I don’t know if Nigeria has taken over from Colombia, the unenviable position of the World’s KIDNAP capital, if not then she must be very close to it as not just the frequency of the occurrences but the mindboggling amounts demanded as ransom by kidnappers and almost often paid by members of the victims’ family that gnaws at my innards.
I fear that it may get to a point where once one begins to escape from the lean middle class for the tip of the pyramid, it will behoove on him/her to set apart a certain part of earnings into a KIDNAP ACCOUNT where funds may be drawn in the future to offset the cost of ransom should the one or a close relative is kidnapped, especially as it seems that the Nigerian police have not the slightest inkling as to how to even begin to tackle this now hydra-headed menace that is gradually become like some of the unfortunate norms we have to live with in Nigeria, just like many have come to make their peace with the Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast.
Kidnappings were a relatively unknown phenomena in Nigeria before the agitation for RESOURCE CONTROL gained grounds in Nigeria’s NIGER DELTA, where almost all of Nigeria’s wealth is extracted from, as crude oil. Back in those heady days of the late nineties into the new millennium, the victims were usually expats working in the oil industry, and a few Nigerian oil workers or members of their families. Deaths at the hands of kidnappers were rare back then, even on the few occasions when the security agencies tried to rescue the victims at the hands of the kidnappers. As with all evil that’s Nigerian in nature, it soon blew out of proportion, such that not even the AMNESTY granted the militants in the creeks by the late President Umar’ Musa Yar’Adua in 2007 did much to stop the trend, as though it reduced to a large extent in the Niger Delta, copycats in Nigeria’s Southeast took up the mantle, to much deadlier acclaim.
While the Kidnapping in the Niger Delta in the early days appeared to have a communal purpose (though proceeds went into arms purchase to fight the coercive forces of government), and geared towards a purpose, what it had become at the time it came to the Southeast was an occupation, as armed robbers simply changed jobs and because of the insular nature of that part of Nigeria, most of the victims were indigenes and “Sons and Daughters of the Soil”, either resident back in the east (usually relatives of very wealthy individuals residing outside of the region) or outside of it but wealthy and doing very well at their vocations, becoming targets when they return home during the Holidays, festive periods or personal occasions either of joy or sadness, and the likes. Some of the kidnapped lost their lives even when ransom had been paid, leading to a situation where many of the rich of the region had to disguise themselves when they take journeys back home to their villages, becoming non-committal as to their movements, such that you may see a man now, who tells you he’d be in the village for some days only for you to learn that at the time you saw him, he was on his way back to base (in town, the city or even outside of the country), because no one can be trusted, as it turned out most times (in the few cases that were solved) that close relatives of victims were involved, mostly acting as insiders for some quid they felt their “Aradite-Fisted” relative “owed” them in their entitlement-infected minds, when their lazy heads have done nothing at all to deserve a dime. Though drastic actions like those taken by governors there like Anambra State’s Obiano, involving mainly the demolition of homes owned by suspected kidnappers, has done much to reduce the spate, like that by Edo State’s Oshiomhole in the South-South/Niger Delta prescribing the death penalty (of which he had signed a few for other capital crimes in recent times), it still remains yet a “going concern”.
Kidnapping was also sampled by Islamic fundamentalist groups in Northern Nigeria especially for some time by ANSARUL (a breakaway group from Boko Haram), which even demanded ransom in order to grant freedom to some Europeans in their custody at some point. The Europeans later died following the exchange of gunfire between members of the sect and security agents who had stormed their location in Sokoto State to free the captives. Boko Haram also kidnapped but not for monetary reasons rather to shore up their fighting capacity especially with the males, and in the case of the females as “sex slaves”, the most popular of which was the abduction of female students from a secondary school in Chibok, Borno State more than a year ago, for which the hashtag “#BringBackOurGirls” became a worldwide phenomenon and a rallying point for those seeking the release of the many abducted by the dreaded Boko Haram group. Till date these girls have not been located or released, despite the release of many captives held by the group by the members of the Joint Military Task Force, JMTF in offensives against the group in Northeastern Nigeria, in recent times.
