By Olakunle Olafioye
A well-coordinated security operation by the anti-kidnapping unit of the Nigeria Police Force yielded a huge result few weeks ago with the arrest of the gang behind the abduction of Mrs. Margaret Emefiele, wife of Mr. Godwin Emefiele, governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN. Mrs. Emefiele along with three other women and a driver were attacked on Thursday, September 29, 2016 along the Benin-Agbor Road and dragged into a nearby bush while their vehicle was abandoned.
Luck however ran out on their abductors as they met their waterloo shortly after they released the captives. The suspects among who are two serving soldiers, Lance Corporal Musa Maidabra and Edwin George, reportedly got a ransom believed to be around N80 million.
The feat recorded by the police in arresting the gang behind the abduction of Mrs. Emefiele was initially touted to be a flash in the pan. But with similar feats recorded in the last few weeks, many doubters are beginning have a change of view on the possibility of ending the menace.
Prior to the arrest of Mrs. Emefiele’s abductors, the Lagos Police Command had on Saturday, August 6, announced the arrest of two members of a kidnapping gang allegedly responsible for the abduction of the Oniba of Ibaland, Oba Oseni Goriola, who was kidnapped from his palace on July 16, 2016. The suspects, Isaiah Ododomu and Toba Forejo, who reportedly confessed to the crime, had told the police that nine persons were actually involved in the kidnap. Three of the remaining seven members of the group were nabbed few days later to take the number of arrested suspected kidnappers of the monarch to five so far.
In a similar fashion, four members of the 11-man gang behind the abduction of four landlords at Oshorun Heritage Estate in Isheri area of Lagos, on Saturday, September 17, 2016 are currently cooling their feet in police net.
The gang had stormed the estate and kidnapped their victims as they were having their regular morning exercise. While one of the suspects was arrested in Sapele, Delta State, the remaining three were said to have been apprehended in Ondo State. Apart from confessing to the crime, one of the suspects, who gave his name as Musa Muhammed, was said to have been identified by the landlords who regained their freedom five days after they were kidnapped.
The harvest of arrest was extended to Kano State, where the police arrested 11 suspected kidnappers in the notorious Falgore Forest in Doguwa Local Government Area of the state on Tuesday, October 11, 2016. The arrest, which came after intense gun duel between the police and the criminals also led to the release of no fewer than 12 captives, two of whom were said to have been kidnapped the same day.
The Commissioner of Police in the state, Rabiu Yusuf, who briefed journalists on the feat said the anti-kidnapping squad, upon receipt of intelligence report, launched a major offensive against the criminals, who had made the forest their hideout.
The police commissioner said some of the suspected kidnappers escaped into the thick forest with bullet wounds.
Until recent weeks, kidnappers in the country had had a free range abducting and demanding huge ransoms from relatives of their captives with security operatives looking helpless in the face of this major security challenge. But the chickens appear to have come to roost for the perpetrators as the nation’s security operatives, going by the string of successes in the last few weeks, have turned the heat on kidnappers. A top security source who spoke to Sunday Sun on the condition of anonymity attributed the development to the renewed vigour by police authorities to reposition the force in combating the crime. “Honestly, the days ahead will prove too hot for kidnappers terrorising this country because it will no longer be business as usual, not only for kidnappers but all criminals,” the source hinted.
The source, who declined giving details on what the force has done differently in the recent weeks said, “the force, in addition to boosting its intelligence gathering mechanism, also has in its possession high-tech crime fighting devices to track down kidnappers.”
Before now the nation’s security agents had maintained a hard stance against the payment of ransom to kidnappers and on several occasions dissuaded families of victims of kidnapping against paying ransom. But the recent successes recorded by the security operatives in busting activities of criminal gangs seem to underscore a change of stance in the fight against the menace of kidnapping as indications emerged that ransoms were paid in a few cases.
But explaining the motive behind the seeming volte-face on the payment of ransom to kidnappers, the Force Public Relations Officer, Donald Awunah, while parading arrested suspects behind Mrs. Emefiele’s abduction, said the police sometime resort to the payment of ransom as a bait or bargaining chip to save the lives of victims of the crime.
