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31 July 2014


Nigeria: Kidnapping for ransom, including frequency, profile of victims and kidnappers; response by authorities (2013-July 2014)

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa

1. Overview

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime 2013 survey on global crime trends, the Nigerian police recorded the following number of kidnappings at the national level between 2007-2012:

  • 277 in 2007
  • 309 in 2008
  • 703 in 2009
  • 738 in 2010
  • NA in 2011
  • 600 in 2012 (UN 15 May 2014).

Freedom House reports that Nigeria recorded one of the highest rates of kidnapping in the world in 2013 (Freedom House 2014). The US Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011 indicates that kidnapping and related violence were "serious" problems in Nigeria (24 May 2012, 52). In correspondence with the Research Directorate, the Executive Director of the CLEEN Foundation, a Nigeria-based NGO that promotes public safety, accountability, and justice, and that conducts an annual National Crime and Safety Survey in Nigeria, indicated that kidnapping for ransom has become "rampant" in the last decade (CLEEN Foundation 10 July 2014). The CLEEN Foundation's 2013 National Crime and Safety Survey sampled 11,518 Nigerians who were interviewed, and found that nationally, three percent of respondents had been victims of kidnapping or attempted kidnapping (ibid.). According to the survey, the south-west region and Lagos had the highest incidence (five percent), followed by the south-east and south-south (four percent) (ibid.). According to NYA International, a crisis management and response consultancy that assists clients with abduction and kidnapping cases, among others (NYA International n.d.), Nigeria is ranked as the number one country for "kidnap for ransom" incidents, based on open source news reports from the first half of 2014 (ibid. June 2014, 2). Kidnapping is underreported, according to sources (The Economist 14 Sept. 2014; US 9 June 2014; CLEEN Foundation 10 July 2014).

2. Kidnapping for Ransom

The US Department of State's Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) report on Nigeria indicates that kidnapping for ransom occurs throughout the country (US 9 June 2014). Country Reports 2011 reported that kidnappings committed for ransom "increased throughout the country," as well as in the north (ibid. 24 May 2012, 21). In a report written in response to the Research Directorate's request for information, an assistant professor of criminology at the University of Alberta, whose research focuses on kidnapping in Nigeria [1], indicated that kidnapping for ransom has become "fluid, diffuse, unpredictable, and widespread in southern Nigeria" (10 July 2014, 3). Freedom House reports that kidnapping and abductions "continued unabated" in 2013, especially in the Niger Delta, and the south-eastern states of Abia, Imo, and Anambara (2014). OSAC reports that kidnapping by criminal organizations for ransom and economic gain is particularly present in Lagos, Edo, Bayelsa, Delta, and Rivers states (US 9 June 2014). The same source reports that the Lagos metropolitan area saw an "upsurge" in kidnappings in 2013, as did the surrounding states (ibid.). According to the UK government's Nigeria travel advice, the southern part of the country, "even in comparatively safe areas of Lagos," experiences high levels of violent street crime, including kidnappings (UK 27 June 2014). An article published by the Economist states that increased security measures in south-eastern states has pushed gangs west into Lagos, where kidnapping for ransom worsened in 2013 (14 Sept. 2013).

2.1 Targets of Kidnapping for Ransom

Freedom House states that the main targets for kidnapping are political figures, the wealthy, and foreigners (2014). Sources report that the targeting of average or "middle class" Nigerians increased in 2013 (US 9 June 2014; The Economist 14 Sept. 2013), especially in Lagos (ibid.). According to the Executive Director of the CLEEN Foundation, "relatively unknown" citizens have also increasingly been targeted (10 July 2014). The Assistant Professor said that an individual target's "'kidnappability' hinges on the person's social class, economic, cultural and symbolic capital, among others" (10 July 2014, 3). People targeted for ransom kidnapping include:

  • High-profile Nigerians, and their family members (US 9 June 2014; NOPRIN 15 July 2014);
  • Foreign nationals (NYA International June 2014, 4; UK 27 June 2014; US 9 June 2014) and expatriates (ibid.);
  • Wealthy families (VOA 31 Dec. 2012; NOPRIN 15 July 2014), or people with "perceived" wealth (UK 27 June 2014) or "perceived high-value targets" (US 24 May 2012, 7);
  • Politicians (US 24 May 2012, 7; CLEEN Foundation 10 July 2014; Assistant Professor 10 July 2014, 8) and their family members (ibid.; CLEEN Foundation 10 July 2014);
  • Government officials (ibid.);
  • Relatives of celebrities (US 24 May 2012, 7);
  • Businessmen (ibid., 21), foreign businessmen (UK 27 June 2014), or staff of "influential" companies (CLEEN Foundation 10 July 2014);
  • Doctors, teachers, foreign residents (US 24 May 2012, 21);
  • Religious leaders (ibid.; Freedom House 2014).

2.2 Ransom Kidnapping Linked to Political Motives
2.2.1 Northern Nigeria

In the north, kidnappings have been carried out by the Ansaru militant group, a splinter group of Boko Haram (US 9 June 2014; ISS 18 Feb. 2014), as well as by Boko Haram itself (ibid.). A report by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), a not-for-profit organization based in South Africa that aims to "enhance human security" in Africa through independent research, policy analysis and advice (ISS n.d.), indicates that these kidnappings include kidnappings for ransom (ISS 18 Feb. 2014). According to the OSAC report, kidnappings in the north of the country are "typically acts of terrorism" (US 9 June 2014). According to a report by the Jamestown Foundation, kidnapping for ransom is reportedly a "lucrative" source of funding for Boko Haram (Jamestown Foundation 12 May 2014). Reuters quotes the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs as saying that "'[o]ur suspicions are that [Boko Haram is] surviving on very lucrative criminal activities that involve kidnappings'" (Reuters 1 July 2014). In the northeastern regions of Nigeria, Boko Haram has abducted foreign tourists, mid-level government officials, and priests, according to the Jamestown Foundation (Jamestown Foundation 12 May 2014). It has also conducted "mass" kidnappings, as in the April 2014 case where the group abducted more than 250 girls (ibid.; AFP 1 July 2014). Nigerian military reportedly arrested one person in connection with the abductions; a businessman suspected of leading a Boko Haram intelligence cell (ibid.; Reuters 30 June 2014).

2.2.2 The Niger Delta

Militants in the Niger Delta have used kidnappings of oil company workers, including kidnappings for ransom, to demand greater control of the region's resources (Assistant Professor 10 July 2014, 5; US 24 May 2012, 20, 23), or express grievances over issues such as lack of economic development and control of oil revenues (ibid., 23). Sources report that oil and gas workers in the south are the targets of such kidnappings in the Niger Delta region (UK 27 June 2014; ISS 18 Feb. 2014; Assistant Professor 10 July 2014, 5), particularly expatriate oil workers (ibid.). Country Reports 2011 also states that criminals in the Niger Delta also use kidnapping for ransom to "force payment for services such as protection details and voter intimidation during elections" (US 24 May 2012, 23).

Country Reports 2011 indicates that, despite the fact that the government's 2009 amnesty offer to Niger Delta militants was accepted by many groups and has contributed to a decrease in violence, militant groups continued to carry out kidnappings and killings (ibid., 2). However, according to the Executive Director of the CLEEN Foundation, while the militants have been granted amnesty, kidnapping has "persisted as a financially motivated crime" (10 July 2014).

3. "Express" Kidnappings and "Opportunistic" Kidnappings for Ransom

According to the Assistant Professor, "opportunistic" kidnapping in southern Nigeria is "apolitical" and a "sheer business venture" (Assistant Professor 10 July 2014, 6). According to OSAC, "express kidnappings" involve the abduction of victims for a short time in order to obtain a smaller financial benefit and are reportedly occurring with "increasing frequency" (US 9 June 2014). The Assistant Professor described several types of opportunistic kidnappings for ransom:

  • "well-orchestrated" kidnappings that target wealthy individuals and their family members;
  • kidnappings orchestrated by a wealthy victim's own family;
  • "random kidnapping," whereby victims are held until the victim pays, or their family pays for their release (Assistant Professor 10 July 2014, 6-7).

