A bill to outlaw the payment and receipt of ransom for the release of any person kidnapped, imprisoned or wrongfully confined, which has passed a second reading in the Senate, is still generating controversy. The Terrorism Prevention (Amendment Bill), 2021, sponsored by Senator Ezenwa Francis Onyewuchi (PDP, Imo State), provides, in the main, that those who pay ransom to kidnappers, abductors and terrorists and those who receive the ransom risk 15 years imprisonment.
According to Onyewuchi, the proposed bill sought to amend the Terrorism (Prevention) Act, 2013 to outlaw the payment of ransom to abductors, kidnappers and terrorists for the release of any person wrongfully confined, imprisoned or kidnapped. The bill has expectedly elicited diverse comments from Nigerians. The supporters of the bill believe that outlawing ransom payment will stem the increasing cases of kidnapping across the country.
They also contend that ransom payment has emboldened the kidnappers and abductors to continue with the nefarious but booming trade. Their conclusion is that outlawing ransom payment is the best way to stop the inhuman act. However, those opposed to the bill say that relatives of kidnap victims resort to ransom payment because of state failure to rescue them. They also see the bill as incriminating relatives of the victim of kidnapping instead of making stringent laws to punish the offender.
Whichever way the argument goes, we believe that kidnapping thrives simply because the government has not been able to decisively deal with the monster by reining in those involved in the illicit business. If there are stringent laws to punish kidnappers and abductors, the business would have become extinct.
The present bill, which has the good intention to stop kidnapping and abduction, can still be tilted more towards punishing the perpetrators of the crime instead of people forced to pay ransom because of their helplessness. If the government and its security agencies can adequately rescue kidnap victims as done in the United States and other advanced countries, the issue of ransom payment should not have arisen in the first place.
It is also worth pointing out that relatives of kidnap victim are literally forced to cough out the huge ransom before the victim is released. Some of them even borrow money to ensure that their relatives are released. The relatives of kidnap victim are also subjected to unimaginable harrowing experience and psychological torture.
For now, what the bill should aim at is to recommend stiffer sanctions that will make kidnapping and abduction an offence nobody should dare to commit considering the dire consequences. We do not think that punishing ransom payment, which amounts to punishing the relatives of a kidnap victim instead of the kidnapper, will stop the festering menace. To stop kidnapping and abduction, government must be willing to create more jobs for the unemployed youths. There is a strong link between unemployment and rising criminality across the country.
Therefore, security agencies, especially the police, should be challenged to do more in intelligence gathering that will burst the trending criminality. The police should commence 24-hour patrol of highways known for kidnapping, like the Kaduna-Abuja Highway, Benin By-pass, Ore- Benin Highway. Similarly, motorised patrols should be extended to soft targets like schools and other public places. If the criminals are adequately checked, the tendency to kidnap for ransom will be minimised. It is sad that only a few people have been arrested and prosecuted for kidnapping and abduction cases so far.
The failure of the authorities to step up arrest and prosecution may have contributed to the flourishing kidnap business. Government should focus more on protecting the citizens, rather than introducing amnesty schemes for criminals as recently reported in Katsina and Zamfara states. Kidnapping for ransom started in the oil-rich Niger Delta region where youths kidnap expatriate oil workers to draw attention to the degradation of the environment. Over time, it has become a lucrative business and has spread to all the zones of the country.
According to reports, those in middle/upper class are the main targets of kidnapping and ransom payment oscillates between one and five million naira depending on their victim’s net worth and capacity to pay. It may go beