Despite warnings by the Federal Government against crowd-funding for ransoms, the practice has continued to gain ground with the abductees and their families raising funds from relatives, friends, and social media to secure the release of kidnapped victims.
Families of abductees told The PUNCH on Sunday that they disregarded the government’s warning because they feared the victims might be killed or harmed if they failed to pay the ransom.
In Ekiti State, pupils and teachers of Apostolic Faith Group of Schools, Emure Ekiti, who were abducted last week, regained their freedom in the early hours of Sunday.
Some parents and other relatives of the victims, who spoke to The PUNCH, said the kidnappers freed the abductees after collecting N15m and other items including fried rice, malt drinks, energy drinks, and cigarettes.
Although the Proprietor of the school, Gabriel Adesanya, confirmed to one of our correspondents that a ransom was paid, he did not specify the actual amount paid.
In reaction to the wave of abductions in Abuja, Kaduna, Lagos, and many other states, the Minister of Defence, Abubakar Badaru, had a few weeks ago warned relatives of kidnapped victims against engaging in crowd-funding and paying ransom to kidnappers.
The minister, who spoke after a meeting between President Bola Tinubu and the service chiefs at the Presidential Villa, admitted that the kidnapping was high within the Federal Capital Territory area councils.
Reacting to the issue of crowd-funding to pay ransom, Badaru said, “We all know that there is an existing law against the payment of ransom. So, it is very sad for people to go over the internet and radio asking for donations to pay ransom.’’
The Nigeria Police Force had similarly admonished Nigerians against crowd-funding for ransom, especially on social media.
The Delta State Police Public Relations Officer, Bright Edafe, in a post via his official X handle on January 2, described it as criminal and warned Nigerians against the practice.
“Crowd-funding for ransom payment is criminal. It’s dangerous and should not be encouraged. Let’s stop making kidnapping a thriving and lucrative business in Nigeria. This tweet is deeper than you think. It’s not about dragging me or the police. We seriously need to discourage this,” Edafe posted.
The Force Public Relations Officer, Muyiwa Adejobi, also said the practice undermined security and contributed to the abduction spree in the country.
In an interview with Channels TV on February 1, Adejobi pointed out that ransom payment was a crime in Nigeria.
“It got to a stage where somebody did crowd-funding on social media; this will not help us in any way. It is criminal. It is not allowed. It is condemned. Even the Federal Government condemned it. Crowd-funding is not allowed,” he said.
Families justify payment
However, the families of abductees justified the act, stating that they paid ransoms to secure the lives of their loved ones.
Confirming that he raised funds through crowd-funding to secure his release, a kidnapped victim in Zamfara State who gave his name as Mohammed Shehu, told The PUNCH on Sunday that he was asked by bandits to pay N20m ransom but the amount was later reduced to N10m.
Shehu, an indigene of Magami town of the Gusau Local Government Area in Zamfara State, said he sold his house and other valuables but could only raise N5.3m, adding that his family and friends had to look for the remaining balance of N4.7m to get his freedom.
According to him, his family members and other people had to contribute to make sure that the amount was paid, as the bandits gave a seven-day ultimatum.
He said, “When I was kidnapped on the Gusau-Sokoto road and taken to the forest, the bandits leader reached out to my family and told them to pay N20m as ransom. However, after the negotiation, the amount was reduced to N10m.
“I told the family to sell off my house and other things so that they could raise the amount and pay because I was being punished by the kidnappers. After the sale of my house and other valuables, the sum of N5.3m was realised and taken to the bandits, but they insisted that the balance of N4.7m must be paid or they would kill me.
“My family members had to go begging to get the money and that was how I was released by the bandits.”
Many Katsina victims and their families explained how ransoms were raised to get their freedom from kidnappers.
They revealed that families, friends, colleagues, and top government officials contributed to raising the ransoms demanded by their captors before they were released.
Colleagues raise funds
A retired top official of the National Broadcast Commission said members of his family, the traditional ruler in his area as well as colleagues contributed the ransom that was paid to his captors to ensure his release and that of his daughter.
The retired officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said, “Bandits kidnapped my daughter and me a few months ago. Members of my family, the traditional ruler of my community, friends, and colleagues contributed the ransom that was paid to ensure our release.”
Kidnapped victims in Delta State narrated how money was raised by their relatives, friends, and church members to pay the ransom.
A friend of a kidnapped victim in the Bonsaac area of Asaba, the Delta State capital, who did not want his name in print, told one of our correspondents that he was able to mobilise other friends to contribute money for his release.
He said, “I was actually at the man (victim)’s shop when I received a call that my friend was kidnapped. And immediately, I left the shop so that his wife would not find out what was going on. Then I moved to a barber’s shop to continue the negotiation with the kidnappers.
“After a while, they called the man’s wife and that’s how the woman got to know and she started looking for me, and I later told her that I left their shop because of the news.
“We started negotiating with them from N5m to N1m. All of us, both friends and relatives contributed to raising the ransom which I took to Nkwere-ezunnka in Anambra State before he was released.”
A victim of the Abuja-Kaduna train kidnap in 2022, Wilson, narrated that family members solicited funds on social media to raise the N20m demanded by his abductors.
