Despite the increasing wave of abductions across the country, security experts and families of victims have said that most kidnapping incidents in the Federal Capital Territory and other parts of the country are not reported to the authorities.
Victims of abductions and their families in Abuja and other parts of the country, who spoke to our correspondents, said they paid ransoms without reporting the incidents to the police.
Also, Amnesty International and the Nigerian Society for Criminologists which spoke in separate interviews with us on Monday, attributed the under-reporting of abductions to the fear of reprisals and lack of trust in the security agencies.
Kidnapping, which was previously restricted to the North-West, has in recent months, spread to many states and the FCT.
Families of victims and security experts told us on Monday that many abductions were not reported in the media nor were the complaints lodged with the police.
Segun Adereti, the father of a 13-year-old girl, Miracle, who was kidnapped by an unknown gang in the Ikotun area of Lagos State on December 1 on her way home from school, explained how he was warned against involving the police.
Adereti, in an interview, said, We’ve received threats warning us not to involve the police.
In Abuja, most victims and their families, who spoke to us on Monday on the condition of anonymity because of the fear of attacks, explained why they did not report the abductions.
A businessman who was abducted in Kubwa, a suburb of Abuja recently, said his family simply paid the ransom and did not involve the police.
He stated,” We didn’t bother to report the incident because that may even put my life at risk. I did not believe the police would be able to rescue me. Instead of jeopardising my life, I thought it wise to pay the ransom and save my life. When there is life, there is hope and I can recover whatever that was given to the criminals.
A civil servant, whose brother was abducted in the Deidei area of Zuba late last year, said they were warned not to report the case to the authorities.
He added, The kidnappers said they would know if we reported the matter to the police and that we would not see our brother again. So, we heeded their advice and complied with their ransom demand.
Residents of Okota in Lagos State have revealed the many cases of abductions going on in that area.
Cases of abductions were said to be on the rise in the community with some victims paying ransoms without reporting to the police.
Similar cases were also recorded on the Mainland, particularly in the Amuwo Odofin Local Government Area of the state.
Many wealthy people were the soft targets for the abductors who demanded huge ransoms.
A car dealer popularly known as Ejike Conversion in the Ladipo Spare Parts Market was abducted on December 9, 2023, by gunmen.
Ejike, a resident of Okota, was said to have been taking an inventory of his newly imported goods in front of his plaza around midnight when some armed men swooped in on him and his workers.
He was abducted and later released after allegedly paying a huge ransom.
When asked about the kidnap of Ejike, the Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer, Benjamin Hundeyin, said he was not aware of the incident.
In a similar development, a yet-to-be-identified businessman was allegedly kidnapped earlier this month in the Ago Palace area of the state while the kidnappers demanded a sum of N500m.
Ago residents lament
During a visit to the area on Monday, our correspondents encountered some residents who declined to speak due to the sensitive nature of the development.
A resident who offered to speak on the condition of anonymity said the development was not new but did not make it to the public because of the dimension it had taken.
He said, Cases of kidnappings, especially in this Ago Palace area, are not new. It became a common trend last year, whereby people rush to the police to report. The police step in and rescue some, while some end up paying a ransom and get freed before the police step in.
But towards the end of last year, it was noticed that cases of kidnappings increased but some of them were not reported to the police. I know of three incidents in which the captors warned them not to involve the police.
The resident added that the abductees returned to their homes secretly without informing anyone.
He said, Normally, when people regain freedom, they often go to church for Thanksgiving or you find some family and friends around them, celebrating their freedom. But that is not the case any longer.
When some of them are released, you won’t even know when they return. They hibernate in their homes and make it look like nothing happened.
Another resident who identified himself simply as Victor said this also happened in the cases of those who have near-encounters with kidnappers in the area.
He said, Some people have experienced situations where they were almost abducted but escaped narrowly. Meanwhile, instead of reporting to the police, they keep it to themselves because of fear. What we learnt was that the victims were warned not to involve the police authorities.
A police source who confided in our correspondent said only a few cases of kidnapping in the state were reported to the police due to threats by the abductors.
Also, our investigations showed that some kidnapping incidents did not make it to mainstream media outlets or security authorities.
Frank Ubido, the uncle of a serving member of the National Youths Service Corps in Benue State, Esther Otegiri, who was kidnapped last week, told us the family paid over a million naira before they could secure the release of the victim.
The kidnappers, according to Ubido, had requested N50m.
Ubido made it clear to our correspondent on Monday that the police accompanied a family member to pay the ransom.
He said, Over N1mn was paid. One of my brothers went there to drop the money with the help of the police after we spoke to them about how much we had. She is somewhere now taking medications. She got out last week.
The victim had put distress notes on her WhatsApp status on January 12 saying, ‘I am being held hostage by unknown gunmen at Benue. Please help me. They are refusing to let NYSC corps members go. N50 million. I haven’t escaped, I’m still with them, send help, my location is on.”
