• Thursday, May 23, 2024
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BusinessDay

Kidnappers grow bolder with huge ransom despite FG’s threats

Gunmen kidnap five in Dutse Makaranta Abuja

…Nigeria needs the FBI example

BY OBINNA EMELIKE and TAOFEEK OYEDOKUN

With the increasing value of ransom being demanded by kidnappers, “which are often not negotiated and fully paid”, it is very obvious that kidnapping is now a very lucrative enterprise in the country.

From N5miilion demanded by a militant group to release an oil worker in Nigeria’s Delta in 2015, to N10 billion (around $50 million then) demanded by Boko Haram to release some of the 276 captured Chibok girls, and to now N100 million for each victim of the 10 people kidnapped from their homes inside an estate in Abuja recently, kidnapping is truly enterprising as most of the ransom money is being paid even by the government that either keeps mum or denies such.

Read also: Chibok Girls: Nigeria’s govt still paying lip service to insecurity fight 10 years on

The intrigue is that the assailants in the Abuja estate incident raised the bar of their demand from the initial N60 million per victim to N100 million, despite the death of three of the victims.

That means smiling to the bank with N1billion for doing nothing but kidnapping and not being trailed, and also the reason for the spate of the crime in the country today.

Also, recently, a former Nigerian Minister took to the social media to announce that he mobilised his friend whom he claimed donated N50 million to pay ransom to kidnappers who had abducted certain victims.

All these are pointers to the fact that kidnapping has become a major criminal enterprise in the country as Nigeria was rated No.2 among the top 10 countries with the highest reported incidents of kidnapping by the ‘Top Teny,’ blog, with over 1,800 persons abducted annually, after Iraq, and followed by Pakistan, India and Venezuela. As well, ReliefWeb estimates that more than 1,680 schoolchildren have been kidnapped since the abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno State, in 2014, over 821 students were abducted in 2021 alone, while SBM Intelligence calculated that kidnappers collected about N653.7 million in ransom between July 2021 and June 2022 in more than 500 recorded kidnap incidents, with 3,420 persons taken, and 564 killed.

As sad and depressing as the development is, Bem Hembafan, a retired security officer, decried that efforts made so far to tame the ugly trend seem to have yielded less result as more Nigerians are taking to kidnapping and collecting ransom in millions without being challenged.

Recalling the recent Abuja estate kidnapping incident, the retired security officer, who runs private security for estates in Abuja and in Nasarawa State, blamed the recurring kidnapping on the loopholes and lack of coordination in the nation’s security architecture.

“The assailants only succeeded because there was a compromise somewhere by an insider that resulted in a security breach,” he said, while querying the impact of the many security checkpoints within the capital territory.

According to him, some domestic staff members, who are poorly paid, family members who are neglected, close friends, colleagues and neighbours are easy picks for kidnappers because of a handsome percent of the ransom promised to them.

Considering the joint efforts of security agencies including; the Nigerian Military, the Police, Department of State Security (DSS), National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), other sister organisations, many think that the country should have been enjoying relative peace from the menace of the kidnappers and bandits.

Read also: Nigeria’s kidnapping racket is a symptom of a failing state – FT Editorial

Some of the efforts include the Nigerian Navy’s Operation Delta Sanity, to checkmate the rising cases of kidnapping and Sea robbery in the country.

The Navy claims that the operation initiated by Emmanuel Uchechukwu Ogalla, a vice admiral and chief of Naval Staff, has lived up to its expectation with verifiable evidence, the Army, DSS, Police and all other security agencies are also reeling out results.

The federal government on its part has been making promises on fighting insecurity, making strong statements when people are being kidnapped, also promising not to pay ransom, but the increasing rate of kidnap and ransom value say otherwise.

Now, more innocent Nigerians, especially helpless school children are being kidnapped every day and ransom paid to the undeserving assailants.

X-raying the situation, Stan Labo, a security expert, said that the present administration is yet to show political will to tackle insecurity in the country, noting that the current situation is just like the Buhari era.

But some experts think that the country has not achieved the expected result due to the wrong approach to the fight.

In his view, Emeka Okoro, a security analyst with SBM Intelligence, said that it will require a multifaceted approach to address insecurity in the country.

According to him, the country needs improved security infrastructure, effective governance, social cohesion, economic development, and peace-building efforts to truly fight insecurity.

“The political will to tackle insecurity is lacking; we are beginning to see semblance of what happened in the last administration; the political will is weak.”

Darlington Amokeh, a Nigerian Diaspora, also blamed the spate of kidnapping to wrong approach to the fight against insecurity.

The Houston-based medical doctor noted that the United States of America is succeeding in its security to an appreciable level by adopting the right approach and right personnel to any challenge.

“I know that active shooting is a problem here in the US, but the law is dealing with the perpetrators, many are gunned down while shooting and most are in jail.

“The American government is not relenting and Nigeria should also not relent and allow the kidnappers to have a field day, snatching human beings, and collecting huge ransoms.

“There has to be legislation on it and the law should be enforced without fear or favour as it is here,” he noted.

According to him, all the security agencies in Nigeria are in the fight with less result, hence the need to specify their responsibilities, and assign the fight against kidnapping to the agency that can handle it better than others.

“In the US, the FBI, CIA, and other civil security agencies are the first point of contact. But in Nigeria, you often see soldiers leaving their barracks to settle any issue, even domestic ones that the Police can handle. I think that the government can retrain some of its security agencies in special combats like the US does. These are specially trained to handle specific security challenges and they deliver results. Nigeria can do the same,” he advised.

He also noted that naming and shaming alleged sponsors of kidnappers is a bad approach in the fight as they still walk the streets freely and even doling out money to the poor and vulnerable.

“You don’t just name and shame. Those alleged to be sponsors of any kind of terrorism are prosecuted over here, if found guilty, their assets are seized, accounts frozen, they are jailed and some killed in an organised way. The government should not be afraid to confront them,” he said.

Sam Onikoyi, another Nigerian Diaspora, is of the opinion that Nigeria needs to take good care of the security agencies and recruit more to ensure their commitment and better result in the fight against insecurity.

According to him, Nigeria is grossly under-policed when considering the United Nations recommended Police to People ratio of 1:400, with Nigeria having about 371,000 policemen for its over 200 million people.

“That ratio is grossly inadequate for a country of that population size and that is part of the reasons the Police and other security agencies are easily overwhelmed. One of my relations once had a security issue in Port Harcourt and the Police did not go beyond filling the report. That is not encouraging and it is also part of the reason many of such cases are not reported, including kidnapping and ransom paid,” he said.

To curb the menace, Onikoyi is of the opinion that the government is bigger than anybody and should not pay ransom even secretly, but deal with the kidnappers as terrorists they are. He also suggested that the lawmakers should make kidnapping a criminal by enacting strong legislation against it, requiring life imprisonment or death sentence at worst.

“We often hear the government claiming that no ransom was paid, but the body language says otherwise. How long will they bandits keep holding the country and its people at ransom, why do we have security personnel when they cannot protect innocent citizens, all it takes is political will and sustained onslaught on this enterprise called kidnapping or else, ransom will be paid in dollars soon and a whole state kidnapped too,” he said.

Nigeria needs the FBI example

The establishment of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the United States and its strategies against kidnapping and other heinous crimes offer valuable lessons for Nigeria, which is grappling with similar security challenges.

In the early 20th century, the United States faced significant law enforcement challenges as crimes became more complex and crossed state lines. The existing decentralised police and justice systems were ill-equipped to handle this new breed of crime.

President Theodore Roosevelt and his Attorney General, Charles J. Bonaparte, recognised the need for a federal investigative force. In 1908, Bonaparte formed a group of special agents, which later became known as the Bureau of Investigation (BOI). This was the precursor to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

It was established to address crimes that local and state jurisdictions could not manage effectively, including kidnapping, which became a federal crime with the passage of the “Lindbergh Law” in 1932, following the high-profile abduction and murder of Charles Lindbergh’s infant son.

The FBI employs a range of strategies, including intelligence gathering, coordination with other law enforcement agencies, and the use of specialised task forces like the Child Abduction Rapid Deployment (CARD) team to address kidnapping and other serious crimes.

The FBI has continually adapted to evolving threats by updating its methods and expanding its jurisdiction. This includes addressing modern challenges like cybercrime, international terrorism, and domestic extremism.

Lessons for Nigeria

Nigeria is battling with persistent security challenges. Newspaper headlines scream of kidnappings, banditry, and religious clashes. Terrorists’ shadow stretches across the north, while communal violence erupts like wildfires.

Kidnapping for ransom has emerged as a lucrative enterprise, thriving despite government assurances to curb it. Families, faced with the distressing ordeal of loved ones’ abductions, resort to crowdfunding on social media platforms in desperate attempts to secure their release.

Nigeria has witnessed at least 735 mass abductions with 15,398 people abducted since 2019, a new report by SBM Intelligence says.

According to the report, an average of five Nigerians are abducted on a daily basis since 2024 began.

“At least 68 incidents of large-scale kidnappings have been reported in Nigeria since the beginning of 2024, averaging 0.91 mass abductions per day as of 15 March 2024. At the time of putting this report together, the 2024 numbers, which have reported 1867 victims in such abductions, have exceeded the whole count for 2019 (19; 153) and 2020 (59; 1152), respectively,” the report stated.

Terrorism and ethno-religious conflicts continue to plague the northern regions, with recurring attacks in areas like Plateau State.

Farmers abandon their fields, stalked by bandits waiting to pounce on them, their livelihoods sacrificed on the altar of insecurity.

Businesses shut down, investments dry up, and economic growth becomes a distant dream in a climate of constant fear.

Like the United States, Nigeria also has a central agency known as the Department of State Security (DSS) similar to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

However, the DSS has done little in intelligence gathering in the fight against insecurity in the country.

Adopting intelligence-led policing strategies could enable Nigerian authorities to anticipate and prevent crimes before they occur, rather than reacting after the fact. This is a major strategy that helped the FBI curb kidnapping and other crimes in the US.

Also, enhancing collaboration between various security agencies within Nigeria could lead to more effective responses to security threats. Sharing intelligence and resources can help in dismantling criminal networks.

The security agencies in Nigeria appear to lack synergy. They work independently rather than working together to tackle insecurity. These agencies sometimes disagreed in public, which shows lack of cooperation.

Engaging with communities to build trust and gather intelligence can be crucial in addressing crimes like banditry and terrorism. Community members often have valuable information that can aid law enforcement.

While the FBI’s approach provides a model, it’s important for Nigeria to adapt these strategies to its unique cultural, social, and political context. Tailored solutions that consider local dynamics are more likely to be effective.

Nigeria can draw on the experience of the FBI in the United States to develop a comprehensive approach to its security challenges. By employing intelligence-led strategies, fostering interagency collaboration, engaging with communities, and adapting strategies to the local context, Nigeria can make significant strides in combating insecurity and fostering a safer environment for its citizens.