KWENU: Our Culture, Our Future

THE IMPARTIAL OBSERVER

 

Battling Nigeria’s Kidnapping Scourge

 

Hank Eso

hankeso@aol.com

Sunday 1 November 2009

 

Someone should tell the eminent members of Nigeria’s elite Governors’ Forum,

that they are all accessories to this growing crime of kidnapping

 

 

Insecurity kills national development and confidence.  Insecurity drives investors and good money away.  Insecurity breeds instability.  This is the fate of Nigeria. General insecurity associated with lax law enforcement, armed robbery and common criminality aside, Nigeria is experiencing a palpable breath of diffidence now associated the prevailing scourge and menace and of kidnapping. As 2009 ends, I am compelled to revisit an issue addressed in the space last January; kidnapping in Nigeria (See, “Incessant Kidnappings and the Beirutization of Nigeria”).

 

It is as if faceless but determined bands of opportunistic criminals are waging a psychological warfare against the nation.   I say opportunistic, only because they realize and take advantage of the government inability to address robustly this growing public safety problem. Painfully, one must admit that they are winning.

 

Kidnapping in Nigeria was once a regional issue confined to the south-south Delta region. Not any more.  Now, a national problem, kidnapping has crossed state lines and social strata. Indeed, the richer or well-off one is the likelihood that they and their families will become targeted victims. There is no way to hide.

 

Nigerians in the Diaspora are perhaps the most brutalized by this sad development.  They are now consistently advised by their family members not to visit Nigeria, being that such visitors are easy targets. In addition, their relatives are targeted and the culprits ask the kidnapped to tell their relatives abroad to send ransom money.

 

If the Nigerian government has been oblivious of the venomous consequences of the scourge of kidnapping, that reality was clearly brought home when recently, the Secretary to the Kaduna State Government, Mr. Waje Yayok was kidnapped in October.  He was the second known case in Kaduna State, following the kidnap last April, of Julianne Mulligan Ann, a Canadian expatriate and Rotarian who was in Nigeria on an exchange program. Other notable kidnap victims include renowned actor, Pete Edochie and most recently, Mr. Simon Soludo, the 78-year old father of Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, the former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria and nominee of the Peoples Democratic Party in the 2010 Anambra State gubernatorial elections scheduled for next February. The elder Soludo’s kidnappers have reportedly demanded N500 million in ransom.

 

The present kidnapping scourge is hardly an aberration.  Though it started as a political tool used by Niger Delta militants to pressure the Nigerian government into meeting their political demands, the problems has since festered. Kidnapping in Nigeria no longer target foreigners in the oil industry as was the case just two years ago. Now, every Nigerian is a probable victim.  Luck is the only critical factor, for those yet unaffected.  Kidnapping, is now an act of unfettered criminality and a political tool, which combined, makes it doubly alarming and dangerous.

 

Nevertheless, kidnapping in Nigeria is emblematic of the overall national rot.  The reality, however, is that despite numerous complaints, write-ups and push for the federal government to intervene, nothing happened. The issue was not a matter of criminalizing kidnapping, as it was already a crime in the Nigerian statutes. The underlining point was to make to it clear to those so engaged, that kidnapping would not pay and that the perpetrators would be severely punished. Rather than act preemptively, the Nigerian government played ostrich, allowing foreign oil company to pay huge ransoms in foreign exchange, thus turning kidnapping into the lucrative venture it is now. Indeed, I noted in this space how government agencies even paid Niger Delta militants millions of dollars (See Bunkering, Blood, Bungling and Botching Niger Delta Policy). Unquestionably, societal evil has a face and one that in Nigeria is becoming starkly manifest.

 

It is mind-blowing that the governors of Nigeria’s 36 states have only come to the pathetic and damning realization that kidnapping has become a major industry and scourge, and thus called for tougher action to combat the ugly phenomenon.  Well, someone should tell the eminent members of the elite Governors’ Forum, that they are all accessories to this growing crime of kidnapping. Collectively, as Chief Security Officers for their respective states and therefore integral parts of the national security mosaic, they have failed to secure their territories, to protect their people and more regrettably, they have failed to underpin national security, and by extension, regional security.    One only needs to ask the governors, what they have done with their security votes and if indeed, they think that those who created the terminology intended for the huge discretionary funds to be a governor’s personal keepsake.  I don’t think so!

 

Secondly, the root causes of criminality, kidnapping included, can be traced to absence of good governance, failure to provide social amenities, employment and educational opportunities. When cults emerged in the universities, successive Nigerians governments demurred, hardly taking any action.  Consequently, cults festered, and soon enough involved kidnappings, and even violence deaths. In contrast, when intelligence reports reached the Mohammed-Obasanjo regime that some young youths in some of the nation’s renowned high schools, who were from very rich and eminent families had formed an association called NFA – No Future Ambition—the matter was sufficiently troubling and of national security concern that it was placed on the agenda of the Federal Executive Council. The  presumptive rings leaders who saw no reason to aspire to any meaningful careers, when they could wait and cash in on their parents and family wealth, were quietly dispersed and some were sent off abroad to study by the parents on the counsel of the government, thus mitigating the ensuing threat to national security.

