring all sorts of huge profits, even when the economy is said to be in bad shape, is alarming. I am saying that banks, of course, will cooperate to get profits. They conceal whatever needs to be concealed and make their money,” the ex-military officer added.
The Chancellor of the International Society for Social Justice and Human Rights, Jackson Omenazu, suggested that citizens should be allowed to bear firearms.
The current insecurity in the country is lamentable, and the constant loss of lives and disruption of livelihood is unacceptable. The security chiefs should either do what is needed or the government should allow citizens to have access to firearms to defend themselves, he said.
An elder statesman, Mallam Tanko Yakasai, and former FCT Commissioner of Police, Lawrence Alobi, asked the President to do more to end insecurity.
Yakasai observed that the insecurity situation was becoming too big for the Federal Government to handle.
On his part, Alobi, who described the situation as embarrassing, charged President Tinubu to give service chiefs a month to tame the insecurity.
In an interview with The PUNCH, a retired Police Commissioner, Edward Ajogun, noted that while the possibility of bank involvement could not be ruled out, it was important to adopt some holistic measures that could help to combat kidnapping headlong.
Ajogun said, “Kidnapping by its nature is an organised crime that has a leadership we do not even know but which is controlling their foot-soldiers. When these ransoms are collected, they are often spread out, making it easier for the ransom money to be moved without suspicion.
I think we should rather focus on monitoring the serial numbers of the monies used in paying ransom so that it can easily be tracked; by doing that, it will be easier to track the kidnappers. Some people are also saying that it may have external connections. So our security experts should also look at monitoring if our money is being transported to foreign countries like Benin Republic, Niger, and others.
We should also segment our security apparatus. When we realise that kidnapping is on the high side in a particular place, security apparatus should be mobilised to such a place to tackle the situation.
The most effective means which none of us will go for is that if somebody is kidnapped, are we ready to sacrifice the individual? This is because if the security agencies cannot get the kidnappers, they can annihilate them, but in trying to do that, the victim’s life will be at risk. But that is the only method to make the business not lucrative to the kidnappers. However, that would mean that the death toll and fatality on the side of the victims will be high. That is the only means of discouraging this thing.