This Day (Lagos)

17 December 2012

Nigeria: Untamed Business of Kidnapping

analysis

Photo: amandabhslater/ Flickr
Oh Christmas tree.

As the Yuletide approaches, there seems to be an upsurge in the spate of kidnapping in many parts of the country. Security agencies have attributed this to the desperation of criminally-minded people to make money at all cost so as to get something to flaunt during the season. Olawale Olaleye, Ademola Adeyemo, Omololu Ogunmade, Shola Oyeyipo, Anayo Okolie, Ayodele Opiah and Nkiruka Okoh examine this growing malady in the quest for a safer nation

For Nigeria's security agencies, this is no doubt, a most trying period. It is bad enough that efforts to curb terrorism in different parts of the country, especially in the North have not stopped the Boko Haram insurgency. However, the rising cases of kidnapping and the mode of operations of kidnappers have further compounded the challenges facing the security agents.

Although the menace of terrorism, either by accident or design, appears restricted to certain parts of the country, the orgy of kidnapping knows no bound. Across the different parts of Nigeria, the fear of being kidnapped is the beginning of being security conscious by high profile targets and their family members. It does not matter who is involved; with a reliable insider, a kidnap operation is executed successfully and in most cases, the criminals smile to the bank.

Unfortunately, what started in the Niger Delta region during the militancy era has become a booming venture in all parts of the country. This is particularly made worse by the inability of security agencies to effectively check the incidence. In some cases, family members of kidnapped victim do not help the situation. Out of fear of losing their loved ones, they are sometimes reluctant in giving security agents a free hand to investigate the case. They are more often than not, ready to pay ransom because of the desire to rescue the captives alive and keep such deals classified.

The desperation of families to secure the release of the victims has emboldened the kidnappers who know they could coerce the cooperation of victims' families to keep the security agents off their trail. For them, no place is hallowed and no security provided for a target is enough deterrence to stop them from striking.

The scenario painted above aptly depicts what happened penultimate Sunday when gunmen invaded the palace of His Majesty, Professor Chukwuka Aninshi Okonjo Agbogidi, the Obi of Ogwashi-Uku kingdom in Delta State and abducted his wife, Professor Kamene Okonjo, mother of the Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Okonjo-Iweala's mother, 83, was kidnapped at about 1.30pm that Sunday by some gunmen. They had, according to reports, stormed the palace in two Audi cars.

However, four days after her kidnap, a contact was reportedly established with her abductors who were said to have now reduced the ransom being demanded as a pre-condition for her release from N1 billion to N200 million.

In investigating the incident, the police and other security agencies arrested no fewer than 67 persons, including two policemen who were supposed be on duty at the palace when the kidnappers struck but failed to show up without reason.

After five days in the kidnappers' den, Okonjo was rescued on Friday by security agents.

A day after the kidnapping of Okonjo, the kidnappers struck again and this time in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital. They kidnapped Titi, the wife of former military governor of the defunct Western Region, General Oluwole Rotimi. She was reportedly kidnapped around 6.30pm on Monday in front of her company's gate, AOK Logistics Limited, located on old Ife Road in Ibadan. She was said to have been abducted by four armed men while leaving her office at the close of work. She was in her black Mercedes Benz car when she was reportedly blocked by the gunmen.

According to reports, two security men attached to her company had taken off the barricade to the gate for her car to drive out of the office complex when two armed men approached and ordered the driver to stop the car at gunpoint. There, a green Nissan Primera reversed and blocked her car and she was ordered into a waiting Nissan car.

In an effort to rescue Titi, the Oyo State police command said it had arrested 10 suspects in connection with the kidnapping. But her abductors who had already established contacts with the family, are said to be demanding N200 million for her release.

As if coordinated, yet a day after Titi was abducted in Ibadan, another kidnap incident took place in Ughelli, Delta State. There, a Lebanese engineer working for Setraco Nigeria Limited, the construction firm handling the East-West Road dualisation project, Mr. Harry Fadi, was abducted last Tuesday and in the process, a soldier was reportedly killed.

Security, according to reports, has since been beefed up in that area.

Public Relations Officer of Setraco in Ughelli, Mr. Edmund Eke, when contacted, said the suspected kidnappers were yet to establish contact with the company and that remained the situation as at the time of filing this report.