She was said to be returning to Benue State from Edo where she was serving when the gunmen took her along the Enugu-Benue highway.
Posts from her friends and colleagues began to trend on social media with fund-raising flyers also circulating.
When contacted, the Benue State Police Public Relations Officer, Catherine Anene, on Monday, said she was not aware of the kidnap of the corps member.
I’m not aware of that. Nobody has given me any information about the kidnap of a corper, she told us.
An X user, @Ahlexmoralex, while commenting on a post about kidnapping incidents along the Gbagada Expressway of Lagos on January 16, said “This route is always scary. They are mostly around the New Garage. I have like three people who fell victim to this. They said they boarded the bus from the new garage. (The suspects) wiped all the money in their accounts and all that they had. Be careful out there, please.”
They’re mostly concentrated on Mile 2 to Badagry Expressway. It’s most dangerous to be out around 6am to board a bus along that route. This one-chance or ritual kidnappers operate on that road stretch all through the day unhindered or trailed by men of the @PoliceNG. It’s sad!” another user @FemiVersatile said on January 16.
On January 18, the Nigerian Army on X via @HQNigerianArmy while reacting to a post by another X user, posted, #ThankASoldier when the user claimed she witnessed an attempted kidnap in the Ikeja area of Lagos.
The poster said a kidnapping attempt was foiled by a soldier in the early hours of the day.
@nerdy_deb wrote, “This soldier on a bike told my bus driver to corner the Sienna three vehicles away from him because he suspected he was a kidnapper. After the Ikeja intersection, the soldier instructed big buses in front to block the road. They caught the Sienna driver.’
But Hundeyin said consequent upon the report of abductions on Gbagada Expressway, the Commissioner of Police Adegoke Fayoade, has ordered an immediate review of the security architecture of the entire area by affected Divisional Police Officers and Area Commanders, in a bid to forestall such an occurrence.
In the FCT, some residents of Kuchibuyi in the Bwari Area Council said the community had been at the mercy of kidnappers who reportedly attacked them at night.
A resident of the community, Sanusi Aliyu, said, They kidnapped Wale in October last year around 11 pm. They shot at Wale’s eyes. He’s a part-time lecturer, they killed him. They kidnapped his neighbour. Wale’s wife was pregnant at the time of the incident. His pregnant wife moved out of the residence after the incident.
His neighbour was freed after one week, but he didn’t tell anyone the amount paid. But immediately he came back, he left that place and relocated.
Narrating their ordeal further, Aluyi added, Nobody reported what we are going through in this area. It’s almost 12 kidnapping cases. After paying a ransom, another victim, Austin, died the day I went to pick him up.
There is another person who has been missing since March. They kidnapped his mother and father. But they only released the parents. Till now, nobody knows where they are.
On December 20, they attacked again but were repelled by the local vigilantes. They kidnapped two people while fleeing into the bush. All this time, we have been talking, but the police don’t want to take us seriously.
In Garam, a border community to Abuja, a pregnant woman was about to be kidnapped on January 3 when her husband resisted. They killed the husband and picked up the wife. In the one at Garam, soldiers with armoured tanks were less than 400 meters away, and they claimed they didn’t hear the gunshots.
They went to a pastor’s house and wanted to kidnap the children, but they killed him after he resisted. They later kidnapped the two children anyway. There is no security presence at all in all these villages.
A youth leader, Sanusi Abubakar, said the security agency should support the community to patrol their area at night.
He said, We have gone to some radio stations around to cry for help. Even this morning, some radio stations still talked about it. We need all the help. The commissioner of police came to the community yesterday (Sunday)
But the kidnappers usually come to deal with us at night. The last time they came was last year, in December. They kidnapped two people. They freed them two days later after the ransom was paid.
Lamenting the rising cases of abductions, Amnesty International, Nigeria, Country Director, Isa Sanusi, explained that victims were afraid to report kidnapping.
He said, “The rampant cases of abduction in the FCT are just symptoms of how big the problem is across Nigeria. Many families only pay ransoms and never mention it for fear of reprisals.
Abduction or hostage-taking — widely called kidnapping in local parlance is prohibited under international human rights law. It is the duty of the authorities to ensure the safety of the lives and property of the people.
The current rampant abduction by gunmen is a clear sign of the failure of the authorities to effectively protect lives and property. The authorities must take all lawful measures to protect the people and end the epidemic of ‘kidnapping’ that has been affecting the human rights of the people.
A private investigator, Afolabi Solanke, also validated AI’s position that victims were afraid to report abductions due to the trust deficit and the lack of confidence in the government.
Solanke stated, “People are scared for their lives. They don’t trust the capacity of the police or military, so they prefer to go on social media to talk about the abduction of their relatives rather than go to the police.
Also, the police and the military are not helping matters – they’re supposed to be following these incidents as they’re being reported on social media; it’s sad the police always want people to report abduction incidents to them before they take action.
