BusinessDay

Kidnapping: The ding-dong of ransom payment

Nigerians have raised the alarm that the increasing rate of kidnapping in Nigeria has worsened the security situation of the country. More worrisome is the belief in some quarters that the nation’s police have not got the capacity to check the ugly trend.

Chigozie Ubani, a security consultant, said the police had little or nothing to do about the issue of kidnapping, because training, equipment, manpower, intelligence among others are lacking in the area of solving kidnap cases.
Ubani, who spoke on a national television station, monitored in Lagos, said he was happy that it happened to Olu Falae, a former presidential candidate, so that national attention would be drawn to the menace of kidnapping.
The security expert expressed concern over the huge amount being demanded as ransom, saying that people have been paying to ensure their relations do not come to harm. He described kidnapping as an economic crime, as the primary aim of those into it is to make money.

“People have been paying ransom and these young men and those behind them have been making money. So, kidnapping is an economic crime. The earlier the Inspector-General of Police, Solomon Arase, and other security agencies begin to understand this, the better for us,” he said.

He warns that if government “pays kidnappers to rescue high profile citizens, it means we are in trouble. If Falae was rescued, I will gladly walk on the street knowing that if I’m kidnapped, the Police will come to rescue me.”
In the last few days, the police and Falae engaged in a kind of ding-dong over payment of ransom. While the victim revealed that he regained his freedom after a ransom had been paid, the police said they were not aware.
According to Falae: “There were six of them with three or four guns and every half an hour or so they will say, ‘Baba we are going to kill you; if you don’t give us money we are going to kill you.’

“And they said they gave me until 3pm, and if at 3pm they don’t get the money, they would execute me. I thank God that at 21 minutes to 3pm, one of them came and said, ‘the money don complete.’”
However, Solomon Arase, Inspector-General of Police (IGP), was quoted as saying that the law enforcement agency guided by the rule of law and professional ethics do not under any circumstances encourage the payment of ransom to kidnappers or other criminals as it is tantamount to rewarding crime and motivating other criminals to follow that part.

He further said that the police was not in any way privy to any arrangement that would have led to payment of ransom by the elder statesman or his family.

In the last one month, some individuals were kidnapped and a ransom of N100 million was slammed on them. But they have since embraced the rope of freedom, saying they never paid kobo but that their escape was the handiwork of the police.

A few days after Donu Kogbara, a newspaper columnist, got her freedom from her abductors, Toyin Nwosu, wife of Steve, deputy managing director of The SUN newspapers, was kidnapped. A ransom of N100million was put on her. Nigerians were told nothing was paid for her freedom. Five days after Mrs. Nwosu was released, news of the abduction of Falae broke. The abductors also demanded N100million. Before then, the kidnappers of a Nigerian Anglican bishop, Rt. Rev. Moses Bukpe-Tabwayen, Bishop of Gwagwalada, asked for a N40 million ransom for his safe release; those who abducted the traditional ruler of Apaa Bunu in Kabba/Bunu Local Government Area of Kogi State, Oba Adebisi Obademi, demanded N1million. The list is endless.

Soji Apampa, co-founder of The Convention on Business Integrity, which sponsors the Corporate Governance Rating System in partnership with the Nigerian Stock Exchange, said families of kidnapped victims make every effort to pay ransom on them for fear that any delay could be dangerous for the victims. He explained that it is not just enough for the police to tell Nigerians not to pay ransom for their kidnapped loved ones when the security architecture to nip such crimes in the bud is not in place.

“Why it is usually not is to ensure you do not encourage more copycat version of the same crime. Once people begin to announce that they paid so and so amount to have their person released, you will then begin to see criminals seizing innocent individuals with the aim of getting ransom money. But having said that, you can’t just continue to tell people don’t pay without putting the right things in place to protect their lives and to rescue them in the event they are kidnapped,” Apampa said.

According to him: “Beyond the debate of paying or not paying ransom, the major issue is the capacity to check such crimes and to ensure they are not committed. The question is, do the police or security agencies have the technology, the necessary device to track down the kidnappers or even foil their plans before they carry them out? Do the police have the device to detect the exact location where kidnappers are in order to foil their plans? These are the issues.

“Again, paying or not paying the ransom is not the issue because it does not mean that paying the ransom means they would release their victim unharmed. There have been cases whereby even after collecting the ransom, they still killed the victims. So, what is important is that the police should prevent the crime from not happening in the first place.”

Speaking with BD SUNDAY, Lukman Adefolahan, programme officer, Zero Corruption Coalition, said there would have been no controversy over payment of ransom if the safety of Nigerians were guaranteed. He urged the police to up their game in this regard.

According to Adefolahan, “From my own perspective, paying of ransom should not be an issue if the security agencies are working properly. Why the police keep denying that ransom is not paid when a kidnapped person regains freedom is because they don’t want people to believe it is a failure on their part. Chief Olu Falae said his family paid for his ransom. You remembered when Chief Mike Ozekhome was released; he also said his family paid for his ransom. Actually, it is not good for our system; but what would people do when they are helpless. You see police will always tell people to say there’s no ransom paid, but until the security agencies are so prepared to fight kidnapping the way they are fighting insurgency in the North with all the seriousness it deserves, we would continue to grapple with the unfortunate situation.”

