3 February Global risk and crisis management consultancy NYA International released its 2016 Kidnap and Piracy Map and also listed severe ratings for maritime piracy off Somalia and Nigeria. Citing intensified civil conflicts in Africa, entrenched criminality in Latin America and the advance of Islamic militancy in various countries worldwide, NYA rated 11 countries, up from eight in 2015, as severe threat – Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Nineteen countries were rated high threat: Venezuela, Colombia, Egypt, Bangladesh, India, Mali, Mozambique, Sudan, Uganda, Algeria, Haiti, Mexico, Lebanon, Philippines, West Bank & Gaza Strip, Cameroon, Kenya, Ecuador and Mauritania.
IMB Annual Piracy Report for 2015
2 February The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said in its annual piracy report that 246 piracy incidents were recorded worldwide an increase of one over 2014. Pirates hijacked 15 vessels and held 271 hostages, down from 21 ships and 442 hostages in 2014. The report added that Southeast Asia accounted for most of the world’s incidents and almost 55% of the attacks were against vessels that were underway, mostly involving low level theft. In Africa, Nigeria remained a hotspot for violent piracy and armed robbery and IMB received 14 reports of incidents although it is believed many more were not reported. No attacks were reported in Somalia thanks to international naval patrols.
5 February According to a recording released by al Mourabitoun branch of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) on its official Telegram channel, AQIM claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of the Australians Dr. Ken Elliott (82) and his wife, Jocelyn (76). The victims were kidnapped near Burkina Faso’s border with Mali on 15 January. The message also said AQIM had decided to release one of their captives – a woman – unconditionally. The statement added: “The primary motive behind their kidnapping was an attempt to (gain) release of our captives who sit behind bars and suffer pain of imprisonment, as well as being deprived of their basic rights”. On 6 February, Niger’s President Mahamadou Issofou presented Jocelyn Elliott to journalists at a news conference in Dosso, southwestern Niger. The Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, confirmed her release and said: “We want to thank the Government of Niger and Government of Burkina Faso, which is of course where the Elliotts were living when they were kidnapped” and added “…… we prefer to say very little about this case publicly other than to say that we obviously continue to cooperate with these Governments and we thank them for their efforts”. The circumstances of the victim’s release and how she arrived in Niger were not immediately clear. On 9 February, Jocelyn arrived in Ouagadougou and said at a press conference that she wanted to pursue her efforts to obtain the release of her husband and to keep working in the country.
20 February Multiple sources reported that a group of armed men, allegedly dressed in Eritrean army uniforms, had crossed the border into Ethiopia earlier in the month and kidnapped 80 young miners who were mining gold at Kafta-Humera district, Tsirga Girmai, Tigray regional state. The kidnapped miners were among 400 traditional gold miners who have long been engaged in gold mining in the area.
20 February The Serbian Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vucic, said at a press briefing in Belgrade, that Sladjana Stankovic, a communications officer, and Jovic Stepic, a driver, both Serbian citizens, had been killed during US air strikes on a suspected Islamic State training camp in Sabratha, western Libya. The two Serbs had been kidnapped on 8 November 2015 after their diplomatic convoy, including the ambassador, was ambushed near Sabratha. The Prime Minister added that negotiations were close to obtaining the release of the two victims. A total of 49 people, including Tunisian Noureddine Chouchane, believed to have been responsible for two bloody attacks on tourists in Tunisia in 2015, were killed in the air strikes. Prime Minister Vucic sent a “note” to US officials seeking an explanation saying that Serbia was neither informed about the attack nor asked about the kidnapping case. On 20 February, the Prime Minister told a press conference that securing a ransom from Serbia was not the kidnappers’ primary motive and added: “There are some other motives which I would rather not talk about today, and which are related to certain weapons deals”.
