- Evolution and Socio-Political Economy of Ransoming in Nigeria since the Late Twentieth Century
Introduction: Conceptualizing “Ransoming” in the Nigerian Context
The idea of “ransoming” is not completely strange to Nigerians; what seems quite novel is its new meaning. Indeed, the coalescence of the realities of this “new meaning” makes for a better understanding of why Nigeria was listed as the eighth among ten most affected countries by “economic kidnapping” in 1999.1 Economic kidnapping are those with economic motivations, only realizable through ransoming. A decade later, as the spate of kidnapping for ransom intensified, the country became one of the “kidnapping capitals of the world.”2 It was also listed by the Control Risks Group, an independent, global risk consultancy, as the world’s number one kidnapping hotspot in 2010.3 Indeed, may be more than anywhere else in the world since the late twentieth century, the phenomenon of kidnapping for ransom has become a vibrantly lucrative industry in Nigeria. An important clarification about ransoming in modern Nigeria is that it goes hand-in-glove with kidnapping and hostage-taking. However, it is noteworthy that though this kind of relationship exists, these phenomena are not always directly related.
For the purposes of our present discussion, ransoming is defined as the demand of some payment of sort, either in cash or kind, in exchange for an abductee, either a person or something, often held in disadvantaged position. While it is habitually a further step of initial crime(s), usually kidnapping and hostage-taking, it is the act that often reveals the underlying motives behind the tripartite crime saga. Three factors are important in understandding the ransoming act: (1) abduction, often by force (2) making demand(s), and (3) payment for demand(s) made, if “successful.” Correspondingly, three respective parties are involved: the abductee(s), the abductor(s), and the ransom payer(s). In addition, one or more of three motives, political, [End Page 185] ideological or financial, often underlie ransoming. While in reality financial motives may be conveniently masked by other factors, the money from ransoms, if the ransom act is successful, may be used to fund political and/or ideological activities. Thus, all too often the lines between different motives are blurred and/or interlinked.4
Two contending perspectives exist regarding ransoming in Nigeria. On the one hand, it is perceived as an instrument for or a form of “coercive diplomacy” – something that is used to compel the other party/parties to accept or take a given course of action in a given political situation. It can be said to be a form of “legitimate behavior” especially where it is used as a last resort, that is, when all other diplomatic avenues and strategies have been explored without success. Indeed, this was the opinion of many sympathizers of the Niger Delta youth insurgency in Nigeria.5 Another school of thought, on the other hand, sees it, in whatever guise, as a wholly criminal activity in which criminal perpetrators seek to gain undue advantage in a given circumstance. In other words, whether it is used as a form of coercive diplomacy or employed for pecuniary gains, this perspective considers it unacceptable and condemnable.6 The purpose of this paper is two-fold. The first, on the one hand, is to critically examine and present the historical contexts out of which ransoming emerged and proliferated in late 20th century Nigeria. On the other hand, the second is to identify and examine the social, political and economic contingencies that affected it.
Background to the late Twentieth Century
Over the past fifty years since independence (1960), Nigeria has drawn over $600 billion from its oil revenue.7 It has also received over $400 billion in foreign aid.8 These have, unfortunately, not translated into social and economic prosperity for millions of its citizens. Rather, the country, in spite of the immense human and mineral endowments, is in deep poverty, largely due to systemic corruption. The Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) of the mid-1980s, based on stringent conditions that were dictated by the Bretton Woods institutions, also created serious social and economic crisis and exacerbated the conditions of poverty in Nigeria...