Recent rise in the spate of kidnapping across the country is believed to have altered permutations in the economic landscape of the country, with investors at the receiving end. Reporter, EMEKA UMEJEI, attempts an overview of kidnapping and its attendant effects on the economy.
When kidnapping first appeared on the Nigerian political scene in February 2006 in the mould of freedom fighting in the Niger Delta, many believed it would decline with return of peace to the region. But that seems to be a hasty conclusion. However, instead of declining, kidnapping has continued to garner many converts by the days that see it as refuge from the pangs of economic hardship and perceived poor leadership in the country.
Fortune of perpetrators of kidnapping is believed to have dwindled with the return of peace to the Niger Delta, but not until the Igbo of the South East caught on with the euphoria. And like anything commercial, the Igbo embraced the venture with the same entrepreneurial skill they apply to their businesses. Since then, kidnapping appeared to have become a money-spinning venture.
With their sight on kidnapping as a business venture, it didn't take long before the entire South East states surpassed the Niger Delta region as a hot bed of kidnapping in the country and the entire South East became a dark spot, losing both economic and social life to the menace. Soon, the impact of the menace began to emerge and businesses in the region began a journey down the abyss of economic decline. Hence, while the kidnappers ravaged the entire South East, businesses and investors' confidence became casualties, and the people suffered.
Though investors had always found the Nigerian business environment suffocating, kidnapping capped it all and made investing in the country both discouraging and unattractive. Minister for Information and Communication, Professor Dora Akunyili, stated this much at the reception organised in Abuja for the four kidnapped journalists.
"In some states, especially in the South East, factories are closing up, people no longer visit their villages, social and economic activities are grinding to a halt," Akunyili stated. "Kidnapping is fast destroying our common good and we cannot continue this way if we have to survive as a nation. It is not the responsibility of government alone to fight this hydra-headed monster but our collective responsibility to say no to kidnapping."
Corroborating Akunyili, Emeka Ngige, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) states that with the rise in incidence of kidnapping, investment will elude the country and natives, who hitherto travelled home for festivities, would not dare any longer.
"The economic implication is that investors, if we are to have some of them, will not come because of the insecurity arising from kidnapping, and it has a spiral effect on businesses," Ngige stated.
"So, business activities will be affected by kidnapping, especially high profile business activities because kidnappers don't kidnap newspaper vendor or motor mechanics. They kidnap somebody who owns a factory or who is capable of bringing millions that they normally demand. So, when such people keep away, you will find that economy of that area will be affected."
Governor of Abia State, Theodore Orji, agreed that kidnapping has adversely affected the economic fortunes of the state recently.
"The disadvantages of kidnapping are massive, because it has driven away contractors and investors from the state, and Aba in particular, making development difficult," the governor lamented when he received the state commandant of National Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) in his office.
To compound the economic problem of kidnapping, especially in the South East, the Igbo, who, as part of tradition, travel home for festivities, no longer do so because of the risks involved.
Executive director of Associated Bus Company (ABC) Transport, Jude Nneji, agrees, stating that the spate of kidnapping has affected customer traffic to the East and invariably business in the region.
"Definitely, rising incidence of kidnapping has adversely affected customer traffic to the eastern part of the country," Nneji told Sunday Independent on phone.
Sunday Independent checks at other major transport companies including Ekene Dili Chukwu, Chisco, Ekeson and CN Okoli indicated the same trend.
While transport companies suffer under the effect of kidnapping, airlines appear to be reaping bountifully from this ugly trend.
Head of Commercial, Aero Contractors Nigeria, Robert Prophet, told Sunday Independent that his company's customer traffic to the South East has not been affected.
"To be honest, we have not been affected by kidnapping, as our passenger number to the region continues to climb and our load factors remain above 85 per cent," he stated.
In a related development, the business environment in Aba, the commercial nerve of Abia State, literally came to a halt when commercial banks operating in the city were forced to close shops following the rising incidence of kidnapping and armed robbery.
The banks, according to insiders, lost huge capital for the number of days they closed shop, which they stressed the banks cannot regain.
Many other businesses suffered same fate.
However, the most worrisome of all the effects of kidnapping is the relocation of businesses hitherto domiciled in the eastern part of the country to other regions of the country, and Ghana. Such relocation of business ventures is believed to have led to loss of source of livelihood by many and compounded the problem of unemployment in the country.