1 February Inspector General of Police, Solomon E. Arase, opened a five day counter-kidnapping workshop organised by the British High Commission at the Police Force Headquarters in Abuja. Lecturers came from United Kingdom Anti-Kidnapping Agency and the Swiss Crisis Management Unit. The Inspector General said the training programme was organised to boost the capabilities of the Nigeria Police, particularly now they are battling the menace of kidnapping across the country. While restating his commitment to drive reforms and strategic transformation of the Force in order to reposition for efficiency and effectiveness in its delivery, he advised against payment of ransoms to kidnappers by victims’ families. The facilitators said they were basing the training on the United Nations counter kidnapping manual that is used in Europe and other parts of the world.
1 February A statement on the River State Police Command’s Facebook account stated that Mercy Okachi, the wife of a kidnapping suspect, had been used by the police as the negotiating tool for the release of an unnamed victim, a youth leader in the State. The police traced the N10 million (USD50,250) to the house of her fleeing husband and arrested her. The victim had been kidnapped on 12 January 2016 in Igwurita, Ikwerre Local Government Area, River State, and held in a forest area for about 11 days. The ransom was paid but the victim was not released until the police made Mercy Okachi call her husband begging him to release the victim so the police would release her.
1 February The traditional ruler of Nguru Nwe-Afor Ajala, Eze Oswald Anyanwu, was kidnapped while driving from his residence in New Owerri to collect his wife from one of the hair dressing salons in the area. The kidnappers shot one of his car tyres forcing the vehicle to stop before forcing the victim into their vehicle and speeding away.
2 February There was confusion about the true identity of the victim after a correction was issued in the supposed kidnapping on 29 January of Odion-Ologbo of Olomoro Kingdom, Isoko South Local Government Area, Delta State, as some reports said that it was the Regent, the son of HRM Josiah Umukoro Aghazi I, who the kidnappers had abducted and not the 96 year old traditional ruler. However, this rumour was later proven to be false. The kidnappers contacted the family with an initial ransom demand of N20 million (USD100,500) before reducing it to N5 million (USD25,125) and further to N4 million (USD20,100). On 3 February, the Public Relations Officer, Delta State Police Command, confirmed that HRM Josiah Umukoro Aghazi 1 had been released by his kidnappers. She said a combined team of Police and local security groups were involved in the rescue operation but did not disclose how much ransom was paid as it is customary for the police to feign ignorance of payment of ransoms to secure the release of victims.
3 February It was reported that a chemical tanker, MT Leon Dias, owned by Keon Shipping and Trading in Athens, Greece, sailing from Lome, Togo, to Bata, Equatorial Guinea, was attacked and boarded by Nigerian militants while underway off Brass, south west of Bayelsa State on 29 January. One crew member, said to be the Chief Officer, was reportedly shot and seriously injured. Five other crew members including the Filipino Captain and Third Engineer, the Russian Chief Engineer and an electrician and a fitter from Georgia, were kidnapped when the attackers abandoned the vessel two days after the attack. A man who identified himself by his nom-de-guerre, “General Ben”, similar to titles used by Niger Delta militants, threatened to blow up the vessel with the crew if the authorities did not release Nnamdi Kanu, the director of the banned Radio Biafra who has been detained since 17 October 2015 accused of terrorism. After the militants disembarked with the five crew members, the vessel sailed to Cotonou, Benin, where it is being guarded by the Benin Navy. The vessel had previously been attacked in the same area in April 2013.
On 26 February, the five foreign hostages were freed. No details of their release or whether a ransom was paid were made available.
4 February Captain Thomas Kemewerigha, a maritime labour consultant and former President, Nigerian Merchant Navy Officers and Water Transport Senior Staff Association, urged the Nigerian Navy and Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) to increase their patrols of the country’s waters. He said that the dreaded sections of Nigeria’s waters span the shore to about 45 nautical miles into the Atlantic Ocean. These areas include Middleton, Kulama, Brass offshore, Fish Town, Akasa and Pennington Rivers where pirates wreak havoc on defenceless seafarers. They attack vessels, forcefully collect their valuables and kill and maim seafarers. He added that from 14 January to date, seven attacks had been recorded on fishing vessels and vessels working for Chevron in areas that are not being patrolled by the Navy and NIMASA. The main targets are western crew members, especially the master and chief engineer, as westerners fetch ransoms of over USD100,000 per man whereas West African crew only fetch several thousand dollars.
5 February Reports emerged that Nasirudeen, the four year old son of Sergeant Mahmood Mohammed, orderly to the former Vice President, Namadi Sambo, was kidnapped by unknown gunmen in Kaduna. The victim’s father said that his son had been kidnapped on 19 January while he was away on duty with the former Vice President in Abuja. He added that there has not been any contact from the kidnappers. The kidnappers entered Sergeant Mahmood’s house and took the victim and his six year old sister in their car saying they were taking them to their father. They stopped the car, gave the girl N1,000 and sent her to buy meat but drove off while she was on the errand.
6 February Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State said after a meeting of the Delta State Traditional Rulers Council that it had resolved to employ the services of community vigilante groups to tackle kidnapping in the state. He stressed the need to work out the means to empower these groups to perform more credibly and for them to be registered with the police. He added: “The security agencies will meet with Security Council to take measures, but we have also discussed with our traditional rulers, who will go back to their communities and ensure that a strengthened vigilante group is able to assist the security agencies”.
6 February People in Bayelsa State expressed their anger that Nancy Keme Dickson (26), younger sister of Seriake Dickson, Governor of Bayelsa State, was still being held by her kidnappers after being kidnapped on 19 December 2015. Some said it was inexcusable for the Governor to allow his sister to remain in the clutches of notorious criminals while others urged the kidnappers to set her free on compassionate grounds.
7 February Boat Workers in Bayelsa State criticised the decision of the State Governor, Seriake Dickson, who on 1 February announced a ban on the use of 200 horse powered engines on the waterways of Bayelsa State, saying the decision was crude and would adversely affect the operations of its members. The banning of the engines was part of efforts to combat kidnapping, sea piracy and other criminal activities.
7 February Captain Olusegun Soyemi, reported that the Singapore flagged container ship, “Safmarine Kuramo”, had arrived in port at Onne after being attacked by pirates in Nigerian territorial waters while carrying a cargo to Nigeria. He said that an emergency radio message had been transmitted from the vessel saying that it had been boarded by pirates who opened fire on the bridge but fled when they saw patrol vessels approaching. He added that the vessel was under the command of Captain Zetta Gous-Conradie, a South African, and had a crew of eight Filipinos, eight South Africans, five Indians, two British nationals and two Thai nationals. Captain Gous-Conradie thanked the Nigerian Navy for their prompt action that prevented the pirates kidnapping members of her crew.
9 February Madam Nau, mother of the Deputy Governor of Taraba State, Alhaji Haruna Manu, was kidnapped by heavily armed gunmen who arrived on three motorcycles and forced their way into her house at Mutum Biyu, Gasolo Local Government Area, Taraba State, at about 9:00pm. A neighbour, who rushed to help the victim, was shot and later died in hospital. The kidnappers telephoned a member of the family and demanded a ransom of N300 million (USD1.51 million).
13 February Alhaji Ali Maibulawus, a businessman, was kidnapped by gunmen in Maihula village, Bali Local Government Area, Taraba State, shortly after he returned from a business trip. Reportedly, the kidnappers have contacted the victim’s family and demanded a ransom of N5 million (USD25,125). This kidnapping brings the number of reported kidnap victims during the last three months in Bali and Gasolo Local Government Areas, Taraba State, to ten. According to sources, ransoms of between N3 million (USD15,075) and N15 million (USD75,375) have been paid for the victims’ release.
13 February Mrs. Patience Tam-George (85), mother of the Rivers State commissioner for Information and Communications, Dr. Austin Tam-George, was kidnapped by masked gunmen at around 9:00pm as she returned home from church at Giogioma, Okrika Local Government Area, Rivers State. The kidnappers put her in a waiting speedboat and sped away. Dr. Tam-George confirmed his mother had been kidnapped and said the kidnappers had contacted him using his mother’s cell phone and demanded a ransom of N30 million (USD150,750) for her release. He appealed to the kidnappers to release his mother. On 18 February, one of the victim’s sons, Godknows Tam-George, said the kidnappers had reduced their ransom demand to N25 million (USD125,600). The victim was released on 18 February at about 9:00pm in Buguma, Asari-Toru Local Government Area. On 20 February, the police said that a member of the victim’s family who had been arrested, confessed to being the mastermind behind the kidnapping. They did not say if a ransom had been paid.
15 February President Muhammadu Buhari disclosed that his government had started mobilising the military and task forces to stop the sabotage of oil facilities and kidnappings for ransom in the Niger Delta region.
16 February The Lagos State government announced plans to establish day care centres throughout the state to combat the activities of child kidnappers who obtain employment with families as caregivers. Attached to the care centres will be a training institute where caregivers and nannies will be trained and a database will be established for everyone in the state to use.
16 February Chief Inegite Nitabai (72), an uncle and foster father of former President Goodluck Jonathan, was kidnapped by seven heavily armed gunmen at around 3;30am from his residence in Otuoke, Ogbia Local Government Area, Bayelsa State. A source said the gunmen had gained access to the victim’s residence along the creek that runs beside it. The victim had previously been kidnapped from his residence on 28 February 2014 but was rescued during a Joint Task Force, Operation Polo Shield, operation at Akpli Community, Ogbia, on 10 March 2014. On 20 February, it was reported that the body of Samule Oki (35), nephew of former President Goodluck Jonathan, was found in a creek in Otuoke community, Ogbia Local Government Area. He was reportedly kidnapped alongside Chief Inegite Nitabai.
22 February Justina Ojo, wife of Dr. Godwin Uyi Ojo, Executive Director, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), was kidnapped at about 8:00pm from in front of her Benin City residence by unknown gunmen.
23 February The Nigerian Navy escorted the Panama registered, United Arab Emirates owned oil tanker, Maximus, which was on lease to a South Korean shipping company, into Lagos harbour. There were six captured hijackers from Nigeria and Ghana and 18 crew members from India, Pakistan, China, South Korea, Sudan and Ghana on board. One pirate was killed during the rescue operation. The Nigerian Navy said they are still looking for two crew members, believed to be from Pakistan and India, who were kidnapped from the vessel. The vessel was seized by pirates off the coast of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on 11 February and rescued on 20 February about 310 miles southwest of Lagos. It is believed the pirates were trying to steal the 4,700 tons of diesel on board.
24 February The Nigerian Navy said it had rescued the French owned MV Bourbon, an offshore oil supply ship, hours after receiving a distress call. However, the pirates escaped with two crew members, believed to be from Russia and Nigeria. On 25 February, the Russian Embassy in Lagos confirmed that a Russian crew member had been kidnapped.
25 February A 33 year old kidnapping suspect, Cyprian Nwanfo, when paraded in front of the press by Rivers State Police, revealed that his gang’s kidnapping activities were controlled from Port Harcourt Prison by their leader, Prosper David. According to Nwanfo, Prosper would call to give them instructions about who to kidnap, how much ransom to collect and how it should be shared among the five man gang. To convince the police, Nwanfo spoke to Prosper using his phone. Prosper did not know Nwanfo had been arrested and warned him to lie low because the police were on their trail.
28 February Joseph Ogedegbe (91), former Director of Foreign Operations at the Central Bank of Nigeria, was kidnapped by unidentified gunmen while alighting from his vehicle outside St. Michael’s Anglican Church, Emevor, Isoko North Local Government Area, Delta State.
29 February A statement issued by the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State, said that the Governor’s younger sister, Nancy Keme Dickson (26), had been rescued the previous evening from her kidnappers without any ransom payment. The victim had been kidnapped two months earlier. The security agencies had received a tip off of the whereabouts of the kidnappers den and had mounted an operation. Some of the kidnappers managed to escape and others were arrested.