Perpetrators of such kidnappings reportedly include:

  • Criminal gangs (CLEEN Foundation 10 July 2014; US 24 May 2012, 21), sometimes called "cults," which have "extended their reach beyond the core Niger Delta states" (ibid.);
  • Militant groups in the Niger Delta or former militants that feel excluded from the government amnesty program (NOPRIN 15 July 2014);
  • Unemployed youth (Assistant Professor 10 July 2014, 6).

3.1 Treatment of Kidnap Victims

According to the Economist, victims of express kidnappings are "rarely kept for more than a fortnight" and most are freed after paying the ransom (14 Sept. 2014). Sources report on other instances of treatment of kidnap victims by captors, including:

  • Sexual assault (CLEEN Foundation 10 July 2014);
  • Cases of kidnap victims being killed after the payment of ransom (The Guardian 29 June 2014; The Punch 4 June 2014; The Eagle Online 10 Mar. 2014);
  • Wounding and killing of kidnap victims by abductors (US 24 May 2012, 52; US 9 June 2014).

4. Response by Authorities, Including Effectiveness
4.1 Anti-kidnapping Laws

Some states have reportedly implemented anti-kidnapping laws that prescribe long prison sentences and sometimes the death penalty for those who are convicted (Freedom House 2014; US 24 May 2012, 7). Sources report that the following southern states have passed anti-kidnapping laws:

  • Akwa Ibom, Abia, Anambra, and Imo states (AllAfrica 4 Nov. 2013; US 24 May 2012, 7; The Punch 9 Mar. 2013), in 2009 (ibid.);
  • Bayelsa in 2013 (ibid.);
  • Rivers (US 24 May 2012, 7; AllAfrica 4 Nov. 2013);
  • Edo and Enugu (ibid.);
  • Delta (ibid.; NAN 17 Apr. 2013) in 2013 (ibid.);
  • Ondo, as of 2010 (AllAfrica 21 Mar. 2014).

According to US OSAC, criminal groups do not fear prosecution for their crimes (US 9 June 2014). The Nigerian newspaper the Punch reports that according to "political observers," "no meaningful convictions" for kidnapping have been secured by Niger Delta states with laws prescribing capital punishment for kidnapping offences (The Punch 9 Mar. 2013). In an article published by AllAfrica, the governor of Edo stated that the challenge faced is the enforcement of laws on kidnapping (AllAfrica 4 Nov. 2013). Sources report that despite the laws against kidnapping in many southern states, the conviction rate for cases of kidnapping is low (Freedom House 2014; US 24 May 2012, 7).

Sources report that in May 2013, the Lagos state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice made a statement indicating that the Lagos government was ready to prosecute the first group of suspected kidnappers arrested in the state (Lagos 8 May 2013; NAN 2 May 2013) and that 45 police investigators had been trained to improve police investigations into kidnapping (ibid.). In the public statement he stated the cases of kidnapping in the state were being "exaggerated," and advised relatives to report kidnapping to the police instead of paying ransom (ibid.). Further information on prosecutions of kidnappings in Lagos could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

4.2 Police Efforts and Arrests

According to the Assistant Professor, due to the structure of Nigeria's unified policing system, state governors "cannot exercise direct control over the police establishment in their jurisdiction" and therefore rely on the federal government of Nigeria to deploy forces in cases of kidnapping (10 July 2014, 8-9). Country Reports 2011 indicates that the Ministry of Police Affairs announced new measures to address the increasing number of kidnappings, such as community policing, training, equipment, and deployment of specially trained officers to areas with high kidnapping rates (US 24 May 2012, 7-8). However, the report indicates that "the police had operated no known anti-kidnapping or abduction programs by year's end" (ibid., 8).