How it All Began

Kidnapping of expatriates in the Niger Delta region was at some point, a major weapon engaged by aggrieved militants in expression of their anger. But they had since jettisoned that approach and embraced the commercial slant to it. This commercial undercurrent further enhanced its spread to other parts of Nigeria and thus became a booming business.

From Lagos to Ondo, Ekiti, Oyo, Kano, Kogi and many other parts of Nigeria, the menace of kidnapping knows no bounds. Indeed, it has been exported outside the country as Nigerians have been variously arrested in neigbhouring countries attempting to kidnap or negotiating for the kidnappers.

Some observers have traced the spread of kidnapping to other parts of the country to be fallout of the confrontation between the militants and the Federal Government. The militants, who were dislodged from their hideouts in the creeks, were allegedly forced to relocate to other parts of the country where they have continued to ply their trade as a means of survival.

Another argument is that with the introduction of e-banking, armed robbery may have become less attractive and for the kidnappers, especially those that were not originally part of the Niger Delta struggle, kidnapping offers minimum risk with higher pay.

This second group follows the general trend of Nigerians who delight in doing any business considered lucrative at the moment, not minding the consequences of such act. But the extension of kidnapping to innocent citizens has reduced the sympathy of Nigerians for the course of the Niger Delta, especially that their grievance has been contained with the amnesty programme of the Federal Government.

As it is now, the Niger Delta struggle has been hijacked by common criminals.

Causes of Kidnapping

Kidnapping was a strange crime pattern in Nigeria. But it started registering in the nation's crime dairy in the late 90's and subsequently became endemic. The steady growth of kidnapping has been attributed to many factors, chief of which is economic and by extension, a breakdown in the laws and order of the society.

To that extent, kidnappers continue in their act with reckless abandon. A cheap argument often advanced by the kidnappers is that it affords them a means of partaking in the national cake, either by hook or crook.

It has also been considered as a reflection of the state of the nation's economy, occasioned by rising unemployment. For example, graduates of higher institutions, most of whom were familiar with cult activities while in school, have embraced this nefarious alternative instead of pounding the streets in search of jobs.

Worst still is the belief that obscene display of wealth, especially by top political office holders, encourages the desperation of the youth to take to kidnapping.

Statistics in Brief

In two years, Nigeria recorded 887 kidnap cases, according to the police. The increasing rate of kidnapping was brought to fore when former Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Ogbonna Onovo, revealed that between 2008 and 2010, Nigeria recorded 887 kidnap cases.

Records available in this period showed that kidnapping was highest in Rivers State with 216 cases, followed by Anambra with 191 cases, Edo 166, Akwa Ibom 100, Delta 85, Abia 68 and Imo with 61 cases.

But the situation now differs from state to state. While some have improved in their security level, there are some that have degenerated further. Thus, the statistics as presently obtainable differ significantly from what is presented above.

Why Kidnapping Thrives

Onovo who was IG during the period that kidnapping skyrocketed noted that some of the challenges to effective combating and investigation of kidnapping in the country included fake or feigned kidnapping, uncooperative attitude of victims' families and friends, non-registration of SIM cards, time lag and bureaucracy involved in getting information from service providers, non-involvement of the police and lack of operational and intelligence capabilities.

He also attributed kidnapping to unemployment, poverty, ostentatious display of wealth and greed, adding that the incidence of kidnapping and hostage-taking for ransom prevail in countries with high level of crime and corruption, weak judiciary and a history of political and social instability.

The development became embarrassing to the point that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) at a time urged South-east governors and security agencies to track down kidnappers in their areas.

President Goodluck Jonathan observed then that the rate of kidnapping was on the increase even though he had earlier warned in June 2010 that something urgent needed to be done to stem the tide.

A Few Kidnap Cases

Over time, several cases of kidnapping involving eminent persons had been recorded across the country. A medical doctor was sometime ago kidnapped in Benin City, the Edo State capital. The victim, a senior consultant in the Department of Medicine, University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH), Professor Abel Onunu, was kidnapped by unknown gunmen in Benin City who invaded his Evbomore residence in Benin at about 8.pm on Wednesday, August 27, 2010 and took him away.

