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A kidnapping of six sisters and a murder has gripped Nigeria

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

In Nigeria, stories of kidnappings for ransom fill the news on a daily basis. Kidnappings by armed gangs are so frequent that many families don't even report them to police for fear of reprisals and a lack of faith that it will help. But the kidnapping of six sisters and the subsequent murder of one of them has seized the headlines in Nigeria. NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu is in Lagos. Hi there.

EMMANUEL AKINWOTU, BYLINE: Hi, Juana.

SUMMERS: Emmanuel, if you can, tell us a little bit more about this case.

AKINWOTU: Well, there are so many bleak details. You know, a family, including a father and his six daughters, they were kidnapped on January 2. The abductors then demanded a ransom of about 10,000 U.S. dollars - just a huge amount for an ordinary family. And actually, the family thought they'd done what was asked. They thought they'd raise the funds and were hoping to rescue their children. Actually, what they found out is one of their daughters, Nabeeha, who is a university student, was shot dead and left at the side of the road. The kidnappers then raised the ransom fee by several times that amount and have clearly exploited, basically, the high-profile nature of this case.

It's really ignited anger across Nigeria because there's been essentially an epidemic of kidnapping over the last three, four years that many people have just grown desensitized to. You know, thousands of people have been kidnapped. In the year to last June, 3,600 people were abducted, according to one group. And most of these people are in rural parts of the country, poor parts of Nigeria where policing has more or less completely collapsed. I've been speaking to Confidence Isaiah-MacHarry. He is a security analyst at a firm called SBM. He told me that in Nigeria, kidnappers have become so brazen. Let's hear what he has to say.

CONFIDENCE ISAIAH-MACHARRY: Kidnappers are now much more emboldened that they no longer just hold onto victims when ransoms are paid. They now also hold the ransom bearers. And for the past year, we've seen these incidents where people who go to pay ransom are also held, and the ransom is demanded on their behalf also.

SUMMERS: And, I mean, it's remarkable what he's saying there, that they're not just holding on to victims when these ransoms are paid. They are now also holding the people who pay these ransom. I mean, Emmanuel, as we mentioned earlier, kidnapping for ransom is frequent in Nigeria, but what is it about this case that makes it stand out?

AKINWOTU: Well, it's the fact that it's six young women and girls - you know, students with their futures ahead of them who were abducted in this way at the beginning of the year. It's also the fact that it's happened so close to the capital, Abuja, and the desperation of relatives and friends who are having to raise money on social media - you know? - which is one of the reasons why this case has been so striking as, again, Confidence from SBM explains.

ISAIAH-MACHARRY: The fact that this is being crowdfunded on social media 'cause - on Nigerian Twitter, people crowdfund for a lot of things - for school fees, for hospital bills. But this is the first time people are crowdfunding for a ransom. For many people, this is Nigeria sinking into new lows that they didn't think was possible.

SUMMERS: And, Emmanuel, tell us, how has the government and law enforcement authorities, how have they been responding to all of this?

AKINWOTU: Kidnappings have become so common now that it often doesn't even really lead to a political response. But such is the anger in Nigeria that it's forced some sense of response from security, from politicians. You know, we've heard the usual platitudes, promises to rescue the girls. But so far it hasn't amounted to much. President Tinubu, he came to power mid last year, and he promised to tackle insecurity, promised reforms. But the fact is that hasn't happened. And people in Nigeria have come to the conclusion that they simply can't rely on the government to protect them.

SUMMERS: NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu in Lagos, Nigeria. Emmanuel, thank you.

AKINWOTU: Thanks, Juana. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Emmanuel Akinwotu
Emmanuel Akinwotu is an international correspondent for NPR. He joined NPR in 2022 from The Guardian, where he was West Africa correspondent.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.