The Origin, problem and how to curb the Kidnapping problem in Nigeria
The business of kidnapping
Kidnapping seems to have fast assumed a thriving industry in Nigeria. Relatives of kidnapped suspects pay huge sums of money in millions of Naira and maybe hard currency in other to secure their release. NGOZI NWANKWO examines the trend and its negative impacts on the society.
To say that kidnapping activities in Nigeria is worrisome is to un- derstate the obvious. Before, only expartriates were the targets;
however, the trend has changed drastical- ly from only whisking expatriates to the rich, wealthy and their relations, includ- ing women and children.
Usually, persons so kidnapped are holed up at some dark corners or far instances until millions of naira are paid to kidnap- pers before their eventual release their victims.
Many have attributed this ugly phenom- enon to failure of governance at all levels of governmenty in the country. This has, no doubt, imposed some negative implica- tions on the image of the country.
Of course, gone are days when poor citizens look up to the rich for security; rather, the rich people are now the most affected group.
The high rate of kidnapping has been linked with several factors. It is associated with the emergence of militancy, terror- ism and state of insecurity.
What seems to have hitherto domiciled in south-eastern Nigeria, especially Abia State to be precise, is taking its train of movement round the country, gradually spreading around.
Kidnapping refers to forceful abduction of a human being with the intention to hold them for ransom, or seize them away for the motive of harassment (physically or mentally or sexually), taking them hos- tage and various other motives. It is done by the way of taking the kidnapped per- son to a place where they are unlikely to be found and is unlikely to be released till abductors demands are satisfied.
In one of the numerous televised pub- lic hearings on organised by the House of Representatives on how to tackle the menace of insecurity in the country, the senator from Abia South Senatorial, Sena- tor, Eyinnaya Abaribe, attributed the ma- jor causes of kidnapping in the south-east to inadequate infrastructure such as good road network and electricity that would enhance productivity in the area thereby creating employment opportunities for the youths.
The high rate of unemployment which emanated from inadequate provision of this infrastructure displaced many youths out of their jobs thereby offering them no better options other than engaging themselves in anti-social activities such as armed robbery, kidnapping and other economic and financial crimes.
He further said that Abia State was a big commercial city where every economic activity thrived but since the problems of unsteady power supply and inacces- sibility of these commercial areas due to bad roads surfaced in the state, nothing seemed to be moving again. According to him, this has put off so many youths who could not cope with the trend from busi- ness.
But the Senate President, David Mark, who refused to agree on this reason said some youths are ruthless and lazy that some of them deliberately refusing job for quest for quick and evil money.
Other concerned citizens attribute the immediate problem facing Nigeria ema- nates from the social imbalance, espe- cially on the line of the two classes of the people. In other words, this is anchored on the pressure on certain people to meet up the challenges of satisfying their eco- nomic needs.
Of course, the fact remains that this people are likely to go extra mile to commit crime of different types.
However, tracing the history of kid- napping in Nigeria to the youths of the Niger Delta region who revolted against the exploitation of the oil re- sources of the area in the face of ab- ject poverty being faced by the people of that region, Mr. Onovo said, “the youths resorted to kidnapping of ex- patriates to press home their demand for attention which later metamor- phosed to demand for ransom.
“ Youth restiveness and unemploy- ment has made kidnapping to be raised to an uncontrollable dimen- sion”, he said.
He enumerated other causes of kid- napping to include poverty, illiteracy, political factors, peer group influence amongst others. He thus called on women who are the stabilising force in the family to nurture and train their children in a proper way since the chil- dren are the leaders of tomorrow.
He also advised mothers from the wealthy homes to teach their children that wealth is a privilege and not a right, saying “If mothers inculcate good education and good morals, it would help curtail vices among the youths”. Again women should dis- courage their husbands from sybaritic life in order to avoid them being kid- napped, she also added.
It is true to state that since the sur- face of kidnapping, Nigeria has lost count of national figures abducted on a daily basis with huge sum as ran- som. The most recent ones were the kidnap of the popular Nollywood ac- tress, Nkiru Sylvanus; four Chinese construction workers in Bayelsa and Katsina States.
Perhaps, the most popular was the abduction of the 83 years old Mrs. Kanane Okonjo, mother of Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, whose condition of release was not disclosed whether there was ransom or not, but the report of her kidnap- ping tied closely to controversies sur- rounding the Subsidy Reinvestment Committee and cabals.