There was the case of 15 school children abducted from a bus on their way to school in Delta State on Monday, September 27, 2010; it was another brazen kidnapping incident that highlighted the growing insecurity in Nigeria.

Then police spokesman, Emmanuel Ojukwu, said the children were rescued in Abia State on Friday morning, October 1, 2010, four days after gunmen seized them. The Abia State Police spokesman, Geoffrey Ogbonna, said a joint military and police taskforce "rescued" the children and that no ransom was paid, but it was believed that the kidnappers collected their ransom before releasing the children.

There was the case of a doctor killed by kidnappers after collecting N30million ransom. The victim, Dr. Stanley Uche, proprietor of Victory Christian Hospital in Aba, Abia State, was killed by his abductors after allegedly collecting N30 million ransom from his wife. Uche, a gynaecologist, hailed from Mbano, Imo State.

He was reportedly travelling home with his wife on Friday, September 17, 2010 for the burial of his younger sister when he was kidnapped alongside his wife by gunmen. The gunmen, who were believed to have trailed the couple from Aba, kidnapped the duo as they headed towards Imo State. The slain medical doctor's wife was allowed to go in order to get the N50 million earlier demanded to ensure her husband's release.

By Monday morning, she was said to have raised N30 million, which she took to her husband's kidnappers. But when she arrived at the agreed location with the money and handed it over to the kidnappers, she was taken to a spot where her husband's lifeless body was lying. These are few of the cases of kidnapping that come to mind frequently.

What is the Way Forward?

The spate of kidnapping, regardless of state or who is involved, has raised serious security concerns, especially at a time that Nigeria is going through many phases of security challenges. But some eminent Nigerians share different ideas on the menace and the way forward.

Former Governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju, said the kidnapping of Okonjo had aggravated the challenge of insecurity in the land.

"I thought by now, the kidnappers must have gotten tired of their nefarious and anti-social activity. It is true that no society is free from all these sorts of insecurities- whether kidnapping or armed robbery or wanton killings and societal ills- nations have developed special methods of handling or fighting all forms of insecurity.

"Even our constitution stipulates in section 6 that welfare and security of lives and property should be primary purpose of government. All efforts have been made in this country to fight insecurity but it seems like scratching the surface given the tenacity and force of killings which the innocent Nigerians face on a daily basis.

"Whoever could have imagined that Okonjo-Iweala's mother could fall into the hands of these enemies of our people? What harm or what evil has this educated mother- a professor- done to deserve this kind of handling or manhandling? Was it to punish the finance minister? And what has she done apart from having sleepless nights thinking and planning what to do to make Nigeria better?" Mbadinuju said.

The former governor maintained that "Nigeria should now decide to join other civilised nations to move fully into democracy and free society devoid of fear and insecurity which have remained part of our daily experience and exposure and the fight against insecurity must not be left for government alone.

"It is a national problem, bringing shame, fear and desperation to every one of us, including visitors and foreigners. It is an ill-wind that blows no one any good."

Another former governor of Anambra State, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife, said the economic situation was responsible for kidnapping, insecurity and armed robbery in Nigeria. He said the issue of Boko Haram had to do with poor leadership, adding that Nigeria has never given herself the ability to perform well economically and politically.

Ezeife said one of the reasons the country had not done well is because "instead of the people emulating the Igbos, they look at Igbos as people who are excluded from political power," adding that the problem started from Niger-Delta as way of fighting marginalisation, followed by the South-east due to unemployment and now Boko Haram.

He said the problem would have been stopped if the Federal Government had taken drastic action by declaring state of emergency in the affected states.

Convener, Nigeria Centenary Group, Ariyo-Dare Atoye, was of the view that a secured society is not achieved by the size and strength of its police force or the number of weapons available to it, but through the collective will of the people.

"Only the people can guarantee the security of any nation through mutual cooperation, volunteering of information to nip an emerging bad behaviour in the bud."

According to him, the security of any nation is earned through mutual trust, leadership selflessness and good governance. "But as a minimum, where the government has not done much to earn the trust of the people, a proactive security strategy can help to curtail the growth of an emerging crime.

