Kidnapping incidents in parts of the country in the last couple of months have assumed very alarming dimensions. The development has expectedly engendered in people especially commuters palpable fear. Some communities in States such as Edo, Kogi and Kaduna are at the moment gripped with fear as a result of the frequency of kidnapping incidents. The development apart from the obvious implications to national security is in addition having its toll on the enthusiasm of foreigners wishing to invest in the country. On account of the resultant insecurity, travel advisory have severally been issued by some countries advising their nationals not to travel to parts of the country. Similarly, some diplomats wanting to travel to parts of the country for example the North East, had to put off such travels in order to avoid being kidnapped. This is the extent the kidnapping menace has dragged the image of the country to the mud before the international community.
From records, the States with the highest number of kidnap incidents include, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Benue, Bayelsa, Kogi, Edo, Zamfara and Lagos States. Others are, Plateau, Abia, Katsina, Niger States and the FCT. Observations on the menace of kidnapping across the country point to either there is something fundamentally wrong with the strategies being deployed or the attention being accorded the menace are not sufficient. Seen from whichever angle, the menace is disturbing. To those conversant with security developments in the country the menace smacks of something much more sinister in some cases. As it stands today, the possibility cannot be ruled out that kidnapping in some cases are staged to extort money to procure arms for subversive purposes. Ransome paid by kidnap victims are usually channeled for purchase of weapons for nefarious activities. The suspicion is hinged on the fact that, there were such incidents in the past. The current development is thus worrisome thereby underscoring the need for serious action.
It is important to point out that, serious threats to national security are not always only those that threaten the sovereignty of the State. Anything that threatens or inhibits the freedom and wellbeing of the citizenry; that engenders loss of confidence in the government especially her ability to protect the people should be accorded deserving attention. Intelligence today reveal that kidnapping has assumed very alarming proportions in many States. People cannot go about their lawful businesses. Even farmers are now kidnapped on their farms. Commuters plying certain roads are at the risk of being kidnapped. For informed security watchers, the upsurge in kidnapping in the country operationally could be due to flaws in the strategies being deployed and dearth of appropriate technical capabilities. The point should be reiterated again that, we definitely can not succeed in defeating the current upsurge in kidnapping using the techniques, strategies and approaches of the yester years. Organised crime such as, kidnapping has become very complex and sophisticated. The current situation without being told requires stakeholders to restrategise and think out of the box to surmount the menace. Furthermore, the need to restrategise and contain the situation becomes very imperative as the year comes to an end. Kidnapping and armed robbery are incidentally more rampant towards the end of the year and in the New Year in parts of the country.
The point further needs to be made that, for the current menace of kidnapping to be contained, new strategies, approaches and measures must be adopted. What firstly needs to be done is, the challenge should not be left to only the Nigerian Police. An interagency approach should be encouraged. Nigeria Police and intelligence elements as part of the strategy should embark on aggressive intelligence gathering to feed the joint efforts. Related to this is, the need for technology-driven intelligence gathering. More crime intelligence gathering, especially interception and tracking capabilities should be provided the Police and the security agencies. The use of human intelligence should also be optimized.
Secondly, the Police and other security agencies should sustain the present strategy of preemptive raids. This is what pro-activeness is all about. This must however be done after detailed threat analysis and intelligence mapping to identity black spots, hideouts, kingpins, collaborators and receivers. Thirdly, any attempt to successfully deal with the current menace of kidnapping must be community driven. Community involvement in crime fighting is premised on the fact that the criminals live among the people. Most criminals and their hideouts are more often than not known to those in the neighborhoods and communities. The public should be encouraged to report suspicious activities in their neighborhoods.
Raising the level of security consciousness of the citizenry are also critical if this objective is to be achieved. In other climes, security consciousness and cooperation in the citizenry are encouraged through provision of free toll telephone numbers. This should be explored in the country. Fourthly, any strategy to defeat the current menace of kidnapping must see the challenge as a special crime that requires extra ordinary approaches. To that extent, the Bill recently passed by the Senate is in the right direction. The penalty recommended for kidnapping will hopeful serve as a deterrent. Ordinarily, fighting kidnapping and armed robbery are not difficult. Unfortunately, the situation have been allowed to fester on for long hence the difficulty to deal with it now. Revisiting past kidnap cases to identify those involved, their collaborators, where and how the incidents happened could give valuable clues that could assist investigation.
Also very pertinent is, the need to note that, the current menace of kidnapping cannot be eliminated without dealing with related criminal activities. More often than not, those who get involved in kidnapping are also involved in hard drug selling and consumption, as well as, armed robbery. There are however exceptions to this especially in cases where unemployed youths in some villages take advantage of lack of security to kidnap. As pointed out sometime ago, insurgents and persons with subversive motives also resort to kidnapping in order to raise money to finance activities inimical to national security. Recent incidents reveal, that kidnapping in some parts of the country have assumed the trappings of organized crime for subversive motives. The threats to dismember the country by some fringe elements and threats of armed struggle should therefore not be taken lightly.
The point should also be stressed that, crime like other aspect of the society is dynamic. The security arrangements and strategies must regularly be reviewed to cope with the sophistication. This is why, equipping Nigeria Police and other security agencies holds the key to defeating the menace of current kidnapping. One would again reiterate that equipping the security sector should go beyond mere rhetorics. The Police, if one might say, has done exceptionally well in arresting some kidnapping syndicates in parts of the country especially in Lagos, Ogun, Abia, Anambra, as well as, Rivers States. The other issue affecting the performance of Nigeria Police and other security agencies that should be looked into is manpower shortage. The country is seriously under-policed. This is a an impediment to dealing with criminal activities like kidnapping and hostage taking. The gaps in the existing security configurations are other lapses that have been exploited in the past by militants and insurgents. More police stations, security ports and small Army units should therefore be established in areas not presently adequately covered.
The other short coming that urgently should be addressed if any meaningful progress is to be made in the fight against crime in the country is the establishment of a National Data Bank on Crime. It will be recalled that, attempts were made in the past to establish such a data base. The initiative was however frustrated due to lack of will and interest. It is instructive that, the prompt and spectacular successes usually recorded in some countries in terror and related crime investigations are because of stored information on those likely to be involved in some particular criminal activities. We saw this play out in the aftermath of terrorist attacks in the UK, USA, Belgium, France and Spain. The fight against terrorism for example is recording impressive successes in the developed world today because of the use of advanced profiling technology, biometrics and data storage. This, definitely is the way to go. It should further be emphasised that, modern day crime fighting is intelligence- driven. Without the required intelligence gathering platforms some kidnap incidents will elude prompt detection and resolution. In addition to this, there is the need to share all available crime intelligence with those required to action them. Hoarding and withholding of available intelligence from action agencies should therefore be addressed. It goes without saying that, cooperation is the hallmark of an efficient security system.
Finally, drastic action are required in States contending with the menace of kidnappings at the moment. One will not hesitate to recommend that the Crocodile Smile or the Python Dance are prescribed for States such as, Kogi, Edo, Niger and Kaduna if the current spate of kidnappings are to be curtailed. The initiative should also be extended to other South East and South South states if they are to have kidnap free Christmas.
The outlook of the threats of kidnapping and hostage taking in the coming months meanwhile is, without doubt, scary. The menace has the potential of snowballing into a huge national security crisis hence the need for decisive action to give teeth to the President’s directive during the Independence day broadcast that these security challenges should be decisively dealt with.
– A. A. Gadzama OFR, mni. is former director-general Department of State Services (DSS).