Kidnapping has become a growth industry in Nigeria. Below I will lay out the broad manner of things a layman can do to prepare themselves for entering a high risk kidnap and ransom area.
Its spread, risk and consequences follow clear lines and are broadly geographically specific. Nigeria is broken into 32 states and 6 unofficial regions/ groupings of states
In the States of the Niger Delta, known as the South-South (Bayelsa, Rivers, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Edo and Delta States) kidnapping began as a protest tactic against environmental degradation and what the militants perceived to be unfair resource distribution. This soon evolved into kidnap for ransom to fund the insurgency and then profit.
Kidnapping in the south eastern states (Imo, Abia, Enugu, Ebonyi and Anambra States) evolved directly from the Niger Delta insurgency as the business model of kidnap for ransom was taken and extrapolated to not just include wealthy expatriates but wealthy Nigerians and soon even the lower middle class, their children or relatives.
Northern Nigeria has seen an upsurge in kidnapping that has followed a distinct pattern that is similar to that of the south-south and south east. Kidnappings were used by Islamic insurgents Boko Haram to obtain slave labour, forced converts/ brides and then evolved to reprisal hostage taking and kidnap for ransom again targeting mostly the professional classes. The limited number of expatriates kidnapped or attacked have tended have led to fatalities in all but one case.
South West: kidnapping presents less of a trend and more of an opportunistic crime, with victims either lured through scams, personal issues or lapses in personal security. Again the overwhelming majority of the victims are Nigerians. Many cases of kidnapping of expatriates in the South West have been through advance fee fraudsters taking greedy individuals who have come for their share of the loot hostage and extracting funds from their families and loved ones. The embarrassment of being a victim (or mugu in Nigerian parlance) means this is a particularly under reported crime
It must be emphasised that although there are regional trends in kidnapping these vary state to state and within states; area to area. In the South South where the kidnapping of foreigners turned into a cottage industry, Europeans and Asians still move about freely without any security, use public transport and interact freely. This however changes depending on which state, city, part of the city etc.
Thus the ultimate maxim in terms of travel to Nigeria is ‘be prepared’. Particularly for business travellers.
There are 3 key facts to initially bear in mind;
1) Don’t get kidnapped!
2) Have a plan for everything
3) If you are kidnapped you have a value, it is in everyone’s interest to keep you alive but it is in your interest to keep yourself intact and unharmed.
Don’t get kidnapped! is easier said than done right? Wrong! Kidnappers like most people will follow the path of least resistance. If they have to choose a victim they will select an easy one, so simply make yourself a hard target
Rules to avoid kidnap
Knowledge: know where you are, know where you are going. Situational awareness is key. If being driven, know the route, know the driver! Know the vulnerable points, have an alternative route. Always know the where a buildings exits are, park in such a way as to be able to drive away quickly, if going in a group ensure the group is briefed on the escape plan. Know who you are meeting.
Staff: the biggest threats to personal security are domestic staff, drivers, secretaries and receptionists. Every single one of these has knowledge of your future movements, habits, patterns and idiosyncrasies. Servitude seems to come with added invisibility as most people speak with an utterly shocking lack of discretion in the presence of maids and drivers etc. Anyone one of them could inadvertently or voluntarily pass along this information. It is important to thoroughly vet your staff with reliable referees who you keep in regular touch with. Do not discuss anything important in front of your domestic staff.
Routines: modern life means that we set patterns, regular opening times at work, the gym, favourite restaurant, school drop off and pick up, hairdresser etc. Sometimes these are unavoidable but sufficient variations can be introduced to a routine to deny a potential kidnapper with a predictable blueprint of your life
Situational awareness: have a good idea of your surroundings and things that happen in your area. If garbage collection day is Monday why is there a garbage truck there on a Wednesday? Be aware of who is a regular on your route to work and what people are usually doing.
Blend in: admittedly this is difficult for a European or Asian (or even an African who has spent a long time abroad) in Africa, however it is relatively easy to tell a street smart European who is comfortable in his surroundings and what Nigeria’s would refer to as a JJC (Johnny Just Come). Driving around in flashy cars, wearing expensive clothes and jewellery and maintaining a high maintenance lifestyle will do half of a kidnappers work for them. As much as possible avoid an ostentatious lifestyle, even if it doesn’t dissuade the kidnappers completely it will reduce your ransom if they are successful
Technology: there are many items of consumer electronics such as mobile phones as well as bespoke products which can aid in preventing a kidnapping. Nowadays they are quite cheap and easy to conceal.
Security: avoid giving out details to strangers, ensure your home or office has good security lighting and everything from the landscaping to the parking is optimised from a security point of view. If coming into the airport have a meet and greet service. Ensure a reputable company is driving you around and if you have escorts ensure they are properly trained and equipped.
Have a plan for everything: have a contingency plan for a wide range of scenarios, including for a successful kidnap. If you are just taking a journey it is again important to know your route, identify vulnerable points and have pre prepared counter measures. Ensure there is a layout set of procedures of what to do if you are kidnapped, who to contact etc.
