The narration given by Wahab Oba, chairman of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, Lagos State council, about some of the discussions the kidnappers had with him and his colleagues during their ordeal should be a wake-up call to the complicated and extensive nature of kidnapping in Nigeria. This is critical, to the extent that we have a serious economic problem in the country. It would be foolish to think that this is a mere criminal activity.
Oba said the kidnappers claimed that they were ”led into the crime as a result of neglect by government”. In the same narration, the kidnappers further explained that in the past, they had been used by politicians during elections, but the same politicians turned their backs on them after the elections. Without alternative economic means, especially with the increasingly shrinking economic opportunities in Nigeria, youths are becoming more desperate and turning to crime.
We are not suggesting that the absence of economic opportunities automatically leads to crimes such as kidnapping, but it is generally agreed that what started as a means of agitation in the Niger Delta, is now a thriving trade in the South East, with the involvement of many individuals in the community where these kidnappings take place. It is not unusual now to find that hitherto well respected community members, members of the police, and traditional rulers are all involved. These people now see kidnapping as a way of extracting their own share of the Nigerian largesse.
The prevalence of criminal activity is a symbol of the failure of government to address the many needs of Nigerians. It is not sufficient to address crimes when the real causes of crime have not been dissected and resolved. Poverty, lack, disease, and ignorance make human beings desperate, and this desperation can lead them to criminality. Expanded economic opportunities which create employment and provide a platform for appropriate rewards for work done is the most effective way to ensure that those who will normally not commit crimes are not doing so.
How does the government expand economic opportunities? By ensuring two things: First, by continuing to build an environment that will support private enterprise and reduce the lever of government in economic activities in the country. This can be achieved by building first class infrastructure throughout the country; thus helping to reduce the costs of doing business, improve productivity, and expand the ability of many Nigerians to innovate and do their own businesses.
Second, the government must begin to work on measures that ensure that Nigerians are rewarded commensurately for the work they do. Currently, the Nigerian society is littered with rich people who have not worked for the money they flaunt, and many poor people who have nothing to show for the hard work they have invested in the society. What we have is a lopsided reward system that rewards corruption, waste and inefficiency, but penalizes hard work and diligence. In an environment such as this, young people are inclined to look for means of getting rich quickly without working hard for it, and this includes kidnapping.
When the underlying causes of the security issues and problems we have in the country are finally addressed, the symptoms will, inevitably, follow suit.