Voice of America (VOA) reports that in the Niger Delta region, civilian armed groups (called "bakassi") work with government security authorities to reduce crime, including kidnapping; however, such groups reportedly received no formal training, have "little oversight" and have engaged in beatings and demands for money from suspected offenders (31 Dec. 2012). Further information on the use of armed groups to address kidnapping issues could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

The Nigerian online news source THISDAY Live reports on two incidents where suspected kidnappers in Lagos have been attacked and killed by crowds when caught (10 May 2014). Another Nigerian newspaper, the Daily Newswatch, reports on another case where a suspected kidnapper "escaped being lynched" by a "mob" when police officers intervened (6 May 2014). According to THISDAY Live, the Attorney General of Lagos made a public statement warning Lagosians to desist from mob punishment of suspected kidnappers (10 May 2014).

In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a representative of the Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN), a network of 46 civil society organizations in Nigeria that promotes police accountability, documents police abuses, and advocates for legal reform, indicated that the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) state commands have set up anti-kidnapping units to deal with the issue (NOPRIN 15 July 2014). According to the 2012 Annual Report of the Nigeria Police Force, sent to the Research Directorate by a representative of the NPF and attached to this Response, the police reports that the force made 819 arrests for kidnapping during 2012 and rescued 461 kidnapping victims (Nigeria n.d., 11).

Lagos police arrested a gang of 10 kidnappers in July 2013 (The Economist 14 Sept. 2013). The Lagos Special Anti-Robbery Squad also reportedly rescued a British man who had been kidnapped and ransomed for 7.5 million Naira [about C$ 50,000] and arrested one of his kidnappers in July 2013 (National Mirror 23 July 2013). The Eagle Online, a Nigerian newspaper, reported on two major arrests for kidnapping during 2013 by Lagos Special Anti-Roberry Squad: the arrest of eight kidnappers in connection with the kidnapping of the Minister of Finance's mother and the arrest of two gang members that had kidnapped a number of "notable personalities," including a local politician (10 Mar. 2014). Police arrested a group of six people in connection with various kidnap cases in Lagos and Ogun in April 2014, according to the Daily Independent (Apr. 2014). Sources report that the Lagos State police command arrested two or three kidnappers in June 2014, including the leader of a gang suspected of being involved in the ransom kidnap and killing of the former deputy governor of Anambra state (The Punch 4 June 2014; NAN 3 June 2014). Further information on kidnapping arrests made by Lagos police could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

4.3 Effectiveness of State Protection

Freedom House indicates that state authorities, more specifically local government officials and security personnel, are "often" complicit in some kidnappings (2014). Media sources report on a case in which members of the Anti-kidnapping Task Force in Delta State, including the head of the unit, were arrested for involvement in a kidnapping plot (BBC 5 Apr. 2012; The Punch 23 June 2012). According to Nigerian newspaper the Punch, the Chief Superintendent of the task force was arrested, flown to Abuja for questioning, and later released by police due to a lack of evidence (ibid.). A serving councilor in Enegu state was arrested along with nine other suspects for his involvement in ransom kidnapping and murder in Anambra and Enugu states (The Guardian 29 June 2014; The Advocate 1 July 2014).

Sources report that victims and their families often pay the ransom in order to free the kidnapping victim rather than report it to police (VOA 31 Dec. 2012; NOPRIN 15 July 2014). According to the Assistant Professor, family members of kidnap victims may not expect "concise" action from the police and do not report kidnapping, particularly if they are "not among the political or economic elite" (10 July 2014, 9). The Executive Director of the CLEEN Foundation said that while the government claims that it does not negotiate with kidnappers, it will pay ransom to kidnappers in cases where officials or foreigners have been kidnapped (10 July 2014). The NOPRIN representative also indicated that the government has paid ransom when relatives of government officials have been kidnapped (15 July 2014).

