I was in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, two Fridays ago when the news of the American travel advisory on Nigeria came. The advisory identified 20 states, more than a half of Nigeria’s 36 states, as unsafe for Americans to travel to. Among the states listed in the advisory are Yobe, Borno, Adamawa, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Gombe, Imo, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano and Katsina. Others are Kebbi, Kogi, Niger, Plateau, Rivers, Sokoto and Zamfara. The travel alert, which was published online and later in the newspapers, advised Americans to be vigilant around government security facilities; places of worship and other places patronized by tourists and expatriates.
The advisory was said to have been based on safety and security risk assessments, and the increasing kidnappings for ransom and other security challenges in different parts of the country. It also said US officials must obtain advance clearance by the US Embassy before travelling to the affected states. It also warned about the likelihood of checkpoints, roadblocks and other security paraphernalia even as it spoke about the staging of separatist agitations in Abia, Anambra, Bayelsa, Delta, Enugu, Imo, Lagos and Rivers States and the bombing of oil production infrastructure in Bayelsa and Delta states. The alert warned American officials to avoid areas where these have occurred.
This advisory, expectedly, generated negative reactions from some Nigerians and some security officials who felt that the security situation in the country was unduly exageratted. Being at the annual conference of the Nigerian Guild of Editors in Rivers State at the time the announcement was made, the general initial reaction of many people I spoke with was that the security alarm in the advisory was somewhat exaggerated. There, certainly, did not appear to be any sense of insecurity in the state at the time, but then, that would be a rather myopic way of looking at the problem.
There is no doubt that insecurity is a big issue in many states in the country. Kidnapping for ransom has become not only a lucrative business from which some unscrupulous people make a lot of money it has also become a sport that they engage in at will. Hardly a day passes without reports of the kidnapping of some citizens to the chagrin of all right thinking citizens
Certain parts of the country, including the Lokola-Abuja expressway, have become danger spots for commuters. Even Lagos State has not been spared in the kidnapping sprees. Recently, the traditional ruler of Iba, Oniba of Iba, Oba Goriola Oseni, was kidnapped and was only rescued about two weeks later, after payment of about 15.1 million naira ransom, as confirmed by the men who kidnapped him. The kidnappers initially demanded N500 million for his release, but are now cooling their heels in police net after they were arrested. So many other persons, including expatriates, have been kidnapped in the country in recent times. Just last month, unknown gunmen also reportedly killed Mr. Lawrence Agaie, the Saf Ron-Kueler and paramount ruler of Bokkos in Plateau State after visiting his farm Sha District in the state. His police orderly, Insp. Sunday Wuyah, his wife and son, were also also said to have been killed in the attack. The traditional ruler of Iyasan Community in Irele Local Council of Ondo State, was also whisked away from his palace. They demanded N40 million for his release but he was later rescued in Edo State. Four expatriates working for an oil services firm were also kidnapped and later freed by kidnappers.
On May 20, another set of gunmen kidnapped the traditional ruler of Elete Town in Kogi State, Chief Aminu Aku, from his town located on the Lokoja-Abuja expressway. The kidnappers demanded N10 million. The wife of the traditional ruler of Esit Eket in Akwa Ibom State was also kidnapped and only released after she gave birth to a baby in their custody. Earlier in the year, the traditional ruler of Ubulu-Uku in Delta State was kidnapped and his corpse found in Delta State. Also, Princess Oluwatoyin Omowon, Regent of Akungba-Akoko in Akoko South West Local government Area of Ondo State, was kidnapped and released after two weeks.
This resort to kidnapping of traditional rulers is sacrilege. It is probably the outcome of the need to kidnap persons with enough following and recognition who would have people to pay huge ransoms to secure their release. With traditional rulers being kidnapped at random in the country, can anyone really blame the US for its travel advisory to its citizens? Some Nigerians have claimed that people are also been killed in the US. But, no nation wants to be in a position where it is called upon to negotiate for the lives of its citizens above.
Instead of splitting airs on the US travel advisory, Nigeria will be better off addressing the root of the insecurity in the country and finding a solution to the incessant kidnappings and other security challenges. Mercifully, however, the police appear to be getting on top of their game in either rescuing or negotiating the release of these victims in recent times.
The country needs to do more to prevent these kidnappings because they give the country a very bad name that all the attempts to whitewash the country to get foreign direct investment into our economy cannot wipe off. Some state governments are already taking over properties used for keeping kidnapped persons and some other states are now joining the bandwagon in recent times. This is a very good development. Care must, however, been taken to ensure that the actual owners of such house are found to be complicit and actually involved in the crime so that it does not become another ploy for unscrupulous persons to get the houses of their enemies taken over by the government.
The herdsmen who are mostly responsible for the attacks in Plateau and Benue States should be brought under check. The Chibok girls should be found and restored to their parents while the war against insurgency in the North East and militancy in the Niger Delta should be decisively won through either dialogue or whatever means is found suitable. The threat to bomb Abuja should be taken seriously. To get a good security report, we must be able to ensure the security of our citizens and foreigners in the country.