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Kidnappings: Concern mounts over crowdfunding for ransom

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Amid killings, banditry, kidnappings, among other security challenges bedeviling most parts of the country, Nigerians, in a rather distressing trend, are now resorting to crowdfunding to secure the freedom of their family members and relatives.

The development has also attracted global attention, with the Economist noting that a ”crowdfunding effort to pay the ransom was even backed by a former minister.”

According to the paper, more than 3,600 people were kidnapped in 2023, the most ever, adding that it rose sharply after President Bola Tinubu took office, with almost 9,000 Nigerians killed in conflict last year.

Many believe that the trend portends a grave danger for the nation’s security, fearing it may become one of the largest sources of terrorism financing in the country.

The development is coming on the heels of rising cases of insecurity in the nation’s capital, Abuja and other volatile states in the country.

Pmnews.ng reports that kidnap-for-ransom has become a disturbingly booming enterprise over the past few years, resulting in the abduction of locals, either along highways where terrorists hold sway or in the comfort of their homes.

The recent being the reported kidnap of six siblings who were abducted from their father’s house in Bwari Council, Abuja, alongside their father on January 2nd. Their father, Alhaji Mansoor Al-Kadriyar, was later released to enable him to source for ransom.

However, the failure of the family to meet their demand within a deadline issued by the kidnappers led to the killing of Nabeeha Al-Kadriyar, the eldest of the six sisters.

In response, Nigerians on social media started a fundraising campaign to raise the ransom.

As a result of the outrage that trailed Nabeehah’s murder, erstwhile Minister of Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, announced the donation of N50 million from his friends.

However, the ex-minister did not give the name of his friend who offered to raise the N50 million ransom demanded by the bandits.

Pmnews.ng recalls that Pantami supervised an ambitious NIN-SIM policy that sought the linkage of the National Identity Number with SIM cards in order for the authorities to be able to track kidnappers and other criminal elements.

“Alhamdu lil Laah! I am personally not in support of paying ransom to criminals.

“However, since it became clear that we lost our daughter Nabeeha yesterday and the five remaining daughters have been threatened, I spoke with the father on the matter yesterday and today, I spoke with a friend and a brother who offered to pay the remaining 50 million Naira of the 60 million immediately.

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“I conveyed the account number of the father of our daughters, Mansoor Al-Kadriyar, to the friend and brother to send the money directly. Any additional amount generated yesterday, the father can use to treat the daughters and other family members, in sha Allah.

“May the Almighty Allah reward the brother and friend with Jannatul Firdaus for the donation,” the former minister wrote on his X handle.

Findings by Pmnews.ng indicate that crowdfunding is contrary to ”the Terrorism (Prevention) Act 2013 (Amendment) Bill, 2022.

The bill, which amends Nigeria’s terrorism law, imposed a lengthy jail sentence of at least 15 years for paying a ransom to free someone who has been kidnapped and made the crime of abduction punishable by death in cases where the victims die.

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“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,” the section read.

Raising concern about the new development, the Minister of Defence, Mohammed Badaru, warned Nigerians to stop the payment of ransom to kidnappers and bandits, cautioning that the payment would only embolden the culprits to make more demands thereby jeopardising public safety.

The minister spoke in response to the reported sourcing of funds by some members of the public to pay the abductors of some persons in the Bwari Area Council of Abuja, in which some of the victims were killed because their families could not raise money to pay the ransom.

Commenting on the issue of crowdfunding for the purposes of paying ransom, Badaru said there was existing law that prohibited the payment of ransom to kidnappers.

“We all know that there is an existing law against payment of ransom. So, it is very sad for people to go over the internet and radio asking for donations to pay ransom.

“This will only worsen the situation, it will not help the situation at all as you have seen. Initially, they asked for N60 million and now because of this funding (and I learnt somebody has raised N50 million already through friends), the kidnappers jacked up the ransom.

“We believe we have to stop as painful as it is, we have to stop responding to requests for ransom. If we stop, over time, the kidnapping will not be profitable and they will stop.

“It is not easy though, but that is the law. So we want to call on the people to manage the kidnapping situation intelligently and very quietly, because talking too much about it, especially raising funds through the public, is not productive at all and should be discontinued.”

According to findings by DAILY POST, ‘crowdfunding’ for ransom has been a common feature in rural areas where terrorists continue to enjoy some level of unprecedented influence and sophistication.

However, experts believe that making it to social media shows that the enterprise has not only become more lucrative but pervasive.

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According to Nigeria Security Tracker (NST), 19,366 Nigerians have been kidnapped in 2,694 kidnapping instances over the last ten years as of the end of June 2023.

The FCT Abuja, in particular, which was ranked 11th among locations in 2020 in a report by SB Morgen, has continued to witness frequent abductions, a stark revelation of the evolving security lapses in the region.

