Ten years ago when the Niger Delta militants started kidnapping expatriates for ransom, Nigerians all felt it was not our problem since we were not ‘’Oyinbo’’. Our Government and security forces as usual trivialised these kidnappings as isolated incidences and left the employers (oil companies) of these expatriates to their own devices.
The oil companies had no choice but to pay ransoms to secure the release of their staff, this sowed the seed for the situation we find ourselves in Nigeria today. You couldn’t really blame the oil companies because in an ideal situation the host country’s security forces are responsible for negotiating the release of the hostages.
Once the kidnappers realised that companies were ready to negotiate directly with them and pay such huge amounts to secure the release of their staff, it became free for all endeavour and a new lucrative business called “ kidnapping” was born in Nigeria.
The good news is robbery is down; bad news is that the robbers have now upgraded their level to kidnapping. Please do not confuse kidnapping in Nigeria with Boko Haram activities in the North, which is a story for another day.
Today, kidnapping has moved from organised militants in the creek to every Tunde, Emeka, Lawal and Esosa being a kidnaper, even individuals kidnap each other so their families can pay ransom to them; seriously I am not making this up.
Ransom demand has moved from millions being paid for expatriates and families of the rich, to a mere N100,000.00 (£400) for the average Joe. This is the worrying part because now you don’t have to be rich to be kidnapped. Everybody is now a target …. you, me, your family, and very soon your dog.
It gets worse; at least with organised kidnapping you are targeted by someone who knows or has heard of you, say a family member, domestic staff, friends and business associates. Now they have added random kidnapping to the list, this happens more on the high roads, just like robbery they stop your car and take all the occupants to a location and then get you to call your family to demand a ransom.
There are no official figures for the number of kidnappings everyday in Nigeria but it is increasing on a daily basis, don’t take my word for it, just scan through the local newspapers online, these are just the reported few. Outside the newspapers I bet you know someone that knows someone that knows someone that has been directly affected; personally I know two people who had a family member kidnapped this year.
Where are the police and security forces I here you ask that people are pulled off the street in broad daylight and in front of witnesses unchallenged, this is where the big problem lies.
Kidnappers in my opinion are opportunists, knowing that the chances of being captured by police during a kidnap attempt is almost zero is what gives them the confidence to carry out this daring operation in broad daylight and get away with it.
Don’t believe anything the Police tell you in Nigeria, 9 ½ out of 10 kidnap cases result in some form of ransom being paid, to be fair the police do capture some of these kidnappers after a ransom is paid, not due to intelligence but the kidnapper’s stupidity.
If unfortunately a family member is kidnapped, the victim’s family in most cases are on their own with regards to liaising with the kidnappers. The police involvement and reaction depends on how deep your pocket is. Some families don’t even bother involving the police anymore because they will probably end up costing you a sizable percentage of the money you intend to use for ransom payment.
This article is not intended to scare anyone, this is something all Nigerians in Diaspora is already aware of, but as we prepare for the annual Christmas visit to Nigeria, do not play down the issue of kidnapping or let anyone tell you it is not as bad as people like myself are making out. It is worse and getting worse.
As an IT security consultant for a number of oil and gas companies in the Niger Delta, I travel frequently from my base in the UK to the Niger Delta region where we advise clients and expatriates in Nigeria on how to stay safe.
For those of you visiting Nigeria this festive season, enjoy your holiday but please see below some very simple tips to staying safe:
This is one time I will suggest you make paranoia (everyone is out to get me) your friend, but please loose the paranoia hat when you leave Nigeria.
Do not discuss your detailed movements with anyone. Personally, I usually take a licensed airport taxi rather than getting my regular cab man or friend to pick me from the airport, always be vague about your movements.
Always be aware of your environment, if something doesn’t feel right, question it and if possible change your plan on the spot. One time I took a hire car from Warri airport , as soon as we were about to set off, the driver’s friend jumped in the back seat saying he wanted to escort the driver to drop me, I refused on the spot to take that cab even after the friend came down due to my protest.
Don’t bring too much attention to yourself; we in Diaspora always stick out no matter how hard we try to blend in. Hey you are a Nigerian after all, so try harder, I always try to speak pigeon English when I am on the road because speaking proper English always gives it away.
And finally as a typical Nigerian, don’t forget to pray!