It was a sunny day in Katsina on Saturday, and like most people, I was about to go about my business. But then something strange happened: soldiers arrived at my home and took me away. I was blindfolded the entire way, and I had no idea what was happening. Now, two weeks later, I’m in a detention center in Abuja, waiting to find out if I’ll be able to vote in the elections due to take place next year. It’s not the first time that I’ve been targeted by kidnappers; back in 2015, they threatened to kill me if I didn’t stop campaigning for the opposition party. So it’s clear that my vote is something that people are willing to go to great lengths to get their hands on. In this blog post, we explore the realities of Nigerian politics and how vulnerable voters are during elections. We also explore ways you can make sure your voice is heard during the upcoming polls.
In the north-west of the country, where thousands of people have had to flee their homes, many Nigerians live in constant fear of being kidnapped and held for ransom by armed gangs.
There was palpable excitement in the air as Nigerians crowded around televisions and computers to follow the election results in their home country. But for one young woman, there was also a sense of unease. She had been kidnapped by armed men just days before the vote and held for ransom. For many Nigerians like her, the election is an unpredictable and dangerous affair.
Nigerian democracy has come a long way since independence from Britain in 1960. However, despite being one of the most populous countries in Africa, Nigeria still suffers from some of the worst endemic corruption and political instability in the continent. This has led to widespread insecurity, with armed gangs preying on innocent citizens, often demanding huge ransoms for their release.
In 2011 alone, there were reports of over 1,000 kidnapping incidents across Nigeria – making it one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a civilian. The prevalence of kidnapping gangs reflects this insecurity: they are not simply criminal organisations seeking to make money through extortion or robbery, but are also heavily influenced by organised crime groups seeking to exert their power and influence throughout society.
It is no wonder then that so many Nigerians feel nervous about voting – even those who are confident that their votes will be counted fairly. In 2014 an estimated 750 million people were registered to cast ballots – but only around 50 percent actually participated due to fear of violence or intimidation at the hands of armed thugs. Indeed, at least eight
It is unlikely that the criminals behind Nigeria’s lucrative kidnap-for-ransom business would look for victims in this community of mostly subsistence farmers.
- Nigeria’s election is set to take place on February 23rd, and while much attention has been paid to the race in the capital city of Abuja, many rural communities are still waiting anxiously to see who will be their next leader. One such community is Katsina State, located in central Nigeria.
2. In Katsina, as in many parts of Nigeria, farming is the main source of income for most people. This means that kidnapping-for-ransom (KFR) gangs operating throughout the country often look for targets among those living a subsistence lifestyle.
3. KFR gangs typically kidnap someone, demand a ransom from their family or friends, and then release them if payment is not received within a set timeframe. Because these criminals typically operate in isolated areas where large communities do not exist, it is very unlikely that they would target residents of Katsina State specifically.
As the robbers led the victims to their forest hideout, Maria Sani, 45, managed to escape.
It was a terrifying experience for Maria Sani, 45, on Wednesday when she and her husband were taken hostage by bandits in their forest hideout in Katsina State. Maria managed to escape after her husband pleaded with the kidnappers to let her go. “They blindfolded me and dragged me out of the house,” said Maria. “We were then taken to a secluded area where four other couples were also being held captive.” The bandits demanded that the five couples vote for them in the upcoming election in Katsina State. “I begged them not to take us to the polling station,” recounted Maria. “But they didn’t listen.” The five couples eventually made their escape, but Maria’s ordeal is not over yet. She fears that the bandits will come after her for revenge. “They’re going to kill me because I escaped,” she said. “I don’t know what I will do if they find me again.”
Through an interpreter, Mrs. Sani stated, “You let kidnappers take me, and now you want my vote.”
Mrs. Sani, a resident of Katsina State, was kidnapped by unknown gunmen on her way to vote in the local elections. The gunmen took Mrs. Sani to an undisclosed location where she was held hostage for five days before being released unharmed. Mrs. Sani recounted her experience during an interview with a local media outlet:
“I remember very well when they came for me and bundled me into their car. I was so scared that I could not do anything to resist them. They took me to an unknown place and kept me there for five days without food or water…. But then they let me go unharmed and told me that I should go back home and vote because this is my duty as a citizen.”
Mrs. Sani’s story underscores the vulnerability of Nigerian citizens, particularly women, during election season. While voters are technically free to participate in the electoral process, many are at risk of abduction or physical violence if they are seen as opposing political interests or participating in the wrong district. In some cases, abductors has even threatened to kill victims if their families do not pay ransom demands.