Sierra Leone’s deputy high commissioner to Nigeria kidnapped for a $40 million ransom

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 1 July 2016  

Claude Nelson Williams

The government of Sierra Leone has this afternoon confirmed the report of the kidnapping of the former head of Sierra Leone’s military, who is currently serving in Nigeria as the country’s Deputy High Commissioner.

Nigerian police have told reporters that he was kidnapped in the early hours of Friday morning, “along Abuja-Kaduna Expressway” heading for the notorious heartland of Boko Haram’s northern city of Kaduna.

Retired Major General Claude Nelson Williams was appointed in 2013 as deputy ambassador to Nigeria by president Koroma, after the major’s surprised early retirement from the army.

There are unconfirmed and conflicting reports about the kidnappers contacting the Sierra Leone embassy office in Abuja, demanding a whopping $40 million ransom in exchange for his release.

The identity of the kidnappers are yet unknown, though the terrorist group – Boko Haram are suspected to be involved, if not responsible.

According to Sierra Leone embassy sources in Nigeria, the retired major general was kidnapped on his way to Kaduna, where he was to attend a ‘military event’.

An unconfirmed source at the embassy is said to have told Awareness Times: “At 4am  this morning, the embassy accountant received a strange phone call. It was the kidnappers. They placed Nelson-Williams on the line and after he identified himself to the accountant, the Kidnappers came back on the line and informed he was in their custody and they had kidnapped him and wanted a ransom demand of around 44 million Naira (about $150,000).”

“The kidnappers have now called the Embassy twice this morning threatening unsavory outcome if their ransom demand is not met. According to sources, one of the calls had Nelson Williams sounding very low and frightened. The whereabouts of his driver (and those he was supposed to be with on the said trip), is presently unknown.”

Staff at the Sierra Leone Embassy in Abuja are helping the Nigerian Police with their investigations.

Claude Nelson Williams2But tonight there are several unanswered questions. Who is responsible for paying the ransom – the Nigerian government or the Sierra Leone government, given the diplomatic ties between the two West African nations?

Why was the deputy ambassador attending a ‘military event’ in Kaduna – northern Nigeria, where the risk of terrorism or kidnapping is believed to be the highest in Nigeria?

A worrying report published this year by NYA International (NYA), paints a very grim picture of kidnappings in Nigeria.

This special report – ‘Global Kidnap Review 2016’, identify the trends in kidnapping for ransom observed over the course of 2015.

According to the report, the Key factors driving kidnap for ransom in hotspot countries are, militancy and conflict; failed or weak state security; corruption and criminality; and stretched national budgets associated with low oil prices.

The report says that the severe threat of kidnapping in Nigeria continued to be driven by Boko Haram’s mass kidnappings in 2015. Abductions are predominantly politically motivated, targeting high-profile domestic nationals.

It says that the 2015 elections were notably associated with a spike in abductions of symbolic individuals. There has, however, been an increase in wealthy, prominent victims, indicating a shift towards criminally-motivated kidnappings.

The line between piracy and kidnapping became increasingly blurred, as wealthy locals were targeted across over 21 incidents.

boko_haram3The report concludes that the threat of kidnapping will remain severe in 2016. On-going Boko Haram operations in the region will maintain the current kidnap threat to foreign nationals in the north-east.

Persistently high unemployment rates and poor prosecution rates will likely motivate more criminals to resort to kidnap for ransom as a source of funding.

An increase in maritime-based militancy in the south could also result in an increase in kidnap for ransom cases involving foreign nationals abducted onshore and offshore, says the NYA report.

letter of kidnapping

Reports by Nigerian media also paint a desperate picture. According to Nigeria’s Street Journal, the rate of kidnapping in Nigeria has risen considerably in the last ten years.

The Journal says that not less than 1,500 people are kidnapped on an annual basis in the country, thus making kidnapping more or less a new “cottage industry”.

