By Ray Morphy
Lately, Nigeria appears to be in the firm grip of outlaws who maim, kill, rape and abduct innocent people at will. The ferocity of the attacks and the frequency of the abduction of people; men and women is alarming.
Nothing is now sacred to these abductors. Innocent school children have become their prized targets. These frequent acts of violent crime and mass abductions have grown to form a major threat to our 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 with hundreds falling victim on the highways and in the cities.
Kidnappers have targeted individuals, groups and there are reports of wholesale abduction of passengers of buses, cars, trucks and even keke. Usually, the prime targets of kidnapping for ransom are those considered to be wealthy enough to pay
a huge release fee. By law, kidnapping is a criminal act since it 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 include Venezuela, Mexico, Yemen, Syria, the Philippines, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. In Nigeria, thousands of citizens 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 introduced an anti-kidnapping squad in the 2000s, in an effort to stem the menace. This effort has been largely to no avail. Since the inception of that anti-kidnapping squad, kidnapping has continued to be the major fear of citizens across the country. Hardly is there any Nigerian who does not know someone who had been a victim of kidnappers.
On the evening of 11 December 2020, over 300 pupils were kidnapped from a boys’ secondary boarding school on the outskirts of Kankara, Katsina State, northern Nigeria. A gang of gunmen on motorcycles attacked the Government Science Secondary School, where more than 800 pupils reside, for over an hour. On 14 December, Katsina’s governor Aminu Bello Masari said the kidnappers had contacted them and negotiations were ongoing for the release of the students. Information minister Lai Mohammed denied Boko Haram’s hand and said the kidnapping was done by bandits. On 17 December, Masari said that 344 of the victims had been freed “without any ransom payment.” Many Nigerians did not
believe that the bandits would be that considerate after taking the huge risk of abducting the students to release them back to the government for nothing. Not when several families in parts of the country have lamented openly about paying huge amounts of money to secure freedom for their loved ones in kidnappers net.
More recently some students were abducted from Government Science College (GSC) Kagara, Niger State by gunmen suspected to be bandits.
The bandits stormed the school in the early hours of Wednesday last week, overpowering the security guards on duty. Staff and some of their family members were also kidnapped. As I write negotiations are on to ensure their release.
Earlier in the same Niger State, 18 passengers of the Niger State Transport Authority were kidnapped by bandits. The attack, which occurred at Yakila village in Rafi local government area of the state, saw the bandits leaving a woman and her baby behind while they went away with other 18 passengers. The passengers were said to be heading to Minna, the state capital from Kotangora when the incident happened.
The bus passengers have been released “without payment of ransom.”
The assertions that kidnap victims were released without payment of ransom have always been taken with a pinch of salt. That was how Zamfara State governor Bello Matawalle last year said dialogue with bandits was still relevant after he secured the release of 26 minor Katsina State girls from bandits “without the payment of any ransom.”
The girls who were kidnapped by bandits in the Faskari local government area of Katsina State were brought into the bushes of Zamfara State but were discovered by the government and released through negotiations by the commissioner for security and home affairs Abubakar Dauran.
However, residents of Dan Aji community in Faskari local government area of Katsina State debunked the claim by the Zamfara State governor that 26 kidnapped girls were released by their abductors without ransom payment. In their own account, residents of the community said that they paid N6.6 million ransom to secure the release of the 26 kidnapped girls. The leader of the community, Mr. Lawal Dogara, who denied Matawalle’s claim at a press conference in Katsina, said the parents of the teenage girls contributed N6.6 million and paid to their abductors before they regained freedom. The 26 rescued girls, whose ages range from eight to 12, were kidnapped by the marauding
bandits on October 13 and the hoodlums later demanded N6.6 million ransom.
It is therefore safe to assume that ransoms are paid for the release of persons abducted by bandits. A report released by SB Morgen (SBM) shows that Nigeria paid at least $18.34 million (N7 billion) as ransom to kidnappers between 2011 and 2020, bringing to light the challenges of insecurity and unemployment in Nigeria. The report titled “Nigeria’s Kidnap Problem: The Economics of the Kidnap Industry in
Nigeria” shows that four of the top 10 states with the highest number of kidnap incidents over the last decade are spread evenly in the oil rich south and arid northern regions of the country.
The payment of ransom must be discouraged because the bandits use such money to fund their operations. What cannot be denied is that ransom payments have helped to enrich the arsenal of terrorists and bandits.
Even repented bandits have said time without number that they use ransom money both for recruitment and arms acquisitions. Therefore, funding the enemy can never lead to victory over the enemy.
The solution to banditry and kidnapping is to holistically address the underlying problems that create bandits. The causes are poverty, illiteracy and access to drugs. The government needs to address the issue of insecurity and unemployment as it greatly affects the economic growth of the nation. There is a need to equip and deploy the police and military assets into the most affected regions.
This can be done by creating a soft regulatory framework to enable effective policing, cooperation and coordination to achieve desired results.
According to the SBM report, “Sensible regulation and economic reform that includes a Marshall like Plan for the North East and North West regions and significant sub-national autonomy that will significantly satisfy the southern regions, particularly the South East and the South South.” Finally, the rule of law must be obeyed. Individuals must be able to rely on the judicial system rather than alternative means of settling disputes.