Kidnappings: How safe are Nigerians?
Before the forceful capture of foreign oil workers in Nigeria by the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) commenced in 2005, the act of kidnapping was an alien act. Not a few Nigerians thought that the illegal act would fizzle out as soon as government tackled the problems confronting the Niger Delta crisis. With the commitment by government to resolve issues that gave birth to the crisis in the oil-rich communities, kidnapping was soon to be a thing of the past. Over four years since the first case of kidnapping was reported, it has become a cherished act by criminals and is slowly being transformed into a cherished art for economic survival.
According to the Deputy Force public Relations Officer (DFPRO), Mr Yemi Ajayi, the police have recorded that between the years 2005-2008, over 1,756 cases of kidnapping recorded across the country. The breakdown of the total figure indicates that in year 2005, 798 cases were recorded, while in 2006, the figure dropped to 372. In 2007, the number of kidnap cases recorded dropped to 277 and rose to 309 in 2008. In the first seven months of 2009, according to police authorities, 512 Nigerians were kidnapped.
A leader of MEND, Prince Estela Harry, told Peoples Daily that the commencement of kidnapping in the country can be traced to the demand for justice by Niger Delta youths. Harry, who is popularly referred to as the ‘godfather,’ said that economic impoverishment and the despoliation of the environment were some of the reasons behind kidnappings in the Niger Delta. Blaming politicians for the saga, Harry said that politicians in the region should be held responsible for the act.Frontage of Optimum Pleasure Hotel: Where the council bosses were abducted.
"Before election, these politicians use these boys to scare their enemies and when they get into public offices, they simply change their numbers and refuse to pay the boys what they promised them. What do you expect the boys to do: They fight for survival and do anything to keep body and soul together," Harry said.
Four years after introducing kidnapping in the political lexicon of the nation’s history, other regions have come to embrace the concept. Addressing a press conference recently, Minister of Police Affairs, Dr. Ibrahim Lame said that about 512 Nigerians were kidnapped in the first seven months of 2009. These figures, the police minister lamented, represented a frightening rise in the cases of kidnappings and reiterated government’s commitment in tackling the problem.
From statistics made available, in 2008, the total number of persons kidnapped was less than 340 persons, with about 3 persons killed by the captors. The kidnapping of 512 and total deaths of about 30, according to Lame, indicate a rise in number of people engaged in perpetrating the criminal activities of kidnappings.
Though kidnapping was introduced by militant youths to demand a fair share in the region’s wealth, criminals have seized on the opportunity to kidnap prominent Nigerians and their relations for payment of large ransoms. Government sources revealed hat with government crackling down on the activities of oil bunkering which provide revenues to militants, armed gangs in the Niger Delta have resorted to kidnapping for ransom payments as their source of incomes. In the past seven months, several kidnappings in the oil-rich regions have taken place and they include , among others: the shooting to death on January 29 of an 11-year-old daughter of a Royal Dutch Shell worker and the abduction of his 9-year-old son. The militants later released the boy one week later; the kidnap of a Canadian woman on April 16 in Kaduna who spent two weeks with her captors; MEND kidnapped 15 crew members after hijacking tow cargo ships on May 14. In most of the kidnappings, ransoms were paid except the Kaduna saga where the security agents stormed the kidnappers’ hideout and rescued the victim.
The recent kidnapping of two local government chairmen in Kogi brought to the fore that the criminal abduction of persons for ransom payment is not an exercise exclusive to the Niger Delta. The chairman of Igalamela local council was forced to cough out N30 million to secure his release and that of his wife. The payment of N30 million as ransom, according to findings by our reporter who was on the trail of the council boss, is generating controversy among councilors of the local government.
The Kogi State Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Abdullahi Magaji, told Peoples Daily in his office that the abductors came to the Kogi from a neighbouring state, adding that there had never been a case of kidnapping in the state.
"Before anything, you need to trace where the kidnappers were coming from and where they started their operation", he said. He said that from the police preliminary investigation, the kidnappers came from Ondo State, passing through Ado-Ekiti to Itakpe and Ibilo before arriving at Kabba.
The Kogi state Police commissioner has blamed the high rate of kidnapping in the country on youth restiveness, saying that there was need for rapid development of rural areas for the engagement of unemployed youths.
The Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), ACP Emmanuel Ojukwu, told Peoples Daily, that the former Inspector-General of Police, Sir Mike Okiro, before his retirement, had introduced a draft bill to criminalise the offence of kidnapping in the country.
The PPRO who said the intention of kidnappers is not to kill a human being, but extort money from them, advised Nigerians not to rush into paying ransom to them, but instead liaise with the police.
He stated that the police have been intervening in kidnap cases to rescue the victims, saying, "in concert with other security agents in the country, we have been rescuing kidnap victims without paying a kobo to these criminals and we’ve been arresting and prosecuting them. So why give your money to a band of criminals."
Nigeria’s Nollywood actor, Chief Pete Edochie, who was recently kidnapped at Onitsha but released by his abductors called on government officials to abstain from displaying obscene wealth.
Speaking on a Raypower interview last week, Edochie appealed to government "to listen to me now. Let them address the situation of things in the country. The young men who are not gainfully employed should be entitled to social security; at least, each week, let them be given some stipends to cater for basic fundamentals to sustain life."
As the spate of kidnappings continues to increase with the passing of each day, not a few Nigerians are looking up to the security agencies to step up efforts to curb the security threat posed by the kidnappers. More worrisome, incessant kidnappings by youths in various parts of the country prognosticate greater challenges on the part of the nation’s security.
With the Niger Delta militants engaged in seize fire, following the amnesty declared by President Umaru Musa Yar’adua, can the security agencies rise up to the challenge of confronting the criminal abduction of Nigerians for ransom payments? Only the passage of time can tell.