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Tracking device shortage hindering police probes – Sources

There are strong indications that a shortage of tracking equipment is hindering police investigations into kidnapping incidents in the country.

Top sources in the Nigeria Police Force on Sunday told our correspondents that the police had continued to rely on the state-of-the-art tracking device belonging to the Department of State Services resulting in long delays in investigations and arrest of abductors.

There have been multiple records of kidnappings over the last six months while the police have remained incapacitated in taking prompt action to determine the whereabouts of the victims.

However, the Force Public Relations Officer, Olumuyiwa Adejobi, assured Nigerians that the police were working to get enough trackers.

He advised families of victims to go to private companies for tracking and bring the results to the police for further action.

Speaking to Arise news channel during the just-concluded World Economic Forum, at Davos, Switzerland last week, the Minister of Communications, Innovation and Digital Economy, Dr Bosun Tijani, reiterated the importance of linking the National Identity Number to the mobile lines.

He said, “The process of the NIN registration and linkage has turned out to be a painful exercise, but the benefits are numerous to the citizens and the Nigerian economy.

“It will help the government to provide digital services to the people, and it will offer citizens the opportunity to access such digital services that will be provided by the government. It will also help the government to maintain a high level of security across the country.’’

However, findings by The PUNCH indicate that in most cases, the security agencies have been unable to utilise the technology to track down and arrest kidnappers who have been on the rampage in the past three weeks.

Sources in the police, including a Deputy Superintendent of Police, confided in one of our correspondents that key sophisticated tracking equipment stopped working in 2021 due to the failure of the authorities to pay for the subscription.

The source explained that a deputy commissioner of police who used to push for the payment of the subscription was no longer in charge of the technical unit of the force.

“It was the DCP that was pushing for the payment of the subscription but he is no longer in charge of the technical unit. So, the tracker stopped working because it requires GSM connection to work and the police authorities have refused to renew the subscription.

“The tracker works by connecting to the GSM network using the Global Positioning System and this is controlled by different tracking stations located around the globe.

“These stations pick up microwave carrier signals transmitted by the satellites, and the GPS receivers convert these signals into data such as velocity, time, and position,’’ the officer explained.

Surveillance equipment

Another source, who confirmed that the police did not have adequate surveillance equipment stated, “The police sometimes rely on the DSS tracker. And the kidnappers are highly mobile, they are always on the move. With functional trackers, the police can easily detect the exact location of the kidnappers in real-time.’’

He disclosed that the newly launched Special Intervention Squad, which has recorded average success in apprehending kidnappers in the Federal Capital Territory, was relying mainly on human intelligence.

“They are doing the tracking manually; they worked with human intelligence and informants. With the help of locals, they are tracking them in the bush,’’ he explained.

Sources, who confided in The PUNCH said only a few states across the country had the devices at their disposal.

A senior officer disclosed that the available devices were overburdened.

Long delays

He said, “There is a shortage of tracking machines and that is affecting the effectiveness of the police to get rid of cases of kidnappings. As far as cases of kidnappings are concerned, it is the DSS, police, and NIA (Nigeria Intelligence Agency) that can have access to the conversation between the victim and the kidnapper, but the machines are limited. We don’t have enough of it. It is only in Abuja, Lagos, and a few other states.

“Some states don’t even have it. This is something that is supposed to be available in every area command and division. So, some families of the victims take advantage of private companies that also do tracking, pay them, and give the police the information to do the arrest.

“Most don’t want to use the police tracker because it is over-burdened. You have to be in the queue and you might spend days getting results. So, it is within the reach of NIA, police, and DSS and these things are over-stretched. We don’t have enough.’’

The officer also revealed that despite the shortage of the devices, access to the few ones was highly restricted.

He said this made it more difficult to treat abduction cases with the urgency they required.

He said, “Even if this tracking machine is available, it is highly restricted. Even in the police, not everybody has access to it. I can’t listen to your conversation. You need to get authorization from the top because if it is not authorised, it will be abused.”

Speaking on the tactics of the kidnappers, the officers said the kidnappers burnt their SIM cards and also changed their locations often.

He said, “These kidnappers are clever now. They use the phone of the victim’s family to speak to the families of other victims. If they kidnapped 10 persons, they use a SIM card that is not registered in their name to call the family of victim number one to come and get their kidnapped relative.

“So, they burn the phone they used to call that family, and they will now change location. When they get to the new location, they will use the number of the first victim to call nine other families.

