from Africa in Transition , Africa Program , and Nigeria on the Brink

Drivers of Nigerian Kidnapping Morph From Politics to Poverty

Filipino hostages guarded by militants of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) in the Niger delta on January 31, 2007. Kidnapping was a common tool used by such militants for political ends, but nationwide kidnapping is more criminal. George Esiri/Reuters

September 25, 2019

Filipino hostages guarded by militants of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) in the Niger delta on January 31, 2007. Kidnapping was a common tool used by such militants for political ends, but nationwide kidnapping is more criminal. George Esiri/Reuters
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Kidnapping has long been a feature of political terror in Nigeria. Militants operating in the Niger Delta have kidnapped Nigerians and foreigners working in the oil industry. Such kidnapping usually has a political purpose, with ransom a side benefit. Boko Haram, the radical jihadist movement in northeast Nigeria, has kidnapped thousands, though their best-known victims are the 276 Chibok school girls taken in 2014, of whom about 100 remain in captivity today. Boko Haram kidnapping appears to be motivated by the need for labor, soldiers, and wives. No doubt Boko Haram, too, collects ransom when it can. Other militant groups, especially in the north, have resorted to kidnapping foreigners to raise money.

But the current wave of kidnapping is different from the politically-motivated and usually geographically-banded kidnapping of the past. It is now occurring all over the country. According to Voice of America, this wave of kidnapping is driven by economic hardship. VOA quotes the Nigerian Police Service as saying that there were 685 kidnappings nationwide in the first quarter of the year, with ransom demands ranging from $1,000 to $150,000 depending on the kidnappers’ estimate of what the victims and their family or organization can pay. The United States government does not pay ransom to free American citizens, but many other governments do to free their nationals.

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The police figures likely understate the reality, as much kidnapping goes unreported. Though ransom payments are illegal in Nigeria, most victims appear to pay, probably contributing to underreporting. There is anecdotal evidence that those who do not, or cannot, are murdered. The kidnapping wave and the fear it engenders is having a deleterious effect on Nigerian national morale, though how much is hard to quantify. The country has a population of more than 200 million; even if the number of victims is a multiple of those reported by the police, it is a tiny percentage of the population. But, the fear is nationwide. 

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Nigeria

Poverty

Sub-Saharan Africa

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