Highlighting the plight of investors, the National Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) recently expressed regret over the serious security problems in the South East, noting that the security situation in the area has worsened the business climate.
"The security challenges had worsened the already bad and unfriendly business environment that is negatively affecting the growth of businesses and socio-economic activities in the area," NACCIMA lamented. "If industries are closing shops and investors are not forthcoming because of insecurity and other attendant problems faced by businesses, then the future, particularly that of the children, should agitate the minds of everybody."
Corroborating NACCIMA's position, Archbishop and Primate of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), Reverend Nicholas Okoh, warned that the Aba business community might be completely ruined if measures are not put in place to tackle kidnapping.
"If what I saw in Aba is anything to go by, and the wave of wanton destruction is not curbed, the communities will be completely ruined," Okoh warned.
"There is no viable life anymore; no good roads, the markets are in decline, banks are forced to suspend operations due to incessant robberies. We are baffled that 40 years after the horrors of the (Nigeria/Biafra) civil war, from which we are yet to fully recover, we have set out on another war against ourselves. This is self-destruction."
Kidnapping is believed to have reached its apogee when the five South East governors went cap in hand to Aso Rock seeking presidential assistance to combat the menace. The group led by its chairman, Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State, pleaded with the Presidency to wade into the situation with logistics support.
"We are heartened that Your Excellency has personally acknowledged the special menace of insecurity in the South East zone with embarrassing manifestation in kidnapping, armed robbery and other violent crimes," Obi told newsman at Aso Rock. "Although, the states' governments of our zone have adopted a number of stringent measures to combat the menace, we request you to accord a special security attention to the zone through logistic interventions and the provision of enhanced security infrastructure to sustainably address the situation."
Corroborating Obi, Governor Ikedi Ohakim of Imo State agrees that kidnapping has become a national calamity and urged the Federal Government to deploy requisite logistic support to tackle the menace.
"What we have is a national calamity," Ohakim stated. "It has nothing to do with South East; I believe the issue of capacity has to be looked into. What is happening is beyond the capacity of individual states. The types of arms and ammunitions at the disposal of the criminals and professionalism of the criminals are beyond the capacity of the states."
However, Nigeria appears to have succeeded among other products to export kidnapping outside the country, thus leaving the country's image badly bruised. It is against this background that analysts argue that the much-touted investment drive of the FG would come to nought. To buttress their position, they stress that the image of the country has been bastardised by the menace of kidnapping and no foreign investor would want to put his or her money in environment of perceived insecurity.
Lagos-based constitutional lawyer, Fred Agbaje, concurs, stressing that no investor would want to come and risk his or her life in an insecure atmosphere.
"Do you think any foreigner will come and invest in a country that is infested with kidnapping and insecurity?" Agbaje queried. "Foreign investors can only put their money or investment in a country that is rule of law-compliant, not in a country where the government has abandoned its constitutional responsibility of providing welfare and security to the people, and the people are now left at the mercy of kidnappers. Who wants to invest in such a country?"
Yusuf Ali (SAN), while not disagreeing with Agbaje, notes that even Nigerian business concerns are affected adversely because, according to him, businesses cannot thrive in an atmosphere of insecurity.
"It is not only foreign investors that would be discouraged from investing in place of perceived insecurity; even as a Nigerian, would you put your money in a place that is not safe for your business?" Ali pondered
It also believed that the lack of foreign direct investment (FDI) and collapse of businesses in the country would invariably have adverse effect on the already dwindling gross domestic product (GDP) of the country.
To complicate the FDI drive of the FG, four Nigerians were recently arrested in far away Malaysia for kidnapping. According to the Nigerian Ambassador to Malaysia, Peter Anegbeh, who lamented the damage such activities have done to the image of the country, the perpetrators demanded $10,000 from their victims.
"The unfortunate trend is portraying Nigeria in bad light despite government's efforts to project the country's good image through its 'Good People, Great Nation' slogan," Anegbeh lamented. "They demand for as much as 10,000 dollars. They also engage in other vices, such as cultism, drug trafficking and robbery. It is highly regrettable, because we have discovered that out of the 7,500 Nigerian students in the country, only 3,500 are genuine. Some are also victims of human racketeering, carried out in collaboration with some Malaysian nationals."
