Four armed men ransacked Antony Akatakpo’s home in front of his wife and two children in Port Harcourt, shot him in the leg and bundled him into the trunk of his Mitsubishi Endeavor.
Akatakpo, the 34-year-old breakfast show presenter at Wazobia FM who is known as Diplomatic Akas Baba, was driven to a forest hideout and held blindfolded for a week, fed on plain bread and threatened with death unless his family paid a N10 million ($61,289) ransom.
According to Bloomberg, he said he was dumped on a city highway on March 20 after the gunmen received less than half the sum they demanded.
“I was praying and calling on God to help me, rescue me,” he said by phone from Port Harcourt, the hub of Africa’s biggest oil industry in South-eastern Nigeria.
“They wanted to collect their own share of the money I was making for my family.”
“Kidnappings have been happening all over the country, it’s not just confined to the North-east, it’s not just confined to the south,” Ibrahim Mu’azzam, a professor of political science at Bayero University in the northern city of Kano, said in an interview.
More than 1,000 people were kidnapped in Nigeria in 2012, the highest on record, according to Red24 Plc (REDT), a Glasgow, Scotland-based security services company.
The kidnappers in the oil-rich Niger Delta used to target mainly foreigners, who accounted for more than half of the victims in 2007, according Control Risks, an independent, global risk consultancy.
Last year however, 84 per cent of the kidnapped were Nigerians. That’s partly because kidnapping a foreigner will probably involve lengthy negotiations that will reduce the ransom and force the abductors to keep the victim alive for an extended period, said Peter Sharwood-Smith, the Lagos-based West Africa regional manager at risk consultancy Drum Cussac.
“If a wealthy Nigerian is taken hostage, the negotiations will usually be directly with the family, who are emotionally involved, and this usually leads to a quicker and simpler payment, and usually means the authorities are not even notified,” he said.
Oil companies such as Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Chevron ramped up their security in the wake of attacks by an insurgent group known as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) that declined in 2009 after a general amnesty.
“Oil companies have significantly bolstered their security provisions,” Tom Newell, Africa response analyst at Control Risks, said by phone from London. It’s easier to kidnap “nationals who adopt less robust security measures and are nevertheless reasonably affluent. The primary target group tends to be middle-class, relatively wealthy Nigerian nationals.”
Frank Mba, a national spokesman for the Nigeria police, didn’t answer five calls and three text messages to his mobile phone seeking comment.
President Goodluck Jonathan’s spokesman, Reuben Abati, didn’t answer three calls and one text message to his mobile phone.
In December 2012, Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s mother was kidnapped and held for five days. Her captors told her she was abducted because her daughter didn’t yield to pressures to authorise payments for unverified fuel-subsidy claims, Okonjo-Iweala told reporters after her release.
“Crime has flourished because of the extreme disparity of wealth in that region, when you have comparatively wealthy people living cheek-by-jowl with comparatively poor people,” Newell said by phone from London. “That sets a breeding ground for kidnappings.”
The West African nation is struggling to create enough jobs, even as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates the economy will expand 7.1 percent this year. The unemployment rate has risen to 23.9 percent in 2012 from 13.9 percent in 2000, Central Bank of Nigeria Governor Godwin Emefiele told reporters on June 5 in Abuja, the capital. The youth unemployment rate in the delta is 40 percent, according to a 2011 report by the Foundation for Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta.
As long as poverty, unemployment, corruption and weak security aren’t addressed in the north and Niger delta regions, Nigeria will be plagued by abductions, said Ryan Cummings, the Cape Town-based chief Africa analyst at Red24.