He explained that his mother sold off the family generator to raise funds to secure his release.
Wilson said, “I remember that after we were released, my mom told me she had to contact her siblings, friends, and church members for help. Some of my cousins raised the alarm on social media, particularly Facebook, and to their contact lists on WhatsApp, asking friends to help raise the money. My mom even had to sell the generator.’’
“I do not know if I support the law or not. But you know Nigeria, you can’t be sure that the police will take you seriously even if you report it. I mean, while they are investigating, your loved one could be dying, if not dead.
“Try explaining the illegality of crowd-funding to someone who probably lost more than one loved one is difficult, sometimes even after paying a heavy ransom. Anybody would do anything to save his or her family,” he stressed.
Abbas Al-Kadriyar, an uncle to the five Al-Kadriyar girls, whose kidnap had led to a nationwide outcry against kidnappings in the country, stated that “everybody contributed to securing the release of my nieces while they were in captivity.’’
He added that the government should ensure the security of lives and property, if it wanted to curb crowd-funding for ransom, noting the threats that were made against his family while they were in captivity.
“The family did their own. Our own (fund) could not sustain us, so the public helped. Everybody, all Nigerians was involved, including Christians, Muslims, religious organisations, individuals, friends, and family. Everybody contributed,” he revealed.
Speaking further, Al-Kadriyar added, “If I am losing a family, if any of us is losing their family members, and you are being asked to bring ransom, are you going to bring it or not? If the lives and properties of citizens are well taken care of, nobody will go and be paying a ransom.
“We were on the verge of losing our family members; the threat was there that they were going to be killed. We were asked to bring money, they gave us an ultimatum, and there was a threat that if we did not bring it, they would drop (kill) one each day.
“So, yes, the law is there, let it take its course. But before the law saves us, are our lives safe? That is the primary objective of the government, the security of lives and property. If it is well secured, then there will be no need for anybody to even go after kidnapping or asking for ransom,” he reasoned.
In Ekiti State, one of the parents of the kidnapped victims, Adebisi Jegede, confirmed that ransom was paid to the kidnappers.
Five pupils of Apostolic Faith Group of Schools, Emure Ekiti, and four staff members were kidnapped on January 29 on Emuro-Eporo road after closing hours.
Jegede, in an interview with The PUNCH on Sunday, said, “A ransom was paid to the kidnappers and the money raised was around the N15m they demanded. I was not the one that counted the money but it was around that amount.”
Also, a man, whose wife and son were among the kidnapped persons, said that N15m ransom and some other items were handed over to the kidnappers in an expansive forest before the abductees were released to them.
The man, who spoke anonymously for fear of being abducted, said, “Nine persons were kidnapped. But eight persons were released, we didn’t see the ninth person. The kidnapped persons told us after their release that the gunmen shot the driver dead.
“It gave us a lot of problems to see the kidnappers. When we first entered the forest, we spent about two hours without seeing them. We had to go forth and back before we saw the kidnappers.
“When we eventually saw them, they took us into the bush far away from where we parked the motorcycle that we took there. We gave them what they demanded and they released the kidnapped persons to us.
“We gave them N15m and the food items they asked us to buy for them – eight packs of fried rice with chicken and drinks – can malt drink, fearless energy drink, bullet energy drink, cigarettes, and other drinkable things. As they collected the money and the items, they said we should run.”
Slain Kwara monarch
In Kwara State, the families of the slain Olukoro of Koro-Ekiti, Oba Olusegun Aremu-Cole, are in panic mode following the N40m ransom demanded by the abductors of the monarch’s widow.
The royal father was assassinated by suspected gunmen in his palace in the Ekiti Local Government Area of Kwara State on Thursday night while his wife and another lady were abducted.
The gunmen had reached out to the monarch’s family for payment of N100m which was reduced to N40m.
A usually reliable security source, who does not want his name in print told The PUNCH on Sunday that five suspects have been arrested in connection with the killing.
Another suspect was also apprehended on Sunday in Eruku and was found with foreign currency.
“Five suspects have been arrested in connection with the killing of Koro-Ekiti monarch. The Inspector-General of Police has deployed a special anti-terrorist team to comb Ekiti forests while a detachment of Nigerian Army has also been deployed to Koro to search for the two kidnapped victims,” the source said.
The Kwara State Police Public Relations Officer, Ejire-Adeyemi Adetoun, however, claimed no arrest had been made in connection with the incident.
But the chairman of the Transition Implementation Committee in Ekiti LGA, Chief Kehinde Bayode, confirmed that a suspect was apprehended in Eruku on Sunday.
He said, “The arrested suspect was found with foreign currency and I had got in touch with the Divisional Police Officer in the area not to release the suspect.”
Bayode, while speaking on efforts made to free the abducted wife of the monarch and the lady held with her, said “The kidnappers had got in touch with the family demanding N100m ransom which has now been reduced to N40m.
“We are still negotiating with them and right now, I’m on my way to Koro to get the latest information on the negotiation. We will continue to brief you as the situation unfolds and we will keep you posted.”