Stages of Kidnap
Surveillance: depending on the kidnappers and their target this could be as involved as sustained static and mobile surveillance of the target over several weeks; noting routes and routines etc or simply identifying a dark bend in the road where it is easy to stop cars and snatch the passengers.
It is important if you are a high net worth individual or work for a company that could be induced to pay a ransom that you are surveillance aware and take appropriate counter surveillance measures.
Abduction: the actual act of taking a person hostage depends on shock, fear of harm to them or loved ones and speed on the part of the kidnappers.
What can be described as kinetic and non kinetic methods are used
- Kinetic kidnapping: involves the actual use of weapons aggressively and I’d further break down into hasty and deliberate
- Hasty involves picking a victim at random, a target of opportunity in the wrong place at the wrong time who fits their criteria for a victim
- Deliberate would have involved a much more involved build up thus they will attack either at the persons house, business or along a regular route
- The kidnappers use violence, weapons or the threat of violence to intimidate a victim into cooperation. However the abduction particularly if it is in a public place is as dangerous for them as it is for you. It is important that the victim takes as much of an opportunity to either escape or cause sufficient disturbance to attract the attention of passersby, even if they do not intervene directly they could notify the authorities.
- Non kinetic kidnapping: the kidnappers use non directly violent various methods
- Appointments: an individual will come to the victims home or office for a meeting and in the course of the discussion use weapons or intimidation to compel the victim to follow them
- Intoxication: in this case a victims food or drink is drugged with sedatives or date rape drugs enabling the kidnappers to lead them away with limited resistance
- Honeypot: a time tested method in which a man or woman is lured to a spot by the attentions of an admirer. This works both face to face as well as via social media and dating websites
- Blackmail: in which the kidnappers will gain an audience with the victim and show sufficient evidence such as photographs etc to convince the victims their loved ones are at risk unless they cooperate
Transportation: the kidnappers will have to transport the victim from the place of abduction to the hideout, during this period they will still be trying to intimidate the victim with violence, weapons, threats and possibly drugs. You will most likely be blindfolded and put in an inconvenient position such as the floor or boot of a vehicle. It is important during this point to not resist excessively as the kidnappers are still vulnerable to interdiction and are more likely to use excessive violence to get your cooperation. You will most likely be separated from your phone not just to prevent you from calling for help but to allow them to gain information about you and identify who to call.
Captivity: during this stage the kidnappers are looking to intimidate you into submission and make contact to get the ransom. Threats of violence will continue thus it is important to not resist and to cooperate. Do not volunteer information but answer questions as honestly as possible. ~This is not easy and needs a prior plan/ practice. If it is a political kidnapping do not take askance with their cause just listen attentively and find points of agreement. Eat and drink all that is offered. Exercise as much as possible both physically and mentally. This period is extremely traumatic due to fear, worry and helplessness. It is important not to give in to despair or develop Stockholm syndrome where you begin to identify with the kidnappers. Establish rapport with the kidnappers, sports (particularly football in Africa) is exceptionally popular, simply asking to be kept abreast of football scores, is an opening, if its for a kidnappers team then there is common ground, if it’s a rival then there is banter. It is important when finding topics to establish rapport you avoid giving information that will benefit the kidnappers
Negotiation: This can begin during the transport phase or several months into captivity. However you must recognise that your presence represents a serious cost to the kidnappers as they must feed you and themselves, secure the location 24 hours a day, extract sufficient money and escape alive and free. Thus if operating in a high risk area have a definite kidnap negotiation plan. Have a team ready to react and conduct negotiations, ensure they do not pay out without proof of life and are able to not only get the kidnappers to return the victim but believe that there is no more commercial value in the victim
Trade/ Hand Over: the kidnappers will attempt to get funds in a variety of ways from bank transfer, cash. If cash the hand over person has to be honest, tough and reliable
Release: hopefully involves an unharmed victim going back to their loved ones.
Rescue: there is the added consideration of a rescue attempt. Rescue attempts are extremely risky and have limited guarantee of success no matter how highly trained the rescuers as the case of Linda Norgrove in Afghanistan demonstrates. However a rescue could still be attempted. It is important that you identify a place to hide where there is better protection from bullets or explosions. If this is not the case lie flat on the floor protecting vital organs. If the rescuers come for you obey them, do not make sudden moves and identify yourself as soon as possible. You could still be handcuffed and rough handled however remain calm, obey orders and identify yourself at every opportune moment as the victim
Post release: kidnapping is extremely traumatic with different responses and triggers for different people, the loss of control, humiliation and fear can lead to post traumatic stress, depression etc. It is important that not only are physical issues such as injury, dehydration and malnutrition dealt with but mental issues. Do not be hesitant to visit a counsellor or psychiatrist, it is also important to include loved ones in this such as spouses and children as they will be just as traumatised as the victim.
It is also important to conduct post kidnapping analysis. Have professionals attempt to track the ransom funds and more importantly identify the vulnerability that led to the kidnap in the first place. The follow up can possibly lead to the capture and successful prosecution of the criminals and prevent a reoccurrence
The most important thing to be aware of is that with proper training and preparation a traveller can have a safe, enjoyable trip and enjoy the beauty of Nigeria and its people