An evil business
In the last eight years, kidnapping has assumed notoriety never equaled in the history of Nigeria. No one is spared as perpetrators hunt for the old, the young, male and female alike. They have also carried their evil trade to places of worship. Children have been stolen away from their parents right inside Churches or Mosques.
The alarming rate to which kidnapping has assumed, necessitated the passage, in some states, a law making it a crime that attracts capital punishment. For instance, convicted kidnappers in Edo State, southern Nigeria, will face the death penalty, Governor Adams Oshiomhole has said.

Some commentators, however, argue that death penalty has never in history dissuaded hardened criminals from plying their evil trade. They cite instances with Singapore and others where trafficking in hard drugs attract death penalty; yet, the business still goes on there.

A few years ago, some journalists were kidnapped somewhere in Abia State on their way back from Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. They were released some days after. Nigerians were told there was no ransom paid to secure their freedom.
Ever since, cases of kidnapping have been rampant in society. In some extreme cases, the victims have had to be killed even after the ransom money had been paid.

Earlier in the current year, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, fell into the hands of the evil merchants who targeted those in the medical profession. Some doctors were abducted while on duty, and one of them was reportedly killed in the process. The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Rivers State chapter, raised the alarm that its members had become endangered species. They wrote a protest letter to the state government, threatening to withdraw their services since their lives were no longer safe.

Analysts blame the upsurge in Kidnapping on lack of proper policing in society. They argue that not only that the number of policemen is grossly inadequate; the available ones are not properly deployed.
“I think what is responsible for the escalation is lack of proper policing. Not just that the number of policemen is abysmally too small for proper policing in the country, the few available are not properly used,” said an observer who asked not to be named.

“I am always shocked each time I see a retinue of policemen at small events; may be, the event is being attended by one or two governors, but you’ll see over 40 policemen there, whereas a larger percentage of the population has nobody to secure them. Go to the villages, you hardly see a policeman. So, you see, the police cannot, the way things are at the moment, check the upsurge in kidnapping,” said the analyst.

A dangerous trend
Kidnapping has since become a huge business that even when a legitimate job is available, there is no likelihood they would accept the offer. They cannot hold down a meaningful job. They have become used and exposed to kidnapping, and the quick money that comes with the evil business seems to have bolstered the trade. It has got so bad that some kidnappers have had to accept ridiculous amount to release their victims.

Kidnapping has gradually become a franchise on a national scale, sometimes perpetrated by savvy graduates who almost win the sympathy of their victims. Ask Mike Ozekhome.

An analyst said: “It is believed that Nigeria has recorded about 110 kidnap incidents in the past six months with ransom demand in the N1billion range. Curiously, none of the six zones of the country is spared of these nefarious activities.

“However, in the same measure in which it considers the reinforcement of the country’s security apparatus, government must also take the urgent steps to jumpstart the economy. The level of criminality which we currently see in Nigeria reflects the dangers that are inherent in youth unemployment, inhibited cultist practices and the derogation of our national values and ethos.

“A country which is believed to have a youth unemployment rate of close to 50 percent, where about two million additional youths join the labour market annually, where hundreds of thousands of children and young adults fail to get into higher schools annually without any alternative provisions for them, where more than 10 million children of school age are roaming the streets, should expect nothing but a harvest of the whirlwind of the careless wind that it continues to sow.”

Politicians indicted
He also attributed some kidnap cases to politics, “I see political actors who engage the services of these young men in the course of protecting themselves, intimidating their opponents, electioneering, and soon after, the kidnappers are dumped.”

Ubani also suggested the use of technology to curb the trend, warning that “kidnappers are not lazy people” and “they think and act fast ahead of security agencies”.
“I am a practitioner and an advocate of security technology and I am aware that we can use technology to bring this down, but it will take a lot of money, and power on the side of the government to get these things put to use,” he said.

“Politicians have to purge themselves; government has to take it hard on politicians who recruit and engage the kidnappers, the law has to be strong enough, we need to equip the Police with training, human capacity and we also need to look at the society in terms of our value systems,” he said.

Reconstruction the Nigerian society
Analysts say to fight the kidnapping menace, there’s the need for attitudinal change. Every Nigeria must have a change of mindset that easy money does not pay, ultimately.

“Many today believe in ‘hot money’, hence, their involvement in all manner of crimes. Even stark illiterates who never saw the four walls of a school want to join the millionaire club in a jiffy. To rid the country of some of these ills, everyone must, like the President said in his Independence anniversary broadcast, imbibe the culture of change. There must be a shift from bad to good, and a conscious effort must be made by one and all to do things in a better, different way,” a public affairs analyst said on condition of anonymity.

It would be recalled that the President in his 55th Independence anniversary broadcast said: “Change does not just happen. You and I and all of us must appreciate that we all have our part to play if we want to bring change about. We must change our lawless habits, our attitude to public office and public trust. We must change our unruly behavior in schools, hospitals, market places, motor parks, on the roads, in homes and offices. To bring about change, we must change ourselves by being law-abiding citizens.”

By Our Reporters

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