The Chairman of the Nigerian Society for Criminologists, Prof Etannibi Alemika, similarly believed that the families of the abductees did not often report to the authorities for fear of reprisal.
Apart from this, Alemika surmised that the law enforcement agencies could not crack abduction cases.
He said, “Most abducted victims’ families are scared that when they report to the police or other security agencies, there might be reprisals. These abductions are happening so widely that it is becoming difficult for the police and other security agencies to handle them.
People also fear that the security agencies may not be of help due to the inadequacies of the police and military in terms of intelligence-gathering and human capacity. So, most times, victims’ relatives prefer to just negotiate with and pay the kidnappers for the safety of their family members.
A former military officer, Saka Folusho, mentioned that the lack of stiffer punishment for kidnappers was making the abduction industry boom, just as he pointed out that cases of abductions are under-reported.
Folusho, an ex-colonel, stressed that kidnapping is rampant and happening everywhere but the victims and their families were reluctant to report the incidents to the authorities.
He blamed the system for the poor reporting of abduction cases, and this, he added, has made kidnap-for-ransom to thrive.
Folusho stated, “The system we have in place currently allows the kidnap-for-ransom to thrive because there are no stiffer punishments for apprehended kidnappers. In a situation where you don’t have this in place in a country, you are faced with a situation we have at hand.
A retired Commissioner of Police, Emmanuel Ojukwu, noted that the kidnap of persons thrived on secrecy and fear, which in turn fuelled the under-reporting of kidnap incidences to security agencies and its prevention altogether.
He added that the government and security agencies required incident reports to foil abductions.
Kidnapping is secretive and thrives on fear. Kidnappers are afraid of the police and do not want to face justice. So, they warn their captors not to report to police, but to mobilise ransom. And they carry out the threat by executing some captives. That warning is often heeded due to the slow pace of law enforcement, and lack of trust between government and the people.
So relatives may not want to report kidnap cases. I believe the number of actual cases is far more than the number reported,’’ Ojukwu explained.
Illustrating how the crime wave could be checked, the former force spokesman noted, Government and security operatives need data gained from reported cases to determine the modus operandi and tactics of kidnappers to enable detection and success rate.’
A security expert, Chidi Omeje, said Nigerians were no longer reporting kidnapping incidents to security agencies because of a lack of faith in them.
He said, They have completely lost faith in the ability of the security agents to help out. You are saying people should not pay ransom why won’t people pay when their family members’ lives are at stake?
Most of them are threatened that if they don’t bring the money they will kill their loved ones and they will go ahead to show you a practical example by killing one of the victims in their custody.
An intelligence and security consultant, Abuh Adams, warned that the kidnappers are getting deadlier, describing the situation as frightening.
The kidnappers have become deadlier in recent times. They kill their victims if ransoms are not paid. Also, they don’t even want them to report to the security agencies. When they are aware the family had reported they become more brutal.
I think that is what affects the psyche of some of the relatives or victims and they don’t report some of these cases. Losing faith in security agencies is not even the issue. The issue is what do the security agencies have to overcome the massive abductions happening in the country?’ he asked.
A retired Deputy Inspector General of Police, Adedayo Adeoye, noted that cases of armed robbery had been on the decline because of the lucrative nature of kidnapping in the country.
He urged the police to be more receptive and encourage the citizens to report kidnapping cases.
Adeoye noted, If you don’t report, nobody will know. Some of these kidnapping cases are usually in connivance with people for money. Not only that, you will observe that armed robbery incidents have gone down because kidnapping is now more lucrative with less risk.
One of the ways we can resolve this is by making it public. This way, it could help citizens with information about the victim’s whereabouts to report to the authorities for action. Also, the police should open their doors for people to be ready to report. In addition, the police need to acquire some equipment to trail the phone numbers used by these kidnappers.
There was a time when the government ordered all phone numbers to be linked with the NIN. There is no other means the kidnappers can contact their victims’ families other than through telephone calls. “
Former Army spokesperson, Brigadier-General, Sani Usman (retd.), blamed the failure of trust between the government and the people for under-reporting of abductions and other crimes.
He said the people would rather pay ransom for the rescue of their kidnapped loved ones.
The ex-military officer, who spoke on Arise News Morning Show on Monday, also said that there were other factors responsible for the thriving kidnap industry in Nigeria, including the economic situation in the country.
The solution, the ultimate solution to the end of kidnapping is stoppage of the payment of ransom. But it is easier to say so than done. Why? Because once you are not involved you can say so, but if any of your relations, your spouse, or your child is involved, definitely you would do anything, and that is what the criminal elements are taking advantage of.
The gullibility of an average Nigerian, you know, to pay ransom. Such payment of ransom, so long as it is there, kidnapping will thrive.
But again, you look at the other ingredients that support this nefarious criminal activity. People are really in need of a means of livelihood, and they just have to do everything to make ends meet. And some of them, unfortunately, some people will aid and abet.