The recent kidnappings, killings, and organised attacks on the cities, villages, and communities in different parts of the country have called into question the integrity of our leaders across the board. Nigeria has become a killing laboratory. There is a nexus between poverty and the current wave of kidnapping, killings, and banditry. Daily, innocent citizens are dying not of ailment or accident, which are rampant in our climate, but at the hands of kidnappers and bandits. The bandits and kidnappers are on the prowl, and they kill people with impunity. Kidnapping is pervasive in every nook and cranny of this country. Many innocent citizens have been killed and vanished without traces.
Various socio-economic factors contribute to banditry and abduction in Nigeria, with poverty being a major cause. Economic desperation among millions of impoverished Nigerians drives some to resort to criminal activities like kidnapping or banditry for financial gain. Lack of economic opportunities pushes others into crime for survival. Criminal networks exploit poverty by offering incentives, recruiting vulnerable individuals to escape economic hardships, perpetuating the cycle of crime.
In addition, unemployment can be another significant causative factor for the emergence of kidnapping and banditry. High rates of youth unemployment are particularly alarming, as a lot of young people face challenges in finding opportunities for personal and professional development. Many criminal gangs exploit this demographic group by offering an irresistible sense of empowerment and belonging. Equally, many young Nigerians facing unemployment in rural areas migrated to urban centres in search of job opportunities. The non-availability of job opportunities puts young Nigerians in economically precarious situations, increasing their susceptibility to criminal involvement.
Similarly, land and resource disputes have contributed to the emergence and escalation of banditry and kidnapping, especially in the North-West regions where such conflicts are prevalent. The discovery and exploration of gold in Zamfara made many young herdsmen turn to kidnapping and banditry to make ends meet, having realised that it was lucrative.
They make their millions in ransom collection from any large catch victim, and in rural areas of Zamfara and Katsina States, villagers were compelled to pay monthly insurance premiums for protection on their land and people. Those who default on paying this monthly and unholy imposition due to one reason or another are severely dealt with by the summary execution of the family members to compel obedience. This is the unfolding situation in the rustic areas of the north-west, where sheep and cattle roam freely.
Next to this is the proliferation of firearms, which provides criminal groups, including bandits and kidnappers, with access to more lethal weapons. This has escalated violence in different areas across the country, making criminal activities more dangerous and difficult to control.
The availability of sophisticated weapons empowers criminal groups, giving them a military advantage over law enforcement agencies. This has emboldened various groups to engage in more audacious and violent acts, including large-scale kidnappings and attacks, most especially in the North-Central axis of Plateau and Benue States, where Fulani herdsmen have consistently attacked the natives every now and then.
Significantly, deficiencies in government occasioned by lack of effective law enforcement, insufficient resources, poor training, and corruption within law enforcement agencies have resulted in an inability to prevent and respond positively to criminal activities, including kidnapping and banditry, in the nick of time. Observably, widespread corruption within government institutions, including law enforcement agencies, has undermined its efforts to combat criminal activities.
Many high-ranking individuals have colluded with criminal groups to steal crude oil, hindering investigations, and protecting those involved in illegal activities. The Nigerian Police Force, “an errand boy” and a lame-duck institution, is weak, tired, moribund, ineffective, and above all, counterproductive in their approach. It needs resuscitation and reorientation in line with the modern trend of policing.
Addressing the root causes of kidnapping and banditry requires a multifaceted approach. Implementing policies to spur economic growth, create jobs, and alleviate poverty is crucial. Additionally, effective land management, transparent tenure systems, strengthened border controls, international cooperation on arms trafficking, and improved security through intelligence gathering are essential. Enlisting and training public cab drivers, cyclists, and tricycle drivers as covert intelligence agents can enhance efforts to track and combat criminal activities, ensuring safety in both urban and rural areas.
Overall, there is no straight-jacket method of gathering intelligence for security surveillance. An intelligence-gathering network is a system through which information about a particular entity is collected for the benefit of another using more than one interrelated source. Crime and criminality thrived because of our inability to look inward to re-strategize by tapping our abundant human resources, which are the ultimate assets in the 21st century to secure and develop our country.
An investment in humanity is the greatest antidote to the nation’s security challenge. The security personnel cannot do it alone; it is our collective responsibility, but the security chiefs must reach out to the people for cooperation and assistance. Finally, this is the time for the PBAT to send the state police bills to the National Assembly for consideration. The country is in a tight corner now; let Nigerians know who will support or oppose the decentralisation of Nigerian police.
Rotimi S. Bello, a public commentator, writes from Canada.