"Our selfish slogan has been that an injury to one is just to one alone and at best, to his family and few concern friends. So, when it happened to others, we gloss over it. But in a system where security is the concern of all, an injury to one in Ekiti, will be the concern of others in Jigawa, Ebonyi and every part of the country because they understand that what goes around comes around. So, problems are shared and solved in a reasonable society.

"Our leaders, cronies and even we Nigerians don't know that no amount of physical fencing of the house, security guards and bulletproof cars can guarantee security where the people are gravely disenchanted. Sadly, we have all contributed to the problems facing us. If our leaders are bad, it means the people are bad because the leaders did not emerge from the sky. We have to own up to our collective failures and start to do things the right way."

He regretted that the the finance minister has been caught in the web of the nation's poor security . "I have no doubt that she has given her best to this nation and some of us are proud of her modest achievements, but if she is a leader true to the heart, her concern will not only be how her mother will regain freedom but how to galvanise the government to solve this malaise.

"It is unfortunate that some people are making careless comments about it on the social media, yet, we can't blame them much because ours is that of a society without shared feelings," he said.

The Medical Director of Nussy Saddiq Memorial Hospital, Dr. Adebowale Saddiq, who had been a victim, blamed the rise of unemployment as one of the main causes of kidnapping in the Nigeria.

"By listening to the discussions of the kidnappers, you will realise that it was frustrations that led them into it. If some of them had jobs, I do not think they would have gone into crime. Government should as a matter of necessity, cut down on salaries and allowances paid to governors, national and state lawmakers to build more industries that will employ graduates," he suggested.

Sadiq called for increased effort at job creation for the youth as panacea for kidnapping and other criminal activities, also advising the federal and state governments to provide more employment opportunities for young graduates in order to reduce crime in the society.

He implored kidnappers to look for legitimate means of livelihood to be useful to themselves and to the society, saying unemployment or hunger is not an excuse before God for kidnapping or killing people in the name of armed robbery or Boko Haram.

Also recalling his ordeal in the hands of kidnappers, Alhaji Wahaab Oba, Chief Press Secretary to the Kwara State Governor said: "I recall during my personal kidnap experience, our kidnappers said 'we would not have loved to be doing this if we have a moderate source of income'.

They said they were ready to quit and leave the jungle if government will provide them with job opportunities. So, there is the need to empower the youths with gainful employments.

"Government must also evolve ways to rehabilitate; train and re-orientate the kidnappers. Also, the politicians, especially in the eastern part of the country should stop living flamboyantly - where people who are working hard and don't have the liberty of such enjoyment.

"By the time they find people who are not working as hard as they do living a more comfortable life, they are forced to look for easy way out. Then people should be able to enjoy basic necessities of live. Let people go to school, hospital without stress. When this is so, there will be limited urge for accumulation of wealth. To achieve this, government at all levels should invest in massive infrastructural development," he said.

Immediate past Commissioner for Information in Kogi State, Dr. Tom Ohikere said "kidnapping, the forcible taking away of a person against self will, usually for ransom or in furtherance of another crime has assumed a complicated dimension in Nigeria. Its sudden rise and persistence is apparently in response to the excruciating economic conditions in the country.

"Hence, it has attained a commercial status and mostly now, a subject of commerce. Therefore, some of the prescriptions for solving the problem are that governments must intensify its job creation drives so as to provide alternatives for teeming jobless youths who are lured into the business of kidnapping. Security agents in the country should also be equipped to international standard to combat the highly sophisticated crime.

Dr. Lanre Ajibade, Associate Professor, Geography Department, University of Ilorin, said "from what has been gathered through media reports, the people who ignited the kidnapping phenomenon are the marginalised group in the country. So, the direct solution is to take care of the citizenry equally."

Speaking from experience, Mr. Adolphus Okonkwo, National Treasurer, NUJ and one of the four journalists kidnapped in 2010, said: "When I was kidnapped, based on what the young men that abducted us told us, Nigeria will continue to have issues of kidnapping until the country chooses to empower the youths. Where you have jobless youths including graduates roaming the streets; where people are not properly catered for, violence is what is left.

"An adage says 'an idle mind is the devil's workshop'. If the people are properly taken care of, I know Nigerians- we don't like to stain our family names. And again, our educational system structure should be designed to take care of the people.

