Who Are The Cartels Behind The Prevalent Kidnapping For Ransoms In My Land? – Sanusi Moyi

8 min read


Summary: The kidnapping industry is thriving, with a relatively high number of recorded kidnap cases specifically in the northern region of the country, citizens are beginning to question the capability of the government to handle security challenges. While this is a lucrative business for abductors, it has been able to garner such growth due to several factors such as; the medium of ransom payment which slows down the possibility of tracking beneficiaries’ identities. The proliferation of arms and ammunition through the Nigerian borders coupled with backings from unknown sources have also consequently assisted the growth rate of this crime.


Still on kidnapping; few weeks back I have written an article on the evolution of kidnapping and other violent crimes. Today I would like to deliberate on the underworld criminals who operate from behind the scene but benefit more from this crime.

Organized crime is a category of transnational, national, or local groupings of highly centralized enterprises run by criminals to engage in illegal activity, most commonly for profit. Some criminal organizations, such as terrorist groups, are politically motivated. complex of highly centralized enterprises set up for the purpose of engaging in illegal activities.

Such organizations engage in offenses such as cargo theft, fraud, robbery, kidnapping for ransom, and the demanding of “protection” payments, drug trafficking, migrant smuggling, human trafficking, money laundering, firearms trafficking, illegal gambling, extortion, counterfeit goods, wildlife and cultural property smuggling, and cyber crime etc. Therefore, kidnapping in Nigeria may be at the lower level of kidnapping thus, the local groupings of highly centralized enterprises run by criminals to engage in illegal activity, most commonly for profit, or other motives like political interest etc.

The current excessive kidnapping in Nigeria has portent a serious social unrest among its populace. The country is battling with myriad of crises ranging from the Boko haram terrorist activities, militancy and insurgency, Sea-piracy, farmers/herders’ clashes, Business E-mail Compromises/419, Oil/infrastructures’ vandalism, cattle rustling, arm robbery, kidnapping for ransoms, banditry and sexual violence among others. The number is endless and overwhelmingly, but the one currently trending is the kidnapping for ransoms as it is always violent and deadly in nature. It is the most threaten and scaring crime it affects all the social strata, thus lower, middle or high class. The actors are no longer targeting the expatriates rich, or elites as it was from the beginning. Poor villagers who have little means of livelihood are now becoming victims, all what the actors needed is money and they don’t care how poor or vulnerable is the victim so far, the relations and friends will gather the money to pay for his ransoms. And no threshold for the ransoms; sometimes they may ask for instance, a N20million but at the end after bargaining upon bargaining and realised the victim has no means either through relation to get that amount, they may end up collecting as low as N100,000.

The trends, patterns and methodology, the way and manner this crime is being carried out revealed how organised this crime is. In my previous article titled “the evolution of kidnapping in my country”, I tried to showcase the genesis and how it escalated from the south-south where the militant had used the method as a cheap bargain, abducting staff of multinational companies in exchange for funds citing environmental degradation as a result of oil spillage as reason for their activities. From south-south this illicit activity penetrated to the entire northern region of the country. At first the northcentral and northeast by Boko haram and bandits. Boko-haram used it as a tactic to recruit more members and also a means of bargain with govt and for cheap popularity from the international community. while in the northwest criminals of all kind ventured into this business for nothing but financial gain, looking how lucrative the business is? I only categorised this illicit business as organised crime but due to space, I could not elaborate how organise the crime is? this is what I intend to state in the next few paragraphs.

From the early 2000s to date thousands of victims and billions of funds have been paid as ransoms either by the victims or by their love ones to the actors (the perpetrators) of this heinous act. According to a report by SBM intelligence- an Africa-focused geopolitical research and strategic communications consulting firm, between June 2011 and the end of March 2020, at least $18.34million has been paid to kidnappers as ransom. Another separate report has shown that the proliferation of small arms and ammunitions as factor that fuelled the crimes including kidnapping. This and other issues prompted the govt to close the border with a view to curtailing the spread of crimes in the country.

There may be a reduction in crimes as a result of the measure taken but definitely it has not stopped the crime taken place on the land. The security agencies have failed to stop the escalation of this crime or detect the actual beneficiaries of this crime.

All the criminals captured by the security are not the main actors or players, they only acted as puppets in the hands of the cartels or the main players behind the acting behind the scene.

You will agree with me when you try to observe or analyse the interviews given to the criminals captured as field actors or the perpetrators of these kidnapping. you will agree that they are not the original people behind the action, they were only acting under instructions of unknown or unseen forces. Most of these guys are vulnerable, unemployed youth pushed by poverty. No one of them can afford to buy a single riffle especially the Kalashnikov or AK-47 which cost nothing less than N500,000.00 (five hundred thousand naira) in the black market. In fact, some of them were given the weapons only during the operation and immediately after, they surrender them back to the owners (through the middle men).

Another reason to believe the captured criminals were not the main players instead they are only implementing and acting under instruction, is that for instance, during the interview whenever they were asked how much they collected as ransom for kidnapping a victim, they will tell the security like 2million but when further ask how much you were given as your booty, he will say N30,000, N40,0000 at most 60,000, where are the remaining money? of course it is with the main actors.

