The kidnap fear

Foreign firms may become scared to send their people to northern Nigeria.

The Economist: MOST foreign investors in Nigeria have reckoned that the profits outweigh the risks and the hassle. But a spate of kidnappings, on top of an Islamist insurgency that refuses to die down, may make them think twice before venturing into the country’s northern reaches. On February 16th an Islamist group calling itself Ansaru nabbed seven foreign construction workers from their compound in the state of Bauchi. Three days later another gang of Islamist militants suspected of hailing from Nigeria’s north-eastern state of Borno abducted a French family of seven across the border in northern Cameroon. Ansaru said that European countries have committed “transgressions and atrocities against the religion of Allah” in such places as Afghanistan and Mali.

Ansaru, an acronym for “Vanguard for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa”, may be a breakaway from Boko Haram (“Western teaching is sinful”), a group that was responsible for 800-plus deaths last year alone. Ansaru is thought to be based in and around Kano, a northern city that has become a hub of Islamist militancy. It publicly distances itself from Boko Haram but shares much of its ideology. It may, however, be closer in tactics to al-Qaeda.

The kidnapping is rattling foreigners working in Nigeria’s north. Total, a French oil company, has transferred the families of its staff from Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, to Port Harcourt in the south. Setraco, which employs the foreigners who were snatched on February 16th, is one of Nigeria’s biggest construction companies. “Any company operating in northern Nigeria will now be considering if it can have any expatriates working there,” says a Western security expert. “There are serious consequences for operating in Nigeria, for sure.”

Ansaru is believed to have carried out several previous abductions, including the kidnap of two construction workers—one British, the other Italian—who died in a failed rescue attempt in March last year. It also claimed responsibility for kidnapping a French engineer in December in Katsina state. The attack on February 16th resulted in the biggest tally of captured foreigners since the insurgency began two years ago.

A fourfold increase in polio has been reported in Nigeria since the rebellion started, with the disease spreading into neighbouring countries, according to the World Health Organisation. Polio vaccinators have been a particular target of the extremists. Early this month at least nine health workers were killed. Shortly afterwards three North Korean doctors were murdered in the north-eastern state of Yobe.

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