The time has come for government to take a tough stance against kidnapping and address it squarely as a major threat to society
Argentinian national, Santiago Lopez Menendez, kidnapped in Niger State. The South American, an agronomist who works for Nigerian Flour Mills Plc and manages two farms in the north central state was travelling on the Mokwa- Kontagora road when he was kidnapped. This is not an isolated case as several Nigerians and foreign nationals have fallen victims of kidnappers in recent years.
Among the recent victims of kidnapping in the country are Professor James Adichie, father of Nigeria’s award winning author, Chimamanda Adichie; Princess Oluwatoyin Omosowon, the regent of Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State; Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Akingbade, a priest of the Catholic diocese of Ekiti; Eze Samuel Amaechi, first class traditional ruler in Rivers State; Prof. Albert Adeoye Ilemobade, former Vice-Chancellor, Federal University of Technology, Akure; Olubunmi Oke, female journalist with the Nigerian Television Authority, Akure, Ondo State; among many others.
Two months ago, five ExxonMobil workers were kidnapped in Akwa Ibom State by gunmen. In February, gunmen attacked a vessel and kidnapped six foreign sailors off the Bayelsa State coastline, demanding ₦200 million for their release. Richard Seiba, the traditional ruler of Okordia Kingdom in Yenagoa Local Government of Bayelsa State, was abducted from his home by kidnappers who demanded ₦50 million for his release. The list is endless.
The time has come for government to take a tough stance against kidnapping and address it squarely as a major threat to society. Apart from the pain the kidnappers inflict on their victims and their families, they are doing incalculable damage to the image of the country. In the past few years, Nigeria has been ranked consistently as one of the 10 countries having the highest rate of kidnapping, alongside Mexico, India, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sudan, and Lebanon.
A study conducted by NYA International, a global risk and crisis management consultancy two years ago found that Nigeria accounted for 26 per cent of kidnap and ransom incidents globally in the first half of 2013. Before then, another risk consultancy firm called Control Risks, had reported that 74 per cent of kidnappings recorded in Africa in 2012 occurred in Nigeria. Similarly, Nigeria was designated the “global capital of kidnapping” at a meeting of the African Insurance Organisation in Mauritius a few years ago.
The forum noted that “Nigeria is now the kidnap-for-ransom capital of the world, accounting for a quarter of globally reported cases.” The current kidnapping scourge in the country could be traced to the early years of the current democratic dispensation when militants in the Niger Delta started abducting foreign oil workers to draw national and international attention to the criminal neglect and deprivations suffered by the oil producing communities in the Niger Delta region. At inception, their captives were set free after some days. Soon after, they began to demand and receive ransom as well as disrupt crude oil production.
Following the amnesty programme for Niger Delta militants initiated by the regime of late President Umaru Yar’Adua, the incidence of kidnapping declined considerably. But then, the seed had been sown and many Nigerian youths now see kidnapping as the surest way of making money while political enemies also see it as a means of settling political scores. This situation must not be allowed to continue.
It is sad to note that while the kidnappers have since changed their modus operandi and turned kidnapping into a booming business, the police and the other security agencies do not seem to have a ready response to that. Nigerians are now living in fear because of this failure of government to live up to its responsibility of safeguarding lives and properties. Every year, several millions of naira is paid as ransom to kidnappers while the security agencies appear befuddled.
There is need for government to review its strategy and adopt a multi-prong approach to tackling the crime. An application of the right skills and technology as well as adequate training and funding will go a long way in helping to win the war against kidnapping. The police should also devise means of collaborating with various communities to combat the crime. The wave of kidnapping for ransom and other crimes are symptoms of failure of governance.
For government to tackle kidnapping therefore, the issue of unemployment must be tackled headlong. Also, there should be stiffer penalties against kidnapping. Under the Criminal Code of Nigeria, a kidnapper, when convicted, is liable to 10 years’ imprisonment. For a ‘booming business’ which yields several millions of naira with limited risks, 10 years in prison may not be a sufficient deterrent for the criminally- minded. Our legal framework for dealing with kidnapping should be reviewed and enforced in order to curb the wave of kidnapping in the country.