The dangerous trends in kidnap- ping has, unfortunately, lead to loss of lives, properties, money and some negative implications to the country in a larger form.
Unarguably, that much talks and public hearings have been heard of how to intensify efforts to tack- ling insecurity but nothing has been achieved so far. It seems that more government intensifies, the more the perpetrators strategise on how to hit the ground running on their trade.
It will be laughable to say that Nige- ria is indeed heading in the direction of its targeted goal of vision 20:2020 which aims to make the country be- come one of the 20th largest econo- mies by the year 2020 with the way things are. There is no reasonable for- eign investor that would like to invest where stability and security are not guaranteed.
The economic activities have long thwarted as most local investors pre- fer to invest in other foreign countries other than Nigeria where their invest- ments are safer.
How to curb kidnapping, others in South-East, by NAS
THE National Association of Seadogs (NAS) has faulted the deployment of more policemen to the South-East, arguing that the move is not the solution to curbing the rising incidence of kidnapping and other criminalities ravaging the zone.
The group also urged the passage into law without further delay the National Integration Bill, which seeks to address the challenges posed by tribalism, ethnicity and statism to Nigeria’s unity.
Speaking with journalists at the weekend as part of activities to kick-start the group’s 34th National Conference, NAS Leader, Emmanuel Bassey, called for a proactive programme of action that would check insecurity and crime, especially kidnapping in the South-East zone.
Bassey stated that the current sin assembly of crime in the South-East was being fuelled by lax policing as policemen only mount road blocks in the zone to extort money from motorists and not to fight crime.
He called for the proper training and re-orientation of policemen to enable them discharge their duties properly.
The NAS leader also advocated a review of the posting policy of the Police to ensure that operatives are posted to their own localities where they are conversant with the terrain so that their own people would monitor their behaviour and hold them directly responsible for the area’s security.
He lamented that the National Integration Bill sent to the National Assembly by the association some years back in line with NAS determination to curb some pressing national challenges like tribalism, ethnicity and statism in the country was yet to be given the desired attention.
Bassey recalled that the association had organised a public lecture in Aba to seek ways to effectively tackle the menace of kidnapping with the police, State Security Service (SSS) and other security agencies fully represented, but regretted that the forum’s recommendations were trashed.
He said: “Yet, the level of criminality bordering on insecurity continues to soar while those whose business it is to ensure security of lives and property continue to fiddle and to engage in impossible and embarrassing past-times.
“Kidnapping has become so commonplace in the south-eastern states that the general impression is that there is a complete breakdown of law and order”.
According to him, the hapless citizens in those states may not fully appreciate the extent of the damage, which the development has done to them, pointing out that “very few Nigerians want to come to the South-East for fear of either being kidnapped or robbed”.
Bassey added: “As we speak, many of our members are still calling to find out whether those of us who have arrived (for the forum) are safe enough to encourage them to come in. That is the extent of the damage which the twin evils of armed robbery and kidnapping had wrought on the South-East”.
Ironically, he observed that the South-East zone has the largest police and military presence in the entire country.
He added that between Aba and Port Harcourt alone, there are about 38 police roadblocks and “from one of such roadblocks, one can virtually see the next roadblock, yet people around are bound to strongly advise you, especially if you are driving a good car, not to take the route”.
Bassey said: “The real wonder is that this sin assembly of crime is going on in spite of the massive police presence, as if the only solution to the problem is the deployment of more policemen.
“In our opinion, that logic is faulty for many reasons. The fact is that the policemen at the various roadblocks see themselves basically as toll collectors. It is exceptional experience to find a policeman actually searching a vehicle, except of course when a search is conducted as punishment for a driver’s unwillingness to part with the usual N20”.
KIDNAPPING IN Nigeria and its root causes
The current situation in Nigeria could be likened to an inferno drawing both the old and the young; the rich and the poor; and the local and the international communities to itself. Hardly a day passes in Nigeria without kidnapping incidents making the headlines. Kidnapping is now a lucrative venture with some jobless youths manning the business. No one is safe anymore. Every day, tens of Nigerians are kidnapped for various reasons ranging from economic, political and personal grievances. Some are killed before they were rescued while others are rescued by their relatives after paying ransom. The worst scenario was the kidnapping of 15 school children on their way to school last week. These are innocent children who became victims probably because their parents are considered rich. Another gory incident involved the abduction and killing of Dr. Stanley Uche, proprietor of Victory Christian Hospital, Aba, who was murdered in spite of the payment of a N30 million ransom. The story is endless and alarming. Underlying these acts of callousness is the fact that the youths are idle and live in a society where a man’s importance is measured by his material acquisition.
