Cablegate: Update On Kidnapping in Nigeria

DE RUEHOS #0003/01 0041225
R 041225Z JAN 10




E.O. 12958: N/A

B. LAGOS 434


1. (SBU) Kidnapping in Nigeria is increasing in frequency,
expanding in scope and changing in character. This seriously
under-reported crime may be occurring as frequently as 40
times a week, and targets are increasingly ordinary
Nigerians. Incidents are no longer geographically
concentrated in the Niger Delta but have been reported in 16
of Nigeria's 36 states in the last two months, including four
states in the North. The character of the kidnapping is
predominately criminal not political, and is sometimes highly
organized but largely risk free. Kidnapping fraud is a
lucrative off-shoot of the kidnapping industry. Kidnapping
will continue to plague the country until the police learn
how to respond more effectively and victim's families and
associates no longer pay ransoms. END SUMMARY.


2. (SBU) In the period between September 15 and November 30,
42 reported incidents of kidnapping occurred in Nigeria,
including seven incidents involving multiple hostages,
according to records kept by RSO. On November 9, a total of
nine separate kidnapping incidents were recorded. Press
reports citing the Nigerian police claim that by early
November more than 500 people had been held for ransom to
date this year, a substantial increase over the 353 incidents
registered in 2008. Some observers speculate that kidnapping
is becoming more common because the use of credit cards and
electric payments among the rich make armed robberies less
lucrative; others believe it is the latest "fad" in crime,
reflecting better police response to some armed robberies.


3. (SBU) Abduction for ransom is, however, a seriously
under-reported crime. The families of victims often
negotiate and pay ransoms directly to the kidnappers because
they lack confidence in the police. The result is an
unquantifiable number of kidnappings neither recorded in
police statistics nor reported in the press, and an
increasing sense of insecurity across the country. Radio
Vision Africa, a private radio network located in Abia state,
recorded over 500 calls in just one month from listeners
decrying the pervasive threat of kidnapping. A contact told
PolOff that at least one kidnapping occurred every week in
the state of Akwa Ibom. Another contact in Port Harcourt,
Rivers State, estimated that a kidnapping occurred in that
city alone every week. RSO contacts estimate that altogether
as many as 40 kidnappings occur in Nigeria every week. If
true, this would put the number of people kidnapped annually
at over 2,000. (NOTE: Mexico has the highest number of
kidnappings annually, with an estimated 7,000 in 2008,
according to the December 4 New York Times Magazine. END


4. (SBU) Most kidnappings involve criminal acts rather than
political one. In no recent case have kidnappers made
political demands, although political motives can be assumed
in connection with the kidnapping of the father of the
Peoples' Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate in Anambra

5. (SBU) The targets of kidnapping are only occasionally
foreigners or prominent politicians. Increasingly the victims
are ordinary Nigerians. Victims in recent months included a
nurse from a federal hospital (Imo, October 14), an actor
(Rivers, November 9), a lawyer (Edo, November 9), and several
businessmen (Zaria, September 24, Enugu, September 25,
Anambra, October 15 and Delta, November 22). Victims even
included children in ten of the 42 incidents recorded between
September 14 and November 30, with children often seized on
their way to or from school. Children as young as five have
been taken hostage. Elderly parents, wives and even the

LAGOS 00000003 002 OF 003

servants of the middle-class have increasingly become the
targets of kidnappings as well.

6. (SBU) The criminal nature of kidnapping is ironically
underlined by militant leader "Tom Polo" (Chief Government
Ekpemupolo) claiming that he paid over 220 million naira
(roughly USD 1.5 million) to secure the release of women,
children and foreigners captured by rogue groups not
associated with his own organization or the "Niger Delta
struggle." (NOTE: MEND spokesman Jomo Gbomo claimed that
MEND had "saved" kidnapping victims from "criminals" or
negotiated their release on humanitarian grounds on a number
of occasions in the second half of 2008. END NOTE.)


7. (SBU) RSO contacts claim that in a number of incidents
kidnappers have demonstrated sophisticated organization. In
addition to good intelligence, often based on insider
knowledge of a victim's pattern of movement and habits,
victims are often moved long distances and kept at central
"holding places." A police raid in Edo state on December 3
that resulted in the release of five hostages taken in three
unrelated incidents and total of 14 kidnappers arrested is a
case in point.

8. (SBU) Another disturbing trend is the involvement of
entire communities. A contact in Edo State told PolOff
December 7 that Edo's anti-kidnapping task force composed of
both police and military had identified 2-3 communities in
which "everyone including old women and children" were
involved in and profited from the kidnapping business. This
corroborates reports that a shrimp trawler was forced aground
near a fishing village last year and plundered by the entire
village, including market women. (Reftel B) Likewise LEGATT
Lagos reported the leader of one kidnapping ring was a family
patriarch supported by the rest of his family, and that in
every instance involving an American victim over the last
three years, the hostage was free to walk around the village
in which he was held, suggesting that all the villagers
profited in some way from ransoms paid and so had no
incentive to report to the police.


