The Origin of Kidnapping in Nigeria


Kidnapping in Nigeria has become a source of major concern. From a ‘minor’ angst in the Niger Delta to becoming a country-wide menace, kidnapping has been at the fore of Nigeria’s main security problem. It is a known fact that the origin of kidnapping is from the Southern part of Nigeria.

Over time, cattle rustlers, herdsmen, non-militia groups, cultists, lovers, young men and women have come to embrace kidnapping as a get rich quick scheme in order to find a alleviate their financial status. The kidnapping of all manner of persons has gained ascendancy in Nigeria. A malady previously unknown to the people has rapidly become domesticated and widely embraced.

In the last ten years, the volatile oil-rich regions of the Niger Delta witnessed this phenomenon on a large scale with the target being mostly expatriates and Nigerians in the oil business. It has spread throughout the country extending to places as far as Kano and Kaduna in the far Northern part of Nigeria. The South-East and South-South Nigeria have become known as the kidnappers’ playgrounds of Nigeria.

The current security challenge in the country is better understood against existing evidence that even government officials and traditional rulers are not spared. Kidnappings are targeted at the executive, legislative, and the judicial branch of the government, and also their family members in spite of the tight security at their disposal.

This has led to some of these officials relocating their families outside the geopolitical zone or outside the country, thereby leaving the civilian population at the mercy of the marauding gangs. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Abuja, and Lagos; that were once regarded as insecure states, are now destinations of choice for many, and Ghana, for those that can afford it.

This post talks about the origin of kidnapping in Nigeria.

Origin of Kidnapping in Nigeria

Kidnapping started in Nigeria in 2016 when Niger Delta militants took expatriates working in oil companies as hostages, in order to register their angst and protest the inequality in the Niger Delta region. The essence of the kidnap was to remind the Nigerian government that the country was developed at the expense of the Niger Delta region, which was the country’s cash cow and its people and land were neglected. The action which started from the kidnapping of government expatriates later moved to men of God (pastors) and their children, Nigerian politicians and their children.

Pictured: Ian Squire, British, kidnapped by Niger Militants on October 13, 2013, who allegedly died in captivity due to Asthma attack.

Virtually, all of the kidnappings in that occurred in 2014 were in the south-east and Niger Delta regions, which habour Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry. Most of the hostages are released unharmed after payment of ransom. South-Eastern Nigeria (Abia State) in particular had most incidents with 110 people taken hostage; all of them have been released while police have arrested 70 suspects in connection with the kidnapping. Gangs have taken advantage of the breakdown in law and order to target any high profile expatriate or Nigerian that could provide them with a large ransom.

The action of 2016 changed the landscape of kidnapping perception in Nigeria drastically and less-privileged Nigerians who were desperate to make quick money embraced it as a quick rich scheme. It has gone ahead to become a national menace today.

Kidnapping Timeline in Nigeria

Below is the kidnapping timeline in Nigeria, more particularly, selected cases of Niger Delta liberation fights, from 2003 to 2006


Troops were sent to the oilfields amid clashes between rival Ijaw and Itsekiri groups. Around 30 people died.
April: militants seized four Niger Delta oil rigs, taking some 270 people hostage, 97 of them were foreigners.

After negotiations, the hostages were released.


Five Nigerians and two Americans working for Chevron and Texaco were killed by pirates in the Niger Delta. Fighting between groups seeking to control the oilfields left some 500 people dead in Port Harcourt and surrounding regions, according to Amnesty International.
October: the groups reached a ceasefire agreement.


Six oil workers including two Germans were kidnapped and freed three days later.


January: Separatist gunmen kidnapped four foreign oil workers and blew up a pipeline feeding an export terminal. Five days later, gunmen shot dead several troops and attacked a Shell oil plant. The four foreigners; an American, a Briton, a Bulgarian and a Hungarian were freed at the end of the month, but the group threatened to take further hostages.

February: An armoured government helicopter was brought in to fire on barges being used to smuggle oil near a separatist militant base. Militants stroke back later, firing on the aircraft. Separatists kidnapped nine foreigners – three Americans, one Briton, two Egyptians, two Thais and a Filipino working for a Shell subcontractor. The attack forced Shell to suspend exports from a major terminal. Six of the hostages were freed after a week, but the other three were held until late in March.

April: The US firm Exxon Mobil briefly evacuated non-essential staffers from its Nigerian oil installations due to fear of an attack by militants. At the end of the month, separatist’s militants used a car bomb to attack oil tanker trucks, and warn China not to invest in the Nigerian oil industry.

May: Nine officials for the Italian Petrol company Eni SpA were killed when armed members of MEND attacked Eni SpA’s security forces in Port Harcourt. MEND militants briefly occupied and robbed a bank near the Eni SpA base.

May: Three foreign oil workers, one of them was an Italian, were seized but released after a day. A Nigerian court ordered Shell to pay 1.5 billion dollars in compensation to the Ijaw people of the Niger Delta for environmental damage, but the company said it is appealing the ruling.

May 10: An executive with the United States-based oil company, Baker Hughes, was shot and killed in the city of Port Harcourt. At the time of the shooting, it was not immediately known if MEND had any involvement or not. Witnesses said the attacker appeared to be specifically targeting the American executive.

June 2: Militants abducted six Britons, an American and a Canadian from a Norwegian-run drilling rig off the coast of Bayelsa State.

June 20: Two Filipinos, workers of PGF Explorations Limited, an oil servicing Contract Company to Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), were on a Tuesday kidnapped by unknown gunmen at P. W. J Jetty in Port Harcourt.

August 20: Ten members of MEND were killed by the Nigerian military. The members were working on releasing a Royal Dutch Shell hostage.

October 2: Ten Nigerian soldiers were killed off the shore of the Niger Delta in their patrol boat by a MEND mortar shell. Earlier that day a Nigerian/Royal Dutch Shell convoy was attacked on in the Port Harcourt region resulting to some of them getting wounded.

November 20: Two former militants were killed in a raid by an unidentified armed group at the premises of a nongovernmental organization AAPW (Academic Associates Peace Works) in Port Harcourt.

November 27: A British oil worker, kidnapped with six others from a Saipem Oil Rig was killed in crossfire when the kidnappers ran into a Navy patrol later in the day of the abduction.

In December 2009, the then Police Affairs Minister disclosed that 512 cases of kidnapping had been recorded from January 2008 to June 2009 against 353 recorded in 2008.

Rundown of the statistics indicates that Abia State led the pack with a total of 110 kidnapping incidents: Imo: 58,109 arrests, 41 prosecutions and one is dead, Delta recorded 44 kidnap cases, 43 releases, 27 arrests, 31 prosecuted and one death, and Akwa Ibom recorded 40 kidnap cases, 418 arrests and 11 prosecutions .

The report added that between July/September 2008 and July 2009, over 600 million was lost to kidnappers. But beyond statistics being available, it is a known fact the most kidnap cases are never reported to the police authority for the fear of murder of the victims hence most families prefer to pay ransom to losing one of its own. For instance, in Kano, N80 million ransom was allegedly paid to kidnappers for the release of Kano -base multi-millionaire businessman, without recourse to the police authorities; an industrialist in Nnewi paid 70 million to regain his freedom from his captors; another multi-millionaire businessman was kidnapped and released after he allegedly paid a ransom without recourse from the police.

A decade later, kidnapping shows no sign of slowing down in Nigeria. More than ever, religious leaders and their members are prime targets, alongside family members of celebrities. Celebrities such as Mikel Obi, Samson Siasia and a host of other big names in Nigeria have had a family member kidnapped all because of quick money.

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