Kidnapping for Ransom in Nigeria: Laws, Setbacks and Solutions

Cheetahs Policy institute

Cheetahs Policy institute

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Kidnapping for ransom is one of the most lucrative businesses in Nigeria. This explains why the act has been prevalent across the country. Kidnappers abduct their victims, demanding for money and other non-monetary demands in exchange for their freedom.

According to report by SBM Intelligence, an Africa-focused geopolitical research and strategic communications consulting firm, at least $18.34m was paid to kidnappers as ransom – mostly by families and the government – between June 2011 and March 2020. Also, between July 2022 and June 2023, at least ₦5 billion ($6,410,256 as of 30 June 2023) were reported as ransom demands, while verified ransom payouts amounted to ₦302 million ($387,179), or six percent of what was demanded.

However, in a bid to make kidnapping less lucrative, the Nigerian Senate passed a bill prescribing at least 15 years jail term for whoever pays ransom to free kidnap victims. The Terrorism (Prevention) Act 2013 (Amendment) Bill was passed in 2022 following the consideration of a report by the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters.

Chairman of the committee, Senator Michael Opeyemi Bamidele said “the overall import of this bill is to discourage the rising spate of kidnapping and abduction for ransom in Nigeria, which is fast spreading across the country.”

The bill prescribes that “anyone who transfers funds, makes payment or colludes with an abductor, kidnapper or terrorist to receive any ransom for the release of any person who has been wrongfully confined, imprisoned or kidnapped is guilty of a felony and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment of not less than 15 years.”

Over the years, there have been many cases of kidnapping which have left Nigerians in awe and have called for concerns in the international community. In 2017, Chukwudumeme Onwuamadike, popularly known as Evans the kidnapper made the news, following his arrest for kidnapping. Evans was notorious for kidnapping and made a fortune from it, earning him the title “billionaire kidnapper.” He was arraigned for kidnapping and conspiracy before an Ikeja High court of Lagos state in 2017.

In January 2018, a notorious kidnapper and armed robber, Collins Ezenwa popularly called E-money was killed. E-money who was a former police officer was killed in Imo state during a gun duel with operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).  An Enugu-based politician, Tochukwu Okeke narrated how he was kidnapped by E-Money and his gang and the sum of $2 million was collected as ransom before he was released.

In February 2018, Boko Haram terrorists stormed the Government Girls’ Science and Technical College in Dapchi, Yobe State and abducted 110 schoolgirls. After weeks of negotiations between the Nigerian government and the terrorists, the majority of the kidnapped girls were released. However, five of the girls reportedly died during the abduction, and one, Leah Sharibu, remained in captivity. No information was made public regarding whether ransom was paid.

In February 2021, armed bandits abducted 279 schoolgirls from Government Girls Secondary School in Jangebe, Zamfara State. This was followed by negotiations between the kidnappers and the government for the release of the girls. Although the details of the negotiation was not made public, it most likely involved request for ransom or security guarantees from the government. The girls were later released after negotiations.

In March 2022, terrorists attacked and derailed a moving train along Abuja-Kaduna, abducting dozens of the passengers, killing some and leaving others injured. Daily Trust exclusively reported that the sum of ₦800,000,000 was paid to the kidnappers for the release of seven of the abducted passengers, one of who is a Pakistani.

In July 2022, a US-based hotelier, Gbenga Owolabi was kidnapped in his hotel in Ogbomosho, Oyo state alongside a final year student of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Rachael Opadele, with the kidnappers demanding a ransom of ₦100,000,000. The Guardian reported that both of them were killed by their abductors after ₦5,000,000 ransom was paid.