According to OSAC, the NPF has a "serious lack of resources," which undermines its effectiveness, and despite a "visible police presence in large cities, police assistance does not have a wide reach" (US 9 June 2014). The Assistant Professor said that there have been reports of police asking victims that report kidnapping to provide vehicles for transportation, or money to buy fuel for police vehicles (10 July 2014, 9). According to OSAC, the NPF does not patrol residential areas, and numerous officers assigned to security detail "routinely ignore any requests for assistance not directly associated with their assignments" (US 9 June 2014).

OSAC explains that "most Nigerians do not perceive the NPF as an effective law enforcement body" (US 9 June 2014). The Assistant Professor expressed the view that the kidnapping of individuals who are not "politically connected may not be a priority" and police actions on kidnapping are, "adhoc, piecemeal, unsystematic" and "not effective" (10 July 2014, 9). The representative of NOPRIN expressed the view that the establishment of anti-kidnapping police units has not resulted in deterrence (15 July 2014).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


[1] The Assistant Professor of criminology has also written a book on kidnappings in Nigeria entitled Criminal Resistance? The Politics of Kidnapping Oil Workers, which was published in 2013.


The Advocate. 1 July 2014. "DSS Nabs Enugu Councilor, 9 Others for Alleged Kidnap, Murder of Ex-Anambra Commissioner." [Accessed 28 July 2014]

Agence France-Presse (AFP). 1 July 2014. "Nigeria Schoolgirls: Police Say First Arrest Made over Kidnapped Students." [Accessed 25 July 2014]

AllAfrica. 21 March 2014. "Three to Hang in Ondo for Killing Girl." (Factiva)

AllAfrica. 4 November 2013. Davidson Iriekpen. "Kidnapping Laws Without Enforcement." (Factiva)

Assistant Professor, University of Alberta. 10 July 2014. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). 5 April 2012. "Members of Nigeria Police Anti-kidnapping Task Force Arrested in Delta State." (Factiva)

CLEEN Foundation. 10 July 2014. Correspondence from the Executive Director to the Research Directorate.

Daily Independent. April 2014. Andrew Utulu. "Six Kidnappers Apprehended in Lagos." [Accessed 18 July 2014]

Daily Newswatch. 6 May 2014. Biodun Akomolafe. "Suspected Kidnappers Arrested in Lagos." [Accessed 22 July 2014]

The Eagle Online. 10 March 2014. Anurika Onyelemelam. "Five Biggest Arrests by Lagos Police Command in 2013." [Accessed 16 July 2014]

The Economist. 14 September 2013. "Kidnapping in Nigeria: A Holy Mess." [Accessed 2 July 2014]

Freedom House. 2014. "Nigeria." Freedom in the World 2014. [Accessed 10 July 2014]

The Guardian [Lagos]. 29 June 2014. Uzoma Nzeagwu. "End of Road for Suspected Kidnappers." [Accessed 24 July 2014]

Institute for Security Studies (ISS). 18 February 2014. Liesl Louw-Vaudran. "Kidnap for Ransom: To Pay or Not to Pay?" [Accessed 22 July 2014]

Institute for Security Studies (ISS). N.d. "How We Work." [Accessed 30 July 2014]

Jamestown Foundation. 12 May 2014. Jacob Zenn. "Boko Haram's Mass-kidnapping in Chibok: Shekau's Gains and Objectives." [Accessed 23 July 2014]

Lagos. 8 May 2013. Ministry of Justice. "Lagos Set to Prosecute Suspected Kidnappers May 16." [Accessed 7 July 2014]

National Mirror. 23 July 2013. Francis Suberu. "How I Was Arrested for Kidnapping a Briton - Suspect." [Accessed 24 July 2014]

Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN). 15 July 2014. Correspondence from a representative to the Research Directorate.

