On Wednesday, the Terrorism Prevention (Amendment) Bill, 2021, sponsored by Senator Ezenwa Francis Onyewuchi, passed second reading. The Bill seeks to prohibit the payment and receipt of ransom for the release of any person kidnapped, imprisoned or wrongfully confined. If it scales through, defaulters risk 15 years imprisonment.
Prof. Alex Asigbo, president, Society of Nigerian Theatre Artists:
The bill, much as it is a step in the right direction, is, sadly, coming at a very wrong time, when our security architecture has collapsed, when self-help is becoming the only option available to citizens. So, what do you expect the citizens to do? Our security agencies even help in delivering ransoms. Like most actions our politicians take nowadays, it is ridiculous, handling the symptoms instead of the root cause of the problem.
Adesina Ogunlana, former chairman, Nigerian Bar Association, Ikeja branch:
Ordinarily, when there is a problem, people look for ways to solve it. If somebody is sick, people may suggest going to a native doctor, going to the hospital, all kinds of suggestions. What this senator has done is to make his own suggestion, whether it will be passed or work is another matter. We should not laugh at him. There are so many of such laws in Nigeria. There is a law that people should not smoke in public, that people should not spray money in a party. But we see that every day, even the senators do it. It is not about making laws but enforceability and functionality.
Dr. Uju Agomoh, executive director, PRAWA:
Payment of ransom for kidnapping creates an incentive for the crime to continue. It encourages kidnapping in the country as both current and potential perpetrators of this crime will have an increased interest to commence or continue this crime.
The person that pays for ransom and the person that receives ransom are not and should not be on the same scale, except where the person that pays the ransom is an accomplice to the crime, that is, where both the person that paid and the person that received the ransom planned the crime together or collaborated in the crime.
“What is needed is to ensure the following: A comprehensive approach that ensures that immediate and remote causes of kidnapping are effectively addressed; intelligence-led approach in combating the crime of kidnapping, where the certainty of the apprehension, prosecution, conviction and sanctioning of every (or most) perpetrators of this crime is assured; encourage the support of informants with credible information about kidnappers and handsome reward for the informants.
This will encourage credible information on kidnappers to be provided to the security agencies. Track and weed out corrupt security/law enforcement officers, politicians, other public officers, and tradition rulers that collaborate with kidnappers. There should be passive public awareness-cum-sensitisation campaign against kidnapping and provision of employment, empowerment and positive mentorship to youth, including for youth at risk of going into crime.
Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN:
How do you criminalise payment of ransom to free a kidnapped person when the government itself is the chief culprit? Will you also jail the government? What about middle men like Sheikh Gumi who interact with them freely and know about their various abodes? Can he be held accountable? What has the government done about him and others? How do you criminalise a process where a person legitimately tries to free himself or loved ones from kidnappers’ den due to the abysmal failure, cluelessness and incapacity of the same government to afford him security of life and property?
So, the bill is simply saying families and friends of a person who has fallen victim should allow such victim to be murdered in cold blood, with the same government unable to save him? How do you beat a person and tell him not to cry? These people have certainly run out of ideas. We have never had it so bad in Nigeria. Everything is in shambles and tatters.
Malachy Ugwummadu, human rights activist:
“Such a bill should be thrown away to allow the Senate to devote quality time to the amendment of the Electoral Act, attend to restructuring efforts and processes and deal with general bills that can empower the Nigerian people. The festering and prevalent practice of payment of ransom in itself is a pointed indictment on the government of the day whose primary responsibility is the security and welfare of the Nigerian people, according to S. 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution.
It will be extremely idle and irresponsible for the legislative arm of government to embark on the present grandstanding with such a bill when there are no corresponding security capabilities on the part of the government to prevent the social crime of kidnapping. The victims should not be further penalised and tortured. It’s the classical case of beating the child and preventing him or her from crying. Even the payment of ransom is not a tea party or a pleasurable experience for those who can afford it. This hot air must stop, otherwise we would like to be told clearly which aspects or representatives of the government will be incarcerated for payment of ransom because governments are the biggest ransom-payers in Nigeria.
Dr. Chidi Amuta, journalist, media/business consultant:
The Senate’s proposal on jail term penalty for paying ransom to kidnappers doesn’t make sense. They should focus on ending kidnapping. Then there’ll be no need to pay any ransom. You need the stiffest penalty for the original crime itself, not for a consequential action by innocent people aiming to save the life of kidnapped persons. If one senator were to be kidnapped, the ransom would be oversubscribed by many senators. If we jail all the subscribers each for 15 years, the Senate chambers will be empty!