9. (SBU) Kidnapping in Nigeria is comparatively low risk
because victims and their families do not report most cases
to the police. Even in cases that are reported, police do
not pursue kidnappers after a hostage has been released,
according to an attorney practicing in the Niger Delta. This
contact argued that it is considerably less dangerous to "nab
a school-girl on her way home" than to carry out an armed
robbery or break into someone's house, but the rewards were
potentially greater because entire families will pool their
resources for the release of a relative. One explanation of
the police's apparent inaction was suggested in a New York
Times Magazine article on December 4 which quoted the lawyer
of a kidnapper claiming the police was informed of
kidnappings in advance and received a cut of the ransom
money. While this cannot be ruled out, Post believes that
insufficient resources are the principal reason why the
Nigerian police do not pursue kidnappers after the release of
hostages. The recent introduction of capital punishment for
kidnapping in a number of states will have little deterrent
effect as long as there are only slight chances of arrest.


10. (SBU) Ransom demands have fallen as the victims become
less prominent and less prosperous. Ransoms demands ran in
the millions of dollars when foreign oil workers were the
preferred target. Total ransoms paid in Nigeria between 2006
and 2008 exceeded USD 100 million, according to the inspector
general of the Nigeria Police Force Mike Okiro as quoted in
the press. When targeting ordinary Nigerians, the ransoms
are much more modest. The employee of a Nigerian NGO told
PolOff that kidnappers seized his sister in September and
held her for two days while the family negotiated the ransom
down from the initial demand of 25 million naira (USD
165,000) to 1 million naira (USD 6,650). Another contact
told PolOff that in Rivers State kidnappers charged 25,000

LAGOS 00000003 003 OF 003

naira (USD 167) for the release of school children, the
equivalent of a month's salary for a domestic worker in
Lagos. The RSO in Lagos has heard of ransom demands of as
little as 5,000 naira (USD 33). Although these sums seem
small, in a country where 70 percent of the population earns
less than USD two dollars daily, these ransoms often
represent a significant financial burden on relatives.

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11. (SBU) Kidnapping is no longer concentrated in the Niger
Delta. Almost half of Nigeria's states have become venues
for kidnapping. The highest number of kidnapping incidents
in the period September 15 to November 30 was recorded in
Rivers State (nine), but Edo State had the second highest
number of incidents (seven). Four incidents were reported in
the same period in each Abia, Anambra, and Delta states,
three each in Ebony and Enugu States, two in Kaduna and
Benue, and a single incident was reported in Cross River,
Niger and Ogun states. Press reports on kidnapping from this
period alleged incidents in Lagos, Oyo, Ondo and Imo States
as well.

12. (SBU) Notably, abductions for ransom were reported in
three states in the North of Nigeria (Niger, Kaduna and
Benue), while the core Niger Delta State of Bayelsa did not
figure in the statistics of recorded incidents for the time
period examined. However, Akwa Ibom was also absent from the
statistics, although incidents allegedly occur there
regularly. (COMMENT: The absence of both these states from
the data available reflects under-reporting rather than
freedom from this kind of crime. END COMMENT.)


13. (SBU) Mediating between kidnappers and the families of
victims has developed into an independent business, crime
specialist Dumo Otujaye is quoted saying in the Nigerian
press. Mediators charge a "transaction fee" and allegedly
have taken, in some cases, the largest share of the payment
by greatly exaggerating kidnappers' demands. The business of
mediation is booming as the number of kidnappings increase
and people remain reluctant to involve the police.

14. (SBU) Nigerian fraudsters also capitalize on Nigeria's
growing reputation as one of the kidnapping capitals of the
world. The most common tactic is to establish a false
internet identity and develop a virtual relationship with a
foreigner before sending or having an accomplice send frantic
messages to the foreigner alleging that the fraudster has
been kidnapped and a ransom must be paid into the bank
account provided.


15. (SBU) Kidnapping is no longer a "Niger Delta" problem.
Moreover, the GON amnesty has not had any significant impact
on its frequency within the Delta. The underlying stimulus
to the phenomenon is inadequate response of the police, which
has made kidnapping a low-risk crime and encourages people to
negotiate and pay ransoms rather than involve the
authorities. As long as victim's families or employers pay
ransoms, kidnapping will remain a lucrative business and can
be expected to continue to spread to other parts of the
country, increase in frequency, and impact ever larger
segments of the population.

16. (U) ConGen Lagos has coordinated this telegram with
Embassy Abuja.

© Scoop Media

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