Data contained in the report showed that from January 2021 to June 2023, the FCT recorded over 40 kidnap cases with over 236 victims, who were either released after ransom was paid or killed even after payment.

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Between October and December 2023 alone, there were 13 recorded kidnap incidents, affecting 80 victims.

From Gwagwalada to Kuje, Lugbe, Pegi, Abaji, Keti, and Kwali, the daredevil hoodlums operate with naked boldness.

The economic toll of the rising insecurity has become substantial, with confirmed ransom payments totaling N653.7 million between 2021 and 2022.

Residents and businesses in the affected areas are bearing the brunt of these security challenges, and the impact on daily life and economic activities is becoming increasingly pronounced.

Speaking to newsmen about the matter, a security expert, Dr Kabir Adamu said that family members of kidnap victims resort to paying ransom because the government fails to rescue the victims.

Adamu, who is the Managing Director of Beacon Security and Intelligence LTD, stated that the poverty level in the country makes the enforcement of the law prohibiting the payment of ransom difficult.

He urged the government to increase its ability to protect the people.

He said, “The first thing is to emphasize that our existing laws, both at the federal and the sub-national levels, in most cases banned or outlawed the payment of ransom.

“However, because kidnap for ransom is still ongoing, and I can tell you, just in the month of November, at least 500 to 800 persons were abducted across Nigeria. And we know that in Abuja, between the 1st and 18th of January 2024, over 60 persons were abducted.

“The reality is that people are still being abducted. And because people are still being abducted, loved ones would like to bring them out.

“In most instances, after the abduction, there are only two options: the option of rescue and then the option of release. Release can only be achieved if they meet the condition of the abductors. And in most instances, it is ransom they want.

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“So, that is why family members have to resort to paying that ransom because, in the first place, the protection the government should have given them to prevent their abduction did not happen.

“And then, after the abduction, the rescue effort, in terms of percentages, I think we have about less than 10 per cent of the successful rescue effort in Nigeria.

“So, the rest of the 90 per cent have no option other than either to negotiate for a ransom or other avenues before their loved ones are released.

“Now, because of the poverty level in Nigeria, most of the affected persons are at a stage where their income is extremely low. That is why they start selling off their livelihood, their source of income, and land.

“Most often, the money they gather is usually not enough, so they now have to resort to the community. And that community can be their immediate community or the cyberworld community. That is where crowdfunding comes into play.

“Unfortunately, the reality of the situation in Nigeria is that the law is there, but the enforcement of that law is not realistic given the circumstances I have just described.

“For every national security measure, there is an aspect called resilience. It means the government has to carry the people along and show them the implications of paying that ransom. In doing that, the government would also have to increase its ability to protect the people.

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“So, I am hoping that when all of that is done, people will now understand the implications and conduct their activities in a manner that will allow them to have their loved ones back without increasing the risk associated with the activities.”

On his part, Comrade Isaiah Adanu, a professional private security manager, in an interview with DAILY POST, expressed fears that crowdfunding money for payment of ransom will escalate kidnapping in the country.

Adanu said it would encourage continuous kidnapping while exposing the family to a lot of risk and ridicule.

He said, “There are a lot of implications when you crowdfund criminal requests or maybe for a person kidnapped by these people. If you bring it to social media, it will escalate to a level that everybody will want to do the same.

“Apart from the fact that the family is exposing themselves, other people who intend to indulge in that kind of act will begin. Because, by the time your person is kidnapped, you resort to crowdfunding, and other people will now take a cue from there.

“So, it will encourage continuous kidnapping, while it exposes the family to a lot of risk and ridicule. People begin to use that kind of pattern to indulge; those sitting on the fence, those who intend to carry out such a sinister move, will begin to do that because you have opened the floodgate of donations.

“People sit down and say, ‘This thing is becoming lucrative; let me go into it; I have seen people indulge in that kind of act’.

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“Let it be discouraged by the family; let it be discouraged by the government, non-governmental organizations, and even security agencies.”

He further stated that, “the government must tidy up their loose ends by ensuring strict adherence and implementation of the law. If you go in to pay ransom, this is what will happen to you, this is what will happen to the family that pays ransom.

“Then, if the cashless policy is in force, it will be difficult for them to source such money to pay. The government on its part should be proactive enough to ensure that when perpetrators of this heinous crime are caught, they are brought to book and prosecuted to a logical conclusion.

“I am not a fan of those who engage in jungle justice, but for those who are involved in the act of kidnapping, there should be punitive measures and capital punishment for them.

“When they suffer this capital punishment, the government follows it to a logical conclusion, there is a tendency for people to run away from it because they will say, ‘If I am caught, this is what will happen to me.’”

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