Before kidnapping becomes big business
The rising incidence of kidnapping in the last few years and the brutal economic dimension this misconstrued criminal activity has taken in recent times are telltale signs of a broken society. In its renewed sophistication, uncontrolled proliferation,tacit permissibility as well as the fear and helplessness it dissipates on the public, kidnapping is a demonstration of social moral bankruptcy, thriving lawlessness and inadequate policing.
In all this, its escalation calls to question the primary purpose of government: safeguarding lives and property. In fact, the 1999 Constitution as amended guarantees this in Chapter II Section 14 (b) as it provides accordingly that, “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.”
Although the rampant state of kidnapping is well known to Nigerians, recent reports detailing the kidnap and subsequent release of Mrs. Margaret Emefiele, wife of the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, and others about the abduction carried out by gunmen who stormed the Lagos State Model College, Igbonla, Epe, tend to reinforce the worsening state of insecurity in the land. Mrs. Emefiele and three of her aides were abducted while travelling along the Benin-Agbor Road in Delta State. They were, however, released when the kidnappers successfully made contact with the CBN governor, and some N80 million ransom demanded by the kidnappers was reportedly paid. As for the vice-principal, teacher and four students abducted at the Lagos school, there were reports that ransom too was paid. Curiously, even authorities here have never told the truth about ransom payment. Yet they pay as victims always tell stories.
Despite its celebrated reportage in recent times, kidnapping is not new in the country. Abduction for religious rituals and cultic purposes and other instances of kidnapping for the purpose of carrying out other crimes are well known to the public. But according to scholars and researchers, this new face of kidnapping that has become an industry is traceable to “natural resources nationalism”, which is an uprising by indigenes of the oil-producing Niger Delta region to protest against inequitable distribution of national wealth, and to clamour for bigger shares of the returns from natural resources from their land.
Since then, kidnapping has become so profitable and exponential that in 2008, there were 353 recorded cases of kidnap, 512 recorded in 2009, while kidnappers were alleged to have made N100 million between 2006 and 2008. So endemic was the rampancy that Nigeria in 2008 was ranked sixth on the global kidnapping index by an online tourism site. Today, with kidnap cases hitting about 1,000 recorded cases and posting hundreds of millions of naira for kidnappers, the palpable economic inequality, characterised by undue wealth, greed and avarice brandished and celebrated in society, has combined with such other factors as proliferation of small arms, poverty, unemployment, moral decadence, corruption and poor governance and the impotence of traditional moral and religious institutions, to make kidnapping one of the most thriving illegal industries around.
Feelers from present socio-economic realities suggest that kidnapping may have come to stay. What is even more curious to fathom is the perception that the searing economic condition is adduced as justification for such unscrupulous activity.
Furthermore, the deplorable judicial system and the thinking that justice could be bought seem to have created impetus for people to commit such crimes with impunity. Moreover, that family members or relatives and friends of kidnap victims are quick to pay ransom not only portrays the latter’s anguish, despair or fear over possible death or grave injury that may befall victims, it is also a clear expression of the people’s lack of confidence and distrust in the security system as it is today. In a wager, it seems people are likely to trust the words of a kidnapper than the efficacy of the security system. But given the social, political, economic, moral effects of kidnapping on individuals, groups and the nation in general, drastic measures must be taken to curb this menace.
Although different states of the federation are addressing kidnapping as routinely as their administration can carry on, the long-awaited police reforms undertaken by the Police Service Commission in concert with federal authorities should be pursued more expeditiously to encourage community policing. This form of policing, which the Lagos State government is about to experiment with, should be given a more national outlook. An official implementation of this form of policing would entail the decentralisation of the Nigeria Police as well as the formal establishment of neighbourhood security watches in community development areas of the state. As this paper has always counselled, this is necessary for proper surveillance and information gathering for the police. The police must know the community they are working in; and to know the community, they need to nurture mutually profitable community relations with the members of the communities in which they have their posts.
Besides, they must also have the political will to carry out their activities with the dedication, sacrifice and respectability their job demands. In this regard, authorities should impress it upon members of the police force, that police service is not just another job for unemployed persons, who just want to be engaged and earn a salary; that it is not a paraphernalia of personal power or prestige, neither is it an instrument of terror to law abiding citizens. It is rather a respectable state functionary with the all-important duty of protecting lives and property.
Apart from this, members of the public should be security-conscious. Though the complexity of everyday life may induce forgetfulness, people should be the primary providers of their own security by reporting suspicious persons or activities around their neighbourhood. As the new commandant of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Tajudeen Ayobami Balogun, noted a few days ago during a courtesy visit to the headquarters of this newspaper, housekeepers, domestic helps should be given extra scrutiny before being employed in the homes as various kidnap cases have arisen from information supplied by them to the abductors. Besides, organisations should take pro-active steps to safeguard the lives of their workers and associates, and desist from actions and official policies that may induce kidnapping.
Relevant traditional moral and religious institutions should, on their part, inculcate in their members and adherents values that enhance the human person. Other than intolerant preachments of creed and faith or questionable prosperity messages and dubious success doctrines, they should emphasise enriching social virtues of moral probity, respect for the dignity of the human person, honesty, hardwork and altruism. We must heed this wake-up call, lest we would wake up one day to discover that governments and organisations would have to budget annually for ransom to be paid to rescue victims of abduction. And that would be another national tragedy.
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