News Agency of Nigeria (NAN). 3 June 2014. "Police Parade Suspected Killers of Former Anambra Deputy Governor." [Accessed 28 July 2014]

News Agency of Nigeria (NAN). News Agency of Nigeria (NAN). 2 May 2013. "Cases of Kidnapping in Lagos Exaggerated - AG." [Accessed 22 July 2014]

News Agency of Nigeria (NAN). 17 April 2013. "Delta Assembly Vetoes Uduaghan, Passes Anti-kidnapping Bill into Law." [Accessed 18 July 2014]

Nigeria. N.d. Nigeria Police Force (NPF). 2012 Annual Report of the Nigeria Police Force. Sent to the Research Directorate by a representative in the Public Relations Office, 18 July 2014.

NYA International. June 2014. Global Kidnap for Ransom Update - June 2014. [Accessed 14 July 2014]

NYA International. N.d. "About NYA International." [Accessed 21 July 2014]

The Punch. 4 June 2014. Olaleye Aluko. "Lagos Police Arrest Suspected Killers of Ex-deputy Gov." [Accessed 28 July 2014]

The Punch. 9 March 2013. Mike Odiegwu Yenagoa. "Fighting Kidnappers with Death Sentence." [Accessed 18 July 2014]

The Punch. 23 June 2012. Emmanuel Addeh. "Tension in Delta as Kidnappers Target Prominent Citizens." [Accessed 23 July 2014]

Reuters. 1 July 2014. Phil Stewart and Lesley Wroughton. "How Boko Haram Is Beating U.S. Efforts to Choke Its Financing." [Accessed 14 July 2014]

Reuters. 30 June 2014. "Nigeria Missing Girls: Troops Arrest Businessman in Connection with Boko Haram Abductions." [Accessed 25 July 2014]

THISDAY Live. 10 May 2014. Shola Oyeyipo. "Lagos Warns Against Growing 'Jungle Justice'." [Accessed 22 July 2014]

United Kingdom (UK). 27 June 2014. Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). "Nigeria Travel Advice." [Accessed 2 July 2014]

United Nations (UN). 15 May 2014. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Kidnapping at the National Level, Number of Police-recorded Offences. [Accessed 2 July 2014]

United States (US). 9 June 2014. Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC). Nigeria 2014 Crime and Safety Report: Lagos. [Accessed 7 July 2014]

United States (US). 24 May 2012. "Nigeria." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011. [Accessed 7 July 2014]

Voice of America (VOA). 31 December 2012. Heather Murdock. "Civilian Armed Groups Fight Crime, Wreak Havoc in Niger Delta." [Accessed 2 July 2014]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Attempts to contact the following individuals and organizations were unsuccessful within the time constraints of this Response: Committee for the Defence of Human Rights in Nigeria; Legal Defence Assistance Project; Nigeria – National Bureau of Statistics, Nigeria Police Force; Nigerian Bar Association; Professor of political science, Federal University of Lafia; Professor of political science, University of Benin; Professor of social science, University of Lagos; Professor of sociology, University of Uyo. The following individuals and organizations could not provide information for this Response: Nigeria – National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons, two officers at Nigeria Police Force Lagos Command.

Internet sites, including: African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum; Amnesty International; Business Day; Civil Liberties Organization Nigeria; Daily Trust;; Human Rights Watch; International Centre for Prevention of Crime; International Crisis Group; IPS News; Lagos State – Directorate of Public Prosecutions, Ministry of Justice, State Judiciary; Legal Defence and Assistance Project Nigeria; The Nation; Nigeria – Attorney General, Human Rights Commission, Ministry of Justice, National Bureau of Statistics; Nigeria Police Watch; Nigeria Watch; Small Arms Survey; United Nations – Integrated Regional Information Networks, Refworld.


Nigeria. N.d. Nigeria Police Force (NPF). "2012 State Commands/Formations Landmarks Achievements." Extract from the 2012 Annual Report of the Nigeria Police Force. Sent to the Research Directorate by a representative in the Public Relations Office, 18 July 2014.