 

Of this latter case of kidnapping, the nation must of necessity look at the cause and effect. Additionally, there must be the political will to tackle the scourge. Whilst it is gratifying that finally, President Umaru Yar’Adua has sent a bill to the National Assembly, which makes kidnapping an act of terrorism, thus joining and reinforcing the legislative efforts by several south-east and south-south states that have already taken extensive measures to criminalize and punish kidnappers, more needs to be done. Yar’Adua’s omnibus anti-terrorism bill, criminalizes as terrorist act, such actins that "involves or causes, as the case may be, an attack upon a person's life which may cause serious bodily harm or death; kidnapping of a person".   

Still, it needs acceptance, that even if the federal and state governments were to pass overarching laws against kidnapping, decreeing as it were, the death penalty for kidnapping culprits, if convicted, such efforts would not essentially address the core issues, which pertains to good governance, maintenance of the rule of law and robust law enforcement.   The Nigerian Police is hamstrung as it is, in terms of its numerical strength, training, equipment and perhaps, disconcertedly, the moral and commitment levels with the force. Well beyond combating the ever-increasing spate of criminality and sectarian restiveness, including many unresolved assassinations, effectively tackling the rising scourge of kidnapping, is a task the police alone cannot solve, no matter how well equipped. The enabling environment must exist in order to root out such crimes. Other measures are called for and I will suggest just a few.

 

Role of the Media and Community:

Those who want to re-brand Nigeria must join in the campaign to sensitize the national public that kidnapping does not occur in isolation, but in communities because people tolerate them or are indifferent.  There should be police hotlines for anonymous tips on those suspected to be involved in kidnapping, those who harbor kidnappers and places where kidnappers use as hideouts.  The media should keep the issue in the front burner of national discourse; provide statistics, as well reportage on arrests and convictions. A return to community-assisted policing is imperative in this regard. The people must get involved.

 

Role of State Governors:

Beyond sending bills to the state legislators, State Governors should devote money from their security votes to the police for rewards on tips that lead to arrests and convictions. This will make the operating environment for kidnappers inhospitable. Still, State Governors working with police commands in their respective states should undertake to pay for the in-state recruitment and training of a number of their indigenes into the Nigerian Police, thus helping the police boost its numbers. To avoid the risks or accusation of creating quasi-state police forces, if for instance, the police deployment and numerical strength in Kano and Abia is 4000 rank and file each, both states could undertake to finance the training of additional 200 police officers in 2010. By 2011, the police deployment in Abia and Kano should increase respectively to 4200, but not necessarily with the trained state indigenes, who should be deployed elsewhere in country. This would be a way for Governors to prove their commitment and pay to security in their states without necessarily commanding their own police and security forces. Thus, they can also determine the police-civilian per capita ratio in their states.  

 

Role of the Telephone Carriers:

This pundit has always believed that the Obasanjo administration in its bid to improve the telephony services in Nigeria unwittingly sacrificed the essential national security components linked to communications. With the proliferation of GSM telephones, it is indeed most confounding that the Nigerian Communications Commission, the independent regulatory authority for the telecommunications industry in Nigeria, charged with creating an enabling environment for operators in the industry and ensuring the provision of qualitative and efficient telecommunications services throughout the country, overlooked its security responsibilities. Today, with millions of communication handsets in criminal-minded hands, there is neither coherence nor coordination, between NCC, the respective GSM carriers and the Nigerian police and other security agencies on how to track down and recover phone numbers used for criminal activities or used to undermine state security. If tackling kidnapping and other crimes require revoking all assigned GSM numbers in the country and reissuing them on a name, address, and personal identity and data basis, so be it.  Access to telephone is a necessity, but not a right, if national security and the safety of the public are in jeopardy. Indeed, no legal price is too huge to ensure the nations security. Again, it would take extreme political will to press for such an urgent and inevitable operational change.

 

Addressing Youth Unemployment:

The mother-of-all- remedies for tacking our broad national malaise including criminality and kidnapping, will inevitably rest on how we tackling youth unemployment. It is delusional for policymaker and politicians to this the nation will know and enjoy peace, when its able-bodied youths are ill educated and not gainfully employed. It is hardly a secret that the growing sophistication to Nigeria’s growing criminality is linked to the perpetrators being in many cases educated but unemployed youths.  A resort to criminality becomes an outlet for such people who fell abandoned by the society but who are also witnesses to the shameless flaunting of ill-gotten wealth by public office holders. As a Chinese adage says, “the society creates crimes; people commit them.” That is Nigeria’s fate and the solutions we seek must begin with a realization of what needs to be done.  Legislation alone is not the answer we seek.

 

With neither anger nor partiality, until next time, keep the law, stay impartial, and observe closely.

 

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Hank Eso is a columnist for Kwenu.com.  His observations on Nigerian, African and global politics and related issues, has appeared in various print media, journals and internet-based sites.

© Hank Eso, 1 November 2009.

Email: hankeso@aol.com

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