Nigeria kidnappings statistics

But the Journal also point out that, with the statistical belief that one out of every 5 Africans is a Nigerian, it may not be wrong to say with her population and the increase in the wave of kidnapping, Nigeria has more potential kidnap victims than most of her West African neighbours.

Street Journal’s investigations show that kidnapping in Nigeria does not put only the rich at risk, but that the poor, old, young are all potential victims, depending on the motive of the kidnappers.

Motives behind kidnappings in Nigeria include ransom, which is about the most common type, ritual purposes and terrorism related kidnappings.

There have also been cases of stage-managed kidnappings, where people have colluded with kidnappers to stage their own abduction and later share the ransom with the supposed kidnappers, says Nigeria’s Street Journal.

Goodluck JonathanThe Journal reports that, although kidnapping is not a new phenomenon, it has however become more rampant. Just before the presidential election in 2007, gunmen stormed the home of the mother of Dr Goodluck Jonathan, then a vice presidential candidate and attempted to kidnap her. The old woman escaped in a boat which she paddled herself.

Unlike the President’s mum, the father of Nigerian footballer, John Obi Mikel could not escape his abductors. He was picked up on his way to work sometime last year and before long, a huge ransom was demanded. The gang was eventually busted and serving soldiers were found to be among the kidnappers.

Zero Option for Corruption: Ngozi Okonjo-IwealaAnother celebrated kidnap case was that of the mother of the Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. The Minister’s mum was abducted in her husband’s palace. Her release was however secured some days after.

Earlier in the year, some foreign construction workers were kidnapped on a site in Bauchi State. A terrorist group, Ansaru claimed responsibility and later showed videos that led to the belief that the hostages might have been shot and killed. The group claimed it executed the foreigners due to an attempt to rescue them.

Another family of seven French nationals ended up in the hands of terrorists who captured them in Northern Cameroon and drove them into Nigeria.

Nigerian Street Journal revealed that, while high profile cases get wide-ranging media attention, a lot of kidnapping incidents are resolved without publicity.  Many people prefer to quietly pay the demanded ransom and just move on as soon as the release of the victim is secured.

Tonight, speculations are rife as to whether the kidnapped former head of Sierra Leone’s military was in the north of Nigeria, working with the Nigerian military to help secure the release of the kidnapped Nigerian school girls.

Was this kidnapping purely random, or a scam involving people known to the kidnapped deputy ambassador for personal gain?

Notwithstanding this speculation, what is certain is that the life of one of Sierra Leone’s most decorated soldier is tonight in serious danger.

Who is Retired Major General Claude Nelson Williams?

These are just a few examples of his achievements: Nelson-Williams entered into the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces in 1975 as an enlisted serviceman, then became commissioned as a regular combatant officer after completing an officer cadet training program in the Egyptian Military Academy in April 1978.

Between 1978 and 1980 he continued to rise in the ranks, serving as a platoon commander and then as a mechanical and transport officer (MTO) in the second battalion, Republic of Sierra Leone Regiment (RSLAR). In 1983, he was tasked to head the anti-smuggling squad while serving in the First Battalion, Republic of Sierra Leone Regiment (RSLAR).

After distinguishing himself in this service by arresting the organizers of an $11.5 million diamond racket in Kono despite being offered a bribe of $100,000 and a brand new Mercedes-Benz, Nelson-Williams moved up to the position of adjutant of the RSLAR in 1984, preparing him for further roles in military administration.

In 1985 he completed a junior division command and staff course in Ghana Armed Forces Command and Staff College, and in 1986, he was appointed to head an anti-corruption squad. He returned to the adjutant post after this appointment, holding it from 1987 to 1990. (Source: Wikipedia).

Will the $40 million ransom be paid to secure his release? And who will pay? The government of Sierra Leone is almost bankrupt. But will president Koroma ask the World Bank to quickly provide the $40 million?

Will the Nigerian military use force to secure his release; or will their government pay up? The Nigerians are also cash strapped. Oil revenue has fallen and the Naira is in serious trouble.

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