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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

How to stop the kidnapping epidemic in Nigeria

How to stop the kidnapping epidemic in Nigeria

By Farooq A. Kperogi

In the last few weeks, kidnapping in Nigeria has escalated into such a terrifyingly contagious national epidemic that it’s now difficult to keep up with its spread and malignancy. When I decided to dedicate this week’s column to this phenomenon, I kept a record of the abductions that had been reported in the news media. I noted their similarities, differences, levels of severity, and drew parallels with the historical data at my disposal.

I gave up. It was not just simply overwhelming; it kept expanding beyond the bounds of normality. What has become apparent to me is that kidnapping has replaced armed robbery as the crime of choice by outlaws.

News stories of armed robberies are now few and far between. Criminals have found gold in kidnapping. It’s a relatively low-risk, minimal-effort, but high-reward crime.

Even the Federal Capital Territory, hitherto the oasis of safety in a national desert of insecurity, is now the theater of some of the most frighteningly lethal abductions.

Kidnapping isn’t new, of course. It has been with us since independence. And, although Abuja had been a sanctuary, it hadn’t been entirely immune from the plague of kidnappings. In September 2019, for example, the daughter of Dr. Umar Ardo, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s cousin and special adviser, was kidnapped in the heart of Abuja and was released only after a $15 million ransom was paid in bitcoin, according to PM News.

In the same month, a Nigerian-American professor of political science who retired from a university in Mississippi and relocated to Abuja was kidnapped in downtown Abuja and wasn’t released until he paid an N8.5 million ransom. There had been several other unacknowledged abductions in Abuja before now.

But the scale, frequency, and magnitude of abductions we have been seeing lately are unprecedented, and this poses significant challenges to Nigeria’s security, economy, and societal fabric. The complexity of the kidnapping syndicates, the vastness of the Nigerian terrain, and the often-sophisticated methods employed by these criminals necessitate an innovative approach to combating this menace—if the government is truly interested in containing it, that is.

Fortunately, it appears the government is interested in finding solutions to this troubling challenge to peace and national stability, especially because it’s now getting uncomfortably close to the seat of power.

Defense Minister Mohammed Badaru told Arise TV that abductions have skyrocketed in the FCT because kidnappers from the adjoining states of Niger and Kaduna are fleeing the scorched-earth policy of security agents against them, but that “the president has given us the marching forward [sic] and all the support that the security agencies need to end this thing.”

Badaru was saying, in other words, that security forces in Kaduna and Niger aren’t stopping bandits; they are merely scaring them away from their snug hideouts to the FCT. That is not reassuring. Well, if the government truly wants to confront and reverse the menace of kidnapping, there are at least two low-hanging fruits they can pluck.

One of the most promising technologies to tackle kidnapping is geotagging. Geotagging refers to the process of adding geographical identification metadata to various media. It can be used to locate the phones used for ransom negotiations.

Unfortunately, Dr. Isa Ali Pantami, Nigeria’s former minister of communication who bills himself as a cybersecurity expert and who should lead efforts to use technology to locate kidnappers, chose to lead crowdfunding efforts for ransom payment for some victims of kidnapping. While I appreciate the compassion that drives the effort, how many more people can we crowdfund for to pay ransoms?

True cyber security experts tell us that each time a kidnapper uses a phone to communicate, the device connects to nearby cell towers, which leaves a digital footprint. Modern smartphones, often used by kidnappers, have built-in GPS capabilities, which further enhances the accuracy of location tracking. Geotagging utilizes this data to pinpoint the location of the phone.

Many countries have used this method to locate, apprehend, and eliminate kidnapping rings. For example, in Colombia, a country once notorious for kidnappings, security agencies have successfully employed geotagging. In one notable case, Colombian authorities tracked the mobile phone of a kidnapper using geotagging, leading them directly to the hideout and facilitating a successful rescue operation.

Mexico’s adoption of advanced geotagging techniques in collaboration with the United States has led to several high-profile successes. The technology was pivotal in dismantling a notorious kidnapping ring in Mexico City. This shows the potential of cross-border technological cooperation, and Nigeria can replicate that with its neighbors.

Of course, for Nigeria to effectively employ geotagging, there is a need for significant investment in technological infrastructure. This includes the upgrading of cell tower networks for better coverage and accuracy, and the integration of advanced software for real-time tracking.

Security agencies must be trained in the nuances of geotagging technology. This includes understanding the legal and ethical implications of tracking and developing the technical expertise to analyze and act upon the data gathered.

Collaboration with international agencies experienced in dealing with kidnappings can provide Nigerian authorities with the necessary technological and strategic support. Sharing of best practices and intelligence can enhance the effectiveness of the geotagging approach.

The use of geotagging in combating kidnapping in Nigeria offers a ray of hope in a seemingly relentless struggle. While technological solutions like geotagging are not panaceas, they are critical tools in the arsenal against kidnapping. The successful implementation of geotagging, complemented by infrastructural improvements, capacity building, international collaboration, and legal safeguards, can significantly bolster Nigeria’s fight against this scourge. As kidnapping continues to evolve, so must the strategies.

Another low-hanging fruit in the fight against kidnapping is to trace the trail of the ransom given to kidnappers. A security analyst by the name of Kabir Adamu told the TVC recently that most ransom payments aren’t executed through cash, and that banks are complicit in lubricating the “business” of abductions.

“I will shock you today to tell you that, in almost all the cases we investigated, the ransoms paid to bandits are through our banks,” Adamu said. “I say this with all sense of responsibility. In almost all, it’s very few that cash is collected and taken to these guys. They are so brazen and bold that they provide account numbers. And two banks are guilty; I’m not going to mention the names of the banks. But of course, if the security agencies are interested, I will be happy and willing to provide it to them. And that is if they don’t already know.”

This is not new news to me. In an October 23, 2021, column titled “Sponsors of Nigeria’s Terrorist Bandits,” I called attention to Daily Trust’s July 28, 2021, story titled “Kidnappers in FCT Begin Collection of Ransom Through Banks” where we read of a Mrs. Aminat Adewuyi who was kidnapped in Niger State and paid money to an account the kidnappers provided.

“The ransom payment slip, a copy of which was obtained by Daily Trust showed that Adewuyi’s husband paid N500,000 into an Access Bank account with number 1403762272 and the name Badawi Abba Enterprise,” the paper reported.

The column went viral, but nothing was done about the identity of Badawi Abba Enterprise to this day. It’s one of several examples. Was it incompetence or complicity on the part of the Buhari government that it knew the identity of kidnappers but refused to do anything about it? Will the Tinubu government be different this time?

Farooq A. Kperogi, How to stop, Kidnapping epidemic, Nigeria, Geotagging, Ransom tracing
Farooq Adamu Kperogi is a Nigerian-American professor, author, media scholar, newspaper columnist, blogger and activist.



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