However, kidnapping for ransom is a part of a larger story. The current wave of kidnapping began with the abduction of expatriate oil workers by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta (MEND, a youth group) in late 2005 as a means of alerting the world of the many years of injustice, exploitation, marginalization and underdevelopment of Niger-Delta region. The apparent negligence and the underdevelopment of the region have always been explained with limp reasons. The oil companies claim not to be responsible for the development of the region by virtue of the fact that they work for Nigerian government and pay royalty to the government. Federal government on its own blames the ministries constituted by it to tackle the problems of the region and the ministries blame the youths for disrupting projects. It is a vicious cycle where only the poor are adversely affected. In a statement released by the leader of MEND group, “the taking of foreign hostages is to draw the attention of the people of these countries to happenings in Nigeria. Their governments know and suppress this slavery and economic genocide from their people. These truths will now be forced into the open” (Guardian newspaper, 21 January 2006). The crux of the matter is that not only are the Niger-Delta people marginalized and excluded from the benefits of oil wealth, they are treated as inferior or less human. What happened in Louisiana in April this year is a tip of the iceberg of what the people of Niger-Delta have been subjected to for over 5 decades of oil exploration. While it was easier for British Petroleum (BP) to explain to the whole world the causes of the oil spillage in the Gulf of Mexico and came out with a responsive plan to clean up the affected areas, the same BP, along with the Dutch-owned Shell Petroleum Company and other American and European owned oil explorers who own oil blocs in the Niger Delta have been silent for years over their activities in the Niger-Delta region which have resulted in constant oil spills, environmental degradation, and gas flaring.
Nigeria is one of the largest oil producing countries in the world. The home to these oil deposits is the Niger-Delta region, made up of Bayelsa, Rivers, Delta, Cross Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Imo, Edo, Ondo and Abia states, all in the Southern part of Nigeria. Niger-Delta ranks the sixth world’s largest exporter of crude oil and ranks third as world’s largest producer of palm oil after Malaysia and Indonesia.
The region is also rich in other agricultural produce such as cassava, rubber, timber, pineapple, cocoa, cashew, rice, yam and orange. In spite of the enormous resources that abound in the region, the region still has majority of its people living and dying in poverty. The people have watched for many decades how politicians, foreign nationals and government officials have enriched themselves from the proceeds accrued from oil exploration, while leaving them impoverished and their environment degraded and polluted. There is high mortality rate, poor health facilities (in most cases one doctor for every 150,000 inhabitants), inadequate or lack of transportation facilities, lack of schools, epileptic electricity supply (in some regions, the only light that shines at night comes from gas flare from the oil wells), lack of portable drinking water, environmental degradation yielding poor and unhealthy agricultural produce (in some cases fishes smell of crude oil). Coupled with these is the hostility of the oil companies towards their host communities and the reprisal attacks on the side of the federal government when it comes to handling any dispute between the oil companies and the host communities.
Several attempts made by the Niger-Deltans in the past to draw the attention of the government and oil companies to their plights were repressed and silenced. Eminent personalities such as Isaac Adaka Boro, Ken Saro Wiwa and other Ogoni elites have lost their lives in their bid to fight for the development of the region. Isaac Boro was arrested for challenging the Federal Government in 1966 and sentenced to death by then Military head of state, Major-Gen Aguiyi Ironsi but was later pardoned by Gen. Yakubu Gowon who took over power from him. Ken Saro Wiwa, a writer and human rights activist, made several attempts to draw the attention of both the Nigerian government and other foreign governments to the suffering of his people but his attempts were repressed. He was accused of murder and sentenced to death by hanging with other eight Ogoni elites in 1995 by the military dictator, General Sani Abacha.
