Frequent acts of violent crime have grown to form a major threat to Nigeria's national security. These include instances of militancy, insurgency and banditry. Banditry includes cattle rustling, armed robbery and kidnapping for ransom.
Kidnapping has remained the most virulent form of banditry in Nigeria. It has become the most pervasive and intractable violent crime in the country.
Kidnapping can be targeted at individuals or at groups. School children have been kidnapped in groups in various parts of Nigeria. Usually, the prime targets of kidnapping for ransom are those considered to be wealthy enough to pay a fee in exchange for being freed.
Kidnapping is the unlawful detention of a person through the use of force, threats, fraud or enticement. The purpose is an illicit gain, economic or material, in exchange for liberation. It may also be used to pressure someone into doing something - or not doing something.
Nigeria has one of the world's highest rates of kidnap-for-ransom cases. Other countries high up on the list included Venezuela, Mexico, Yemen, Syria, the Philippines, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia.
Thousands of Nigerians have been kidnapped for ransom and other purposes over the years. Kidnapping has prevailed in spite of measures put in place by the government. The Nigerian police's anti-kidnapping squad, introduced in the 2000s, has endeavoured to stem the menace. But this been to no avail, mainly due to a lack of manpower and poor logistics.
In my view these efforts have also failed because of weak sanctioning and deterrence mechanisms. Kidnapping thrives in an environment that condones crime; where criminal opportunism and impunity prevail over and above deterrence.
This obviously calls for an urgent review of Nigeria's current anti-kidnapping approach to make it more effective.
Opportunistic and organised bandits
Even prior to the advent of colonialism there were recorded cases of kidnap for rape, ritual or for other purposes in various parts of Nigeria. But kidnapping today is done primarily for ransom - either money or its material equivalent to be paid for someone's release. The underlying logic of the kidnapping enterprise is that the victim is worth a ransom value and they or their proxy have the capacity to pay.
Each victim has a so-called "kidnap ransom value" which makes them an attractive target. This value is determined by a number of factors. These include the victim's socio-economic or political status, family or corporate premium on the victim, the type of kidnappers involved, as well as the dynamics of ransom negotiation.
The kidnapping business in Nigeria has been mostly perpetrated by criminal gangs and violent groups pursuing political agendas. Bandits have often taken to kidnapping for ransom to make money. The escapades of the famous kidnap kingpin, Evans, speak volumes of this pattern of kidnapping. Evans was a multimillionaire kidnapper who was arrested in Lagos a few years ago. He is currently is detention awaiting trial.
Organised violent groups such as militants and insurgents have also been involved in kidnap for ransom in Nigeria. Current trends have been linked back to the example set by Niger Delta militants who resorted to solo and group abductions as a means of generating funds both for private use and for the cause of a particular group.
Similarly, Boko Haram insurgents have used the proceeds of kidnapping to keep their insurgency afloat. The insurgents engage in single or group kidnapping as a means of generating money to fund their activities. Huge sums are often paid as ransom by the victims' families and associates to secure their release.
In addition to militants and insurgents, organised local and transnational criminal syndicates have been involved. This is happening to apocalyptic proportions in North West Nigeria where rural bandits engage regularly in kidnapping in the states of Zamfara, Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi and Sokoto.
Kidnapping has led to the loss of tens of thousands of lives and huge sums of money in Nigeria. Many of the victims of the crime have been killed in the course of their abduction, custody or release. Many more have been injured. This is in addition to huge amounts of money lost to ransom takers.
For the victims and their families and friends, the consequences are even more frightful.
Nigeria should never have got here. Kidnappers persist because the benefits of their crimes exceed the costs. So the obvious solution is to raise the costs by imposing harsher, surer penalties. The present penalty for kidnapping ranges from one to 20 years in prison, with the possibility of life imprisonment for extreme cases involving, for instance, murder.
Stricter measures, such as life imprisonment or the death penalty, may not be completely out of place in dealing with the kidnapping menace. After all, the crime of kidnapping is a maximum threat that requires an equally maximum deterrence.