According to analysts, the Nigerian kidnapping industry is worth over a billion dollars, which, according to them, has made it very attractive to both perpetrators and sponsors alike. They argue that unlike armed robbery where the risks are higher and returns on investment uncertain, kidnapping is high yielding and involves lesser risk with high returns.
Statistics appear to support the views of analysts. In December 2009, Police Affairs Minister, Yakubu Lame, disclosed that 512 cases of kidnapping had been recorded from January 2008 to June 2009 against 353 recorded in as at 2008.
Rundown of the statistics indicates that Abia State led the pack with a total of 110 kidnap incidents; Imo recorded 58 kidnaps, 109 arrests, 41 prosecutions and one death; Delta recorded 44 kidnap cases, 43 releases, 27 arrests, 31 prosecutions, one death and Akwa Ibom recorded 40 kidnap cases, 418 arrests, and 11 prosecutions.
The report also added that between July/September 2008 and July 2009, over N600 million was lost to kidnapping and bullion van/bank robbery activities in Anambra.
But beyond this statistics being bandied by the police, it is a known fact that most kidnap cases are never reported to the police authorities for fear of murder of the victims; hence most families prefer to pay ransom to losing one of its own. For instance, in Kano recently, N80 million ransom was allegedly paid to kidnappers for the release of Kano-based multi-millionaire businessman, Salisu Mataba, without a recourse to the police authorities; Paul Okonkwo alias Pokobros, an industrialist in Nnewi, allegedly paid N70 million to regain his freedom from his captors; and Godfrey Okonkwo alias Bishop, another multi-millionaire businessman was kidnapped and released after he allegedly paid ransom without a recourse to the police.
Stemming from this disturbing trend of kidnapping across the country, President Jonathan recently during his chat with select media executives, also expressed dismay over the wave of kidnapping in the land, saying it is embarrassing and unacceptable to the country.
"Any responsible leader should be worried about the state of security in his country, especially in the South East," Jonathan stated. "It is very embarrassing; it is unacceptable to us and we shall do everything within our means to confront the problems."
But what appears to marvel many Nigerians is that much may have not been done to tame the rising wave of kidnapping save for government posturing and sloganeering. For instance, it is believed that one of the major causes of kidnapping is the prevalent unemployment in the land, which, according to analysts, has prompted a lot of graduates to embrace a sector they feel would accommodate them.
Aster Van Kregfen, Amnesty International Representative Researcher in Nigeria, stresses that the Nigerian police needs to be strengthened to meet the challenge of kidnapping.
"The way to be tough on violent crimes like kidnapping is to strengthen the police's ability to detect potential crimes before they occur and prevent them. The Federal Government needs to strengthen police training and resources to increase police investigation capacity and effectiveness," Kregfen stated.
However, there are others who argue that the telecom service operators should also be made to collaborate with government in the fight against kidnapping by making it easy for police to track phone lines of kidnappers.
Governor Bukola Saraki of Kwara State lamented recently that telecommunication operators are not showing any readiness to cooperate with government in the fight against kidnapping.
"You would agree with me that the rising incidence of kidnapping across the country can only get worse if something is not done urgently to compel telecommunications service providers to cooperate with security operatives in situations like this, rather than continuing to serve as unwitting accomplice to crime," Saraki lamented. "If telecom service operators are willing to cooperate, prompt release of valuable data and records would no doubt assist security operatives in tracking down suspects in good time and help save lives and deter prospective criminals."
However, the FG reportedly made orders for Human Motion Tracking (HMT) device, the devise said to have been used by Israeli Mossad agents to detect the location of the four kidnapped journalists, but whether the HTM has arrived the country remains to be seen.
According to the promoters, HMT translates natural body movements into computer-usable data, which are transmitted to a simulation application as if it came from any conventional human interface device. It allows an individual to interact with the application without a conventional computer input device such as a keyboard or mouse. The device also captures a user's heading and current stance (standing, sitting, kneeling etc), using two sensors known as an accelerometer and magnetometer to produce digital input. The digital data are passed from the HMT to the application.
Though, the effectiveness of HMT is not in doubt, whether the usual government bureaucracy would not affect its order and implementation is a factor that may work against it.