“So, the nine other families will start to give the police the number, and by the time the police trail the number, they will end up arresting the first kidnapped victim whose number was used, that is when the owner of the number will reveal that he was also a victim and that they collected his phone to make the calls.

“Sometimes, they collect the phone of victim number one’s family member and use it to call other families, telling them to hand over the ransom to the victim number one’s family member.”

When asked about the inadequate police surveillance equipment,  Adejobi promised to find out but he didn’t respond to calls subsequently.

Private security firms

But Adejobi in a post on X on Saturday advised Nigerians in urgent firms of tracking to private firms and take the results to the police.

He wrote, “There are many private companies that are into tracking. You can contact and relate with them, too, and the results sent to the police for further action. While the police work hard to get the equipment in all area commands, we can make use of what we have for now. Many have toed this line successfully. Many young Nigerians are knowledgeable in this and have been so helpful.’’

The Nigerian Communication Commission could not be reached for comments on Sunday as the NCC spokesperson, Reuben Muoka, failed to respond to calls and messages.

When one of our correspondents reached out to the National Identity Management Commission’s spokesperson, Kayode Adegoke, for a response on the matter, his phone rang out.

Victims recount experiences

Speaking on the failure of the security agencies to track down the kidnappers through a SIM card linked to NIN, Abbas Al-Kadriyar, whose five nieces were kidnapped in Bwari, Abuja, and released after paying a huge ransom, revealed that the kidnappers negotiated the ransom payment using one of the abductees’ registered phone number.

Al-Kadriyar, in an interview with The PUNCH, said, “The kidnappers used their phone lines registered with the Nigeria Communications Commission to contact the family and negotiate ransom payment. No one can make calls with unregistered lines, so their phone line is registered and ours is also registered. The police and military know this, and they know what to do.”

A female chairman of the Okpokwu Local Government Area, Benue State, Mrs Amina Audu, said her abductors used one of her two phones to negotiate the ransom with her family members.

“I connected them (kidnappers) with my family so, they spoke to my people directly using one of my phones. But I don’t know the actual amount paid for my release,’’ she noted.

Hassan Mohammed, whose younger brother was among those kidnapped in the Abuja-Kaduna train attack, said his brother’s phone was used to contact them.

Mohammed said, “I was the one contacted to notify the family. They did that through his phone, and it was done once. The issue later escalated to be a national issue; I guess that was why they stopped. Also, I believe ours was a political kidnapping.

A relative of a woman kidnapped in Lokoja, who did not give his name for security reasons, said the victim’s phone was used to communicate with the family throughout the incident.

“A relative of mine was kidnapped in Lokoja. She paid N4m and up till today, the spot where she was kidnapped, kidnappers are still abducting people in the area. This happened in 2023. They used her phone to contact her family throughout the incident.

“They told the family where to bring the ransom and after paying they called again using her phone to tell them where to pick her from,” the source noted.

A victim of the Abuja-Kaduna train abduction revealed that the kidnappers used his phone to reach his family to negotiate the ransom payments, adding that even if they could be traced, his abductors did not seem bothered.

He added that the kidnappers demanded N20m ransom, but his family paid N2m before he was freed.

He added, “It’s a good thing I can laugh about the ordeal now. They communicated with our families on the phone. They used our phones to reach our families.

“Yes, my number was registered with my NIN, and I am currently still using that same number, but they did not seem to care. You know it is not like our security agencies have that tracking software in Nigeria. And even if they did, and they could track them, these guys would be on the phone for nearly 10 minutes negotiating ransom.’’

 “They demanded N20m from my family. And my family eventually paid N2m before we were released. When we were released, we gave statements at the police station in Ajaokuta only for us to hear later that they rescued us.’’

A man simply identified as Rasaq whose brother, Tijani Amedu, was killed in Kaduna, explained that his 13 relatives, who were abducted in the Katari area of Kaduna on January 6 are still with the kidnappers.

The victims, who are mostly children, were travelling with Amedu when they were kidnapped.

They were returning to Kaduna after visiting Warri, Delta State when the incident occurred.

Rasaq said the kidnappers were insisting on a N50m ransom after initially demanding N200m.

When asked what the police had done about the case, he said, “Nothing please.”

Rasaq said the kidnappers contacted them through the children’s phones.

When contacted on Sunday, the Kaduna State Police Public Relations Officer, Mansur Hassan, said the command “will investigate.’’

A community health worker, Victor Ogunsola, who was abducted at Damari village in the Birni Gwari LGA, Kaduna State, said he was held hostage for 22 days.