WHY IS IT DIFFICULT TO CATCH THE REAL ACTORS? The reasons why it’s difficult to link or arrest the actual beneficiaries are many. Among them are; most of the money paid as ransoms are paid in cash not through the formal financial system hence, truncate the audit trail. again, the funds collect in cash are hardly reintegrated into the financial system therefore, very difficult to trace. Had it been these funds are paid through the financial system, it will be easier by the security to follow the money to the actual beneficiaries through tedious and painstaking analyses. Some reports revealed that after collection from the victims, these funds are then moved to the money exchangers or Bureau De Changes (BDCs) as we normally call them here in Nigeria, and we all know how vulnerable the sector is in laundering funds. Once funds are taken to BDCs operators before you know it the exchangers have mop-up and change the funds into foreign denomination. Thereby, the criminals behind the enterprise may wish to integrate the money into the system without any trace or, alternatively they may keep the funds in their custody having changed the origin from huge number of naira to small but strong dollars which is very easy to carry along.

The tricky issue is that, our BDCs don’t keep records like other financial and designated non-financial institutions in the country. A walk-in customer can freely move into any money exchanger with his Ghana-must-go full of local currency and ask for exchange. And without any customer due diligence or due process, he will collect or receive his change instantaneously without any record or documentation. If they don’t have enough, they call their partners to mop-up from them. This issue is seriously disturbing, and all efforts by the government regulatory agencies especially the Anti corruption, anti money laundering and terrorism financing agencies to bring them onboard remained unsuccessful perhaps, because as claimed by some sectors that majority of these BDCs seeing around are owned by strong men within and outside the Central Bank of Nigeria. Most of the former and current directors in the CBN are alleged to have owned BDC along with other big men within and outside the government realm.

Kidnapping may also be getting more sophisticated and difficult to trace money connected to the crime due to the mode of its operation and ransoms paid. Sometimes in 2019, a certain gang of abductors here in Nigeria demanded N4.5million naira (over USD11,000.00) worth of Bitcoin payments in order to protect their identities and make it harder to trace the transaction.

Furthermore, it is very obvious there is a nexus between Arm proliferation importing through our porous border and the kidnapping for ransoms. No wonder kidnapping and banditry sustained even after the government have closed the land borders, simply to curtail the spread of these small arms importing from war zone countries like Yemen, Syria, Sudan and Libya through Chad, Cameroun and Niger down to the border towns in the northern part of the country. The closure has met with stiff resistance from oppositions, the poor citizens and some elites. I could remember even the sultan of Sokoto Alh Sa’adu Abubakar had spoken about the closure knowing that Mr. president closed the border with a good intent.

Even after the closure of the border these small arms and other contrabands including rice and motor vehicles have continued to find their ways into the hinterland through these vast and porous borders like Kamba, Dole-kaina, Illela, Maje, Kangiwa, Maiyama, Baro Mai’adua, Maigatari, Machina, Babura and Kamba borders etc. situated in Kebbi, Sokoto, Katsina, Jigawa and Yobe states. The escalation of smuggling activities even after the closure was as a result of sabotage and connivance between the traders and some unscrupulous and bad-eggs among security operatives working along the borders. A friend had one time showed me pictures of these saboteurs and how they manoeuvred and smuggled contrabands using local canoes full of contrabands including motor vehicles, petroleum products, frozen chickens, foodstuffs, vegetable/palm oils, pharmaceuticals/psychotropic substances etc. Other pictures showed smugglers using tens of motor bikes and beasts to smuggle these contrabands. Who knows whether arms and ammunitions are being concealed in those items? In fact, there are many instances where the security operatives showcased some arrested bandits with these smuggled weapons concealed in motor bicycles, donkeys and camels.

Back to the subject of discussion, who are the cartel? For now, only time will tell who are the powerbrokers behind this sordid crime, but from the modes, trends and patterns of operation, the tricks, the weapons and arrest of the field actors who are mainly poor and unemployed youth that end up with as little as N30,000 after operation of million naira as their shares, it is apparent that there are some powerful forces behind it. It is high time for the security operatives to redouble their efforts by using everything at their disposals to unearth the actual sponsors, the financiers, facilitators, collaborators, and accomplices of this horrendous crime.

They should also employ the use of new technological innovation to curb and tackle all violent crimes. There are now many GPS-enabled devices on the market that may help in tracking the hideout of these criminals, and tracing the phones they usually used to negotiate ransoms with victims’ relations. New technology and digital tools are now being adopted by different countries to curb menaces of all societal ills including corruption, money laundering and violent crimes such as terrorism and kidnapping for ransoms etc. As I mentioned in one of my writings, the Evolution of Kidnapping, “the current measure adopted by the minister of communication, Doctor Isa Ali Pantami for all network subscribers to provide valid National Identification Number (NIN) to update SIM registration records is in the right direction as this will in no small measure reduce the use of unregistered SIM card to perpetrate crimes in the country”.

Those arrested for committing such offence be rigorously grilled and interviewed; citizens should also to assist by providing useful information that may lead to the arrest, confiscation of assets and prosecution of the real actors so as to serve as deterrent to others. If not, this problem may escalate beyond our imagination; it may become as deadly as Boko-haram or even worst. As BH only operates in the North-eastern part of the country while, kidnapping has engulfed the whole country thus, from South west through south-south up to the south east; and from the Northeast through northcentral down to the Northwest, nowhere is safe.

May almighty God protect and guide us from the clutch of these unrepented criminals.

God bless Nigeria.


Key Recommendations: To prevent and combat all violent crimes, such as kidnapping, security forces should employ the use of modern technologies. Security agencies can use GPS-enabled devices to monitor criminals’ hideouts through cell phones used to negotiate ransoms with victims’ relations.


About the Author: Sanusi Moyi is an anti-money laundering expert. He writes from Abuja.

Keywords: Kidnapping, Ransom, Organised crimes, Abduction, Arms and ammunition

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