In January 2024, gunmen attacked the Al Kadriya family home in the Bwari Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), kidnapping a father, five sisters and their cousin. Daily Trust reported that a ransom of ₦60,000,000 was demanded from the family. The failure of the family to pay in time led to the killing of one of the sisters, Nabeeha, a 21-year-old graduate of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

In strengthening the fight against kidnapping and terrorism in Nigeria, the Terrorism (Prevention) Act 2013 (Amendment) Bill was passed by the Nigerian Senate in 2022. This is an amendment to the existing anti-kidnapping law which prescribed 10 years jail term for kidnapping. However, the new law prescribes death sentence for kidnapping in a case where the abduction leads to loss of life and life imprisonment where there is no loss of life.

States also have their anti-kidnapping laws set to punish kidnapping and related offences. The Rivers State Kidnapping Prohibition Law (2015) prescribes death sentence for kidnapping. In Oyo state, any kidnapper whose victim dies while in captivity is liable to death upon conviction while a kidnapper whose victim is released or rescued unhurt upon the payment of a ransom, is liable to life imprisonment and be compelled to pay back the ransom upon conviction. Also, anyone who attempts to kidnap, aids or abets kidnapping will be sentenced to not less than 15 years imprisonment, amongst other punishment for related offences as stipulated in the Oyo State Kidnapping Prohibition Law (2016). The Lagos State Kidnapping Prohibition Law (2017) prescribes death sentence for kidnapping where death occurs as a result of the kidnap and life imprisonment where there is no loss of life. The law further prescribes that where two or more people conspire to commit the act of kidnapping, on conviction is liable to twenty (20) years imprisonment while attempt and threat to kidnap also attracts life imprisonment.

Section 3 of the Ebonyi State Internal Security Enforcement and Related Matters Law (CAP 55) which came into force on 9th October, 2009 prescribes death sentence for kidnapping. The Internal Security and Enforcement Bill, 2009 was signed into law in Akwa Ibom state. The law, among other things, prescribes death penalty for offenders and 21 years of imprisonment for a person who abetted the escape of a kidnapper.

There are setbacks faced in the fight against kidnapping in Nigeria. Poor implementation and lack of enforcement of existing laws on kidnapping have been an obstacle in the fight against kidnapping. Existing laws like capital punishment are oftentimes not implemented. There are many convicts still on death row due to the refusal of state governors to sign their death warrants. In some cases, human right concerns are considered.

The slow judicial process of prosecuting kidnap suspects need to be addressed. It is one thing to charge suspects to court, however it takes years of adjournment upon adjournment to pursue a kidnap case in Nigerian courts. Chukwudumeme Onwuamadike, popularly known as Evans the kidnapper was arraigned for kidnapping and conspiracy in 2017 and later convicted in 2022. That’s about five years spent pursuing a single case.

To curb the menace of kidnapping in Nigeria, there is need for implementation and enforcement of laws on kidnapping. The amended terrorism act which criminalizes payment of ransom to kidnappers is there to make kidnapping less lucrative. Implementation of this law will contribute to ending the menace of kidnapping for ransom in the country. Capital punishment should also be applied where necessary. This will serve as deterrent to others who may want to consider kidnapping.

There is also the need for judicial reform in Nigeria. Prosecution of kidnap suspects should be pursued within short period of time. This may be achieved through appointment of more judges and building of additional court rooms or the establishment of special courts for kidnap cases across the country as judges have many cases on their necks.

There should be a significant improvement in the security settings of the country. The security situation of Nigeria is so serious that kidnappers perpetrate their acts even at daylight. The creation of state policing is long overdue. Insecurity in the south west Nigeria saw to the creation of the Western Nigeria Security Network known as Amotekun by states in the south west Nigeria. Although the federal government kicked against it, Amotekun is putting a lot of effort into fighting various security challenges in the region. This can be replicated in other regions where kidnapping and other security problems are on the rise.

The police and other security agencies should work with the National Identity Management Commission to come up with strategies that can be adopted in combating kidnapping in areas of identifying kidnappers. Technological tools that aid in tracking individuals should be prioritized.

Bashir Turawa

Bashir Turawa

Bashir Turawa is a policy analyst and social commentator with interest in government policies across Africa and how they affect the citizens.