“I was kidnapped on March 6, 2022, and released on March 28, 2022, after payment of N10m cash and two motorcycles. I was tortured and wounded by the kidnappers who contacted my relations and negotiated with them through my registered phone number,’’ he stated.

An indigene of Gusau LGA, Zamfara State, Sani Mohammed, said he paid N10m before he was released, adding that he sold his property to raise the ransom.

Mohammed was abducted along Gusau-Sokoto road in October last year while travelling to Sokoto to attend a wedding Fatiha of his friend’s daughter.

According to him, the bandits negotiated the N10m ransom with his friend on the phone. He said his friend’s phone was linked to the NIN.

“I  told my family to sell off my house and other valuables to get the money for my release because they said that they would kill me if the ransom was not paid after two days.

“When the bandits collected the money, they also demanded 40 litres of fuel and N50,000 MTN recharge cards. All these were given to them before they released me,” he explained.

A 400-level computer science student at the Al-qalam University, Katsina, abducted in 2023, said the bandits used his NIN-linked phone to negotiate the ransom with his family members.

He said, ‘’The bandits used my phone to call my parents and they negotiated. My father eventually brought the N3m they agreed for on the third day to where we were being kept inside a forest in Danja Local Government Area.”

Another victim, who resides in Dutsinma, said he spent 20 days with the bandits before his family could raise the N2m ransom.

The man who is a civil servant said, “I was kidnapped in October 2022. It rained that night and the bandits stormed our quarters around 1.30 am during the downpour. They later used my phone to get across to my first wife.

‘’They initially demanded N25mn but my family negotiated it down to N2mn which my younger brother brought to them to ensure my freedom after spending 20 days with them and after I had lost all hopes of returning home alive.”

Mallam Idris, who shared his ordeal said the abductors used his phone to demand ransom from his family members.

“They demanded a huge sum of money and they used my phone to communicate with my family members in Sokoto. We keep moving from one place to another and what surprised me most was the fact that most times, these people were supplied foodstuffs by a helicopter.

 “After collecting money, recharge cards, and Bajaj Motorcycle from my family, while handing me over to them, they told me to pray for them so that they can stop doing the job,’’ Idris recalled.

But a security expert, Jackson Ojo, knocked the security agencies for being backward in deploying technology to track kidnappers.

Ojo, noted that the NIN and SIM registration has lost its purpose, adding that the security agencies are ineffective.

 He explained, “Truth be told, our security agencies are ineffective. These kidnappers are not even tracked through the bank accounts they use for negotiations.

 “The NIN and SIM registration are purposeless and useless. When someone speaks on the phone, the security agencies should be able to track me down in the next 10 minutes.

 “This only means that we are still very backward across the globe in terms of technology. Take for instance, an American was kidnapped sometime ago in Borno State. People came from the US, tracked and rescued the individual.

 “The police, DSS, and others will comb the community in search of the kidnappers but they cannot track them and they (kidnappers) make calls to negotiate with families to pay a ransom.

 “I will not say these security agencies lack technical knowledge because it is very cheap and affordable. I just think they (security agencies) intentionally want to be ineffective.”

 Also, a security risk management and intelligence executive, Kabir Adamu, acknowledged that these security agencies could track kidnappers through phone numbers linked with NIN.

Adamu, however, stated that they could not fully achieve that due to incapability and poor intelligence gathering.

 “The security agencies are using the phone numbers linked with NIN to track the kidnappers but there are certain factors stopping them from acting on the information they have.

“I run a consultancy company and we support victims’ families. Based on my knowledge, the security agencies most times track but the difficulty is that kidnapping-for-ransom is an organized crime in Nigeria.

“The issue of capability, poor intelligence gathering and inadequate comprehensive security operation stop these security agencies from fully tracking these kidnappers,’’ he submitted.

A former FCT Commissioner of Police, Lawrence Alobi, confirmed that security personnel tracked the numbers of criminals but required additional equipment to apprehend all those involved.

The Chairman of HITECH Security stated, “They do track, but they need more equipment to do so effectively and apprehend all those involved. Security agencies must utilize technology to address the increasing cases of kidnapping. Technology is a driving force in security.

“There is a need for security agencies to procure some of these technologies. They should also liaise with network providers to ensure that these kidnappers can be tracked to their hideout. The service providers know where they call from, so the intelligent units of the security agencies should do more and collaborate with them for accurate results.”

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