"Those who would obtain technical education should be allowed to do that and empower themselves productively and those who will go for proper education should also be allowed to do same. But where the educational system does not have any direct bearing in improving the living condition of the recipients, it also encourages activities like we are seeing in Nigeria today.

"Then, when you are talking of providing adequate security as a way of curbing kidnapping, the question will be, 'who are the security?' They include army police, SSS and so on but when you imagine that these people are being paid pittance, you will ponder how much security they'd really be able to provide.

"Imagine, now it is Christmas, yet people cannot buy what the children would need by now, but my own mother trained me through education and now as a Master's degree holder and a working class, I've not been able to buy what my children would need as at this period and the same or even worse is applicable to the security agents. So, they would not even mind to be part of what they consider would better their lives. That is why you see kidnapping, Boko Haram going on unabated because there are even insiders among them," he espoused.

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Joseph Nwabike, said the development is not a good one. "It's not good. At a point, it gets subsided and on other times, it goes up."

Professor Itse Sagay, a constitutional lawyer, said "to express my alarm, the implication is not good for Nigeria. It is a lazy way of making money and to extort money. They are criminal elements. It makes Nigeria to lose its moral value, the moral fighters have broken out; Nigeria has lost out in positive achievement."

Mr. Bamidele Aturu, also a lawyer and rights activist, said: "It is a symptom of a disorganised country, leadership and corruption. The level of unemployment in the society is high. We need to address it; the issue of resources are not properly managed to create jobs for the young ones and enhance our security agency to do their primary assignments effectively.

"It is a national emergency and we must blame our government at all levels- the federal and the state governments are not putting things in order. The people doing this are young people. We must deal with the culture of impunity and the issue of waste of resources from our leaders that makes the young people go ahead to commit crimes and go away with it," he said.

Another rights lawyer, Mr. Festus Keyamo, said government had abdicated its primary responsibility of protecting lives and property, adding that "the state of kidnapping is a huge embarrassment to the government. For government to look helplessly while people pay ransom on a daily basis to release those in captive is a total failure of leadership.

"Government is only concerned with guiding the lives of public officers and that is why they have so many police men guiding them and none for the public. If government cannot protect life and property, that government should not be allowed to continue.

"Government should provide more jobs for the people, no matter how many jobs government creates, people want to make quick money. Government must enhance the security agency with every material they need to do their job effectively in every state, provide helicopter in every local government area in case anything happens within 24 hours to follow the criminal anywhere they are going," he said.

On his part, Mr. Sani Adams, a lecturer, said the cause of kidnapping in the country is due to the high rate of unemployment and the injustice in the Nigerian system. "Nigeria has a non-functional government that has failed to provide the basic needs of the people.

Adams said the attitude of politicians and government officials encouraged kidnappers who also seek to benefit from the national cake. He said government officials were regarding national resources as their personal belonging, adding that governance in Nigeria has become a business instead of service.

"Elected officials are another reason for the social menace ravaging the country. Kidnappers now believe that since the cycle of corruption will not be broken, they might as well benefit from it which is the reason we see a trend in kidnap cases to be linked to relatives of politicians and government officials. Our security has been compromised as security aides and personnel have been compromised."

Mr. Nelson Ogbuanya, another lecturer noted that the trend of kidnapping would continue to be on the rise because it has become a business venture. "It is an elevated level of business that transcends crime.

"People are now investing in kidnapping and for that business to be successful, there are high level stakeholders. It is strange that despite the high level of sophisticated weapons made available to the Nigerian security operatives, it has become a herculean task for them to clamp down on the kidnappers especially since they don't keep their hostages outside the country."

Ogbuanya held that there are big time investors, stakeholders and players making their proceeds from the menace, after all, very few companies can pull the amount of proceeds kidnappers make after tax.

He therefore suggested that government should declare officers in territories where kidnapping occurs as incompetent, adding that security operatives who fail in the performance of their duties should be queried.

Olawale Olaleye, Ademola Adeyemo, Omololu Ogunmade, Shola Oyeyipo, Anayo Okolie, Ayodele Opiah and Nkiruka Okoh

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