Perhaps for years, what has preoccupied the minds of the Nigerian government and the oil companies is how much wealth could be accrued from oil exploration and exportation. The least item on their agenda is human and infrastructural development, which is needed for human existence. This apathy to human and infrastructural development has created a culture of violence as the people have resorted to various means to make ends meet. It is intuitively true that in a country where politicians are more interested in amassing wealth for themselves against the welfare of the citizens of the state; where the citizens have no confidence in government; where the future looks bleak and where a greater majority are treated like the “other,” there is bound to be disorder. Every year thousands of youths graduate from higher institutions with no hope of gaining employment. Those who work in the oil companies are left with menial jobs. Many are not even educated, not because they wished to be uneducated but because there is no means of education. Yet in the same society, the wealth of the nation is left in the hands of a very few. The little money mapped out for the development of the region is misappropriated by corrupt leaders and politicians who manage these offices, thereby widening the gap between the rich and the poor.
As J.P Clark rightly states “the casualties are not those who started a fire and now cannot put it out; thousands are burning that had no say in the matter; the casualties are many, and a good number well outside the scene of ravage and wreck.” Ironically, those who started this Harmattan fire that is burning the entire country down are well outside the scene. The Federal government of Nigeria who failed to pay attention to the suffering of its citizens; the foreign oil nationals who were indifferent to the plights of their hosts and the politicians who armed the jobless youths with guns with which they fought their opponents during 1999 and 2003 elections. It is true that Nigerian government and foreign oil nationals have lost so much money because of the lingering crisis but those who bear the brunt are those who have been taken hostages. Many of them have no say in the matter. The shift in focus has been tremendous, from kidnapping of expatriate oil workers to relatives of politicians to relatives of those in the Diaspora and now anybody on sight.
Kidnapping takes place anytime and anywhere, in the churches, on the streets, in the hospitals and even at home. Like an inferno, other states outside the Niger-Delta region are drawn to this evil practice, mostly for monetary purposes. No longer is the statement that the rich can no longer sleep because the poor are hungry and prowl the street aptly true, both the rich and the poor can no longer sleep because nobody is sacred anymore. The rate of kidnapping is so alarming that Nigeria will lose a whole generation or more if nothing is done urgently. The truth is that a lot of people are idle and cannot find a sustainable means of livelihood. Job creation should be attended to adequately to ensure that many people are gainfully employed. Apart from the get-rich-quick syndrome that pervades Nigerian society, many of the youths have taken to kidnapping as a means of livelihood. Nigeria has money that could comfortably take care of some of these pressing issues but misappropriation of public fund is a major threat to Nigerian development. On the other hand, the ecological problems as well as other pressing issues that plague the Niger-Delta region should be attended to immediately. It is because these issues are left unattended for decades that many militia groups have evolved in the Niger-Delta, giving rise to the present situation that is affecting not only those in the Niger-Delta but everybody in Nigeria. This will in many ways calm the nerves of many militias groups who have taken to violence to press home their points.
In a country that has the stark income gaps often associated with an oil economy, and where appearance is a matter of great pride, rich Nigerians can be easy to spot.
“Wealth here is conspicuous. The average Nigerian likes to show his wealth, to show that God has blessed him,” said Ajakaiye. “And when you feel that your right [to also be wealthy] has been taken from you, what do you do? You want to fight for it.”
The shift toward Nigerian victims has also seen kidnapping move beyond the delta, which is in the southeast. The father of Chukwuma Soludo, the former central bank chief, was seized at the end of October in Anambra state. Simeon Soludo, in his late 70s, was released some days later. His family denies paying a ransom. A senior government official was also abducted in the north this summer.
“The expat has become a more difficult thing to seize,” said one security expert in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, who wished to remain anonymous. “So kidnappers have rapidly turned their attention to wealthy Nigerians, their children, even their grandmothers. We can expect more in the leadup to Christmas, when crime traditionally increases here.”
Nigeria’s government is currently debating an anti-kidnapping bill, which, if passed, would mean life sentences for abductors and their assistants. Six of the country’s 36 states have this year adopted the death penalty for the crime, according to Amnesty International. More are considering it.
However, security analysts say tougher penalties are not the solution. In another sign of unevenly distributed wealth and opportunities, jobs are scarce in sub-Saharan Africa’s second-largest economy. Many Nigerians are on a daily hunt for instant cash. Some jobless young men, seeing the riches of foreigners and the country’s small elite, turn to crime to plot ways to get rich quick.
“This problem has root causes: unemployment, poverty, a lack of voice and a sense of disenfranchisement, all of which sit against the wealth of a few,” said the security expert in Lagos. “Draconian punishments won’t deal with it.”