It was the Southwest of Nigeria that was spared for a long time of this menace, which had spread even to as close to its borders as Kogi State on the edge of North-Central Nigeria. The few reports in Lagos were heavily muted and not afforded the media attention it required because the Fashola-led government in Lagos (in the past eight years before the last elections earlier this year) preferred an atmosphere that will favour investments, local or foreign and did all,within its powers to bury leaks of such events in the press, besides strengthening the police to make Lagos largely unprofitable for that kind of trade. It is interesting to note however, that in years past abductions in the Southwest had always been related to ritual killings, and included majorly that of children, women, the weak and imbecile amongst others. The kidnap of Elder Statesman and former Secretary to the Federal Government, Chief Olu Falae (a highly revered personality in the Southwest) in his farm in Akure, Ondo State last week (on his birthday) and his release a few hours back cast a huge light on the kidnap situation in the southwest and the increasingly helplessness of security agents in the zone in dealing with the menace, especially after it became known that a ransom was paid for his release despite the assertion by the Police Inspector-General to the contrary. If before now many were under the illusion that the zone was devoid of the kind of organized criminals perpetrating kidnappings in other parts of Nigeria (despite the many cases recorded, now almost on a weekly basis, of foreigners and locals even in Lagos, especially since Fashola handed over power to Governor Ambode- who appears to be taking eternity to find his feet, when not uncovering the latest financial indiscretions perpetrated by his predecessor while in office), that surely must have been erased from their mind right now.
Many have pointed a finger at some members of the security agencies, especially the police in the activities of kidnappers and they appear to have good reason for such especially considering how kidnapping reduced drastically in the east years back, after a former Inspector-General of Police of Southeast origin at the time stopped promotions, annual leaves and other welfare packages for members of the police in the region until the spate of kidnappings was reduced, while appealing to “his people” to help him save his job, a position that was hitherto denied that section of Nigerian society for years for political reason. This appeared to work quite to plan for the duration that the “threat” on members of the police in the region held sway. This incident, amongst many others (like cases of policemen mentioned by captured suspects of a kidnap syndicate), impressed on the mind of not a few people the possibility of complicity of some “bad eggs” in the police and other security agencies with the kidnappers.
The failure of the police in the latest case of kidnap which I highlighted must surely embolden kidnappers especially in the Southwest, were much of their activities seem to be concentrated for now, and until some are caught and made to face the full wrath of the law, like the notorious “Osisikanku” (though in not extrajudicially neutralizing them) in the Southeast amongst others, I fear that this status quo will be maintained for a long time to the terrorization of the populace. It doesn’t help also that Fulani herdsmen appear to be implicated in this well publicised case too, a group which before now has not been known to be involved in kidnaps despite their well established violent nature especially when they fall into disputes with host communities over grazing fields and water for their cattle away from their domain. For a well travelled nomadic group, the only one of its kind in Nigeria that travels the length and breadth of Nigeria heavily armed (with their own protection as excuse) unchallenged by any security agency, the meaning of their possible incursion into this path if true will alter the dynamics in no mean way, that one can only wish that this is a one off event or that someone just used their name to perpetrate the crime because of their notoriety to get the family of the elder statesman to hastily pay the ransom.
The capacity of members of the police and other security agencies must now be built to combat this menace, and make the path unattractive to the teeming unemployed youth who may have seen in it “the light” to emancipation financially, so that banks won’t officially begin to add “Kidnap Account” to the retinue of products they have for their customers, high net worth or not. The society itself must also begin to deemphasize wealth, right from the pulpit to the streets. It may be within the rights of the wealthy to showoff their wealth on social media but there is something about that which makes it very distasteful as one doesn’t know who might be watching or what people who see that might want to do with the information thus provided. Floyd Mayweather can do that in America, but the Nigerian police doesn’t have the depth the American police and other investigative agencies over there have in tackling crime, or in protecting wealthy showoffs like that.
Crimes such as kidnapping may also reduce if fewer youths are unemployed compared to the “army of unemployed” we have today, a few of whose idle minds have become open to money making ideas that are not in tandem with that consistent with law abiding citizens. It is not easy to ask family and associates of victims of kidnap not to raise funds to save a beleaguered member in the custody of kidnappers, but maybe people will begin to trust the police more if successful retrieval of victims, as well as apprehension of more kidnappers (with their subsequent prosecution and jailing), and not the kind that are soon released back into society to continue to terrorize the people because they know people “up there”, are recorded with precedent set, become the norm rather than the exception.