“The police will continue to limit the capacity of kidnappers and other criminals to disrupt the quality of life of Nigerians by the deployment of adequate manpower and resources in crime reduction, detection and prosecution of offenders. It is absolutely important to mention that the police do not and will not encourage payment of ransom,” Awunah said.
Reacting to the successes recorded by the Nigeria Police in apprehending suspected kidnappers, a security expert, Ubong King said the clampdown on kidnappers in the country was an indication that the nation’s security agents have succeeded in converting intelligence to success story in their fight against kidnapping. “Now because of the experience of kidnapping, the police have been able to develop more anti-kidnapping skills. They now know proactive responses to take in combating the crime. They have been able to track the criminals,” he disclosed.
Ubong, who noted that the recent success recorded by the police had boosted Nigerians’ confidence and hope in the force, warned the force against resting on its oars. “We must know that there are other major security challenges that must also be addressed. We have a challenge in the country. There is unemployment and people are hungry. This challenge makes crime, including kidnapping attractive,” he said, adding that kidnappers must now realise that kidnapping does not pay any longer because the long arm of the law would definitely catch up with them. The wise thing to do is to abandon it.”
To further tighten the screws on kidnappers, Lagos State, following in the legislative footsteps of Edo, Ogun and Anambra states, has moved very close to enacting a law that prescribes death sentence for convicted kidnappers and all other individuals who aid the commission of the crime in some way.
The bill sponsored by the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Mudashiru Obasa, states that “any person, who kidnaps, abducts, details or captures or takes another person by any means or tricks the person with intent to demand ransom or do anything against his/her will commits an offence, and liable on conviction to death sentence.”
The bill got solid and enthusiastic support from stakeholders during a public hearing held at the Lateef Jakande Hall within the premises of the assembly.
Mere attempt to kidnap a person is also considered a criminal act under the bill, which could earn the convicted culprit life imprisonment. Similarly, under section four, the bill frowns on false representation to release a kidnapped or abducted person and prescribes a seven-year term of imprisonment.
Even more significant is the provision that “any person, who knowingly or willfully allows or permits his premises, building or a place belonging to him, to which he has control of, to be used for the purposes of keeping a person kidnapped is guilty of an offence under the law and liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment of 14 years without an option of fine.”
A legal practitioner and member of the United Action for Change (UAC), Mr Richard Komolafe, who spoke at the public hearing commended the initiative to legislate against kidnapping but added that the death penalty was no longer acceptable around the world.
The Director of Legal Drafting in the Lagos State Ministry of Justice, Mrs. Yejide Kolawole, who also commended the bill, suggested that the element of conspiracy to kidnap be made punishable under the bill.
“I suggest 21 years imprisonment for conspiracy to kidnap, depending on the level of involvement. However, seven years penalty for Section 4 is too mild. I suggest 20 years to deter those who would want to engage in the crime.
“On Section 5, anyone who instigates kidnapping should be given a stiffer penalty of 25 years, though the person does not participate overtly in the act. On section 7, owners of a building used to aid kidnapping should have a higher punishment than mere forfeiture of property,” she said.
On the issue of making conspiracy to kidnap punishable with stiff sentence, a Chief Magistrate in Lagos State, Mrs Seri Sholebo agreed with Kolawole’s position, stressing that the courts had not been able to convict offenders on conspiracy since 2011.
The Chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights, Public Petition and LASIEC, whose committee handled the public hearing, Hon. Adefunmilayo Tejuosho, in her welcome address had said the Bill was necessary to curtail kidnapping in the state.
She commended the Speaker for sponsoring the bill noting that stiffer penalty was needed to combat the menace of kidnapping.
Her words: “We need laws to safeguard the citizens. We looked at the law on kidnapping and we felt that it should be amended to curb the crime. The criminal act has become lucrative and it is thriving today and this is worrisome. There must be a deterrent law to make the crime unattractive. The punishment should be severe and harsh.”
Obasa, who was represented by the Majority Leader of the House, Hon. Sanai Agunbiade, explained that it had become necessary to prescribe death sentence against kidnapping to stem the rapidly rising tide of the terrible crime that has left victims and their families psychologically and financially traumatised. He stressed that the kidnappers were not fit to live.
“The best we can do is to elaborate and increase the penalty to deal with the menace. If anyone has an intention to kidnap somebody, it means such a person is not fit to live,” Obasa said.