The recurring and disturbing horror of footballers’ relatives kidnapped for ransom

A footballer’s salary is often an upwards of 5 figures every week, added to it, the fact that their earnings are made public, they will continue to be at risk of being victims of thieves and criminals.
— Margaret Mandeya, FirstTouch Africa

It’s difficult to imagine the horror of receiving a phone call from home informing you that your loved one has been kidnapped while you are halfway across the world. This is fast becoming the reality for some of Nigeria’s most prominent footballers. The latest case in a series of organised kidnappings of the relatives of Nigerian players is that of Bordeaux winger, Samuel Kalu’s mother.

Kalu’s mother was abducted on the 27th of February in Abia and released after 6 days. Ozuruonye Juliet Kalu’s gun-wielding kidnappers ambushed her whilst she was driving home and demanded a ransom of USD 138,000 when they found out about her son’s professional footballer status. The 21-year-old who joined Bordeaux in August 2018, on a five-year contract with the Ligue 1 team paid the ransom to ensure the safe return of his mother.

Joseph Yobo of Nigeria is dejected after the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group B match between Greece and Nigeria at the Free State Stadium on June 17, 2010 in Mangaung/Bloemfontein, South Africa.  (June 16, 2010 - Source: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images Europe)

Joseph Yobo of Nigeria is dejected after the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group B match between Greece and Nigeria at the Free State Stadium on June 17, 2010 in Mangaung/Bloemfontein, South Africa.

(June 16, 2010 - Source: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images Europe)

Abia State Police have announced that investigations are being made to identify the kidnappers and bring them to justice. Sadly, kidnappings are becoming more frequent in Nigeria and the phenomenon has spread more than can be accidental. John Mikel Obi’s father has been the victim of kidnapping twice. The first incident occurred in 2011 after which he was released safely from his captures. In June 2018, in what can only be described as a nightmare, Mr Michael Obi was kidnapped for the second time in seven years.

The Nigerian captain received the news of his father’s abduction moments before the Super Eagles faced Argentina in the group stages in Russia, during the 2018 World Cup, news he said he kept from his teammates. Fortunately, Mikel Obi’s father was rescued by the Enugu State Police during which the police and the kidnappers engaged in a gun battle.

Former Everton player, Joseph Yobo's brother was kidnapped by gunmen in July 2008 and was released two weeks later. It turned out that the people who had organised the abduction of Norum Yobo were close family friends. According to Yobo, the ordeal was frightening. He stated in a 2009 interview, "I was terrified the police would get involved. I had to make them understand that sometimes you have to let other people deal with it another way.”

Reports suggest that kidnapping is a big business in Nigeria with some prominent politicians and businessmen involved in ransom kidnappings. Wealthy people are a target for these kidnapping rings and football players are at great risk of having their family members abducted because of their financial capabilities. The problem is very big and the kidnappings of  famous football players’ family members are bringing attention to the extent of this crisis. The police have been trying to crack down on the kidnapping rings in the country and particularly in the southern part of Nigeria but the people behind these activities are still at large.

A footballer’s salary is often an upwards of 5 figures every week, added to it, the fact that their earnings are made public, they will continue to be at risk of being victims of thieves and criminals.

Samuel Kalu who is currently injured will miss Nigeria’s two matches against Seychelles and Egypt. He is set to be replaced by Ikouwen Udoh when the Super Eagles take on Seychelles in an African Cup of Nations qualifier and a friendly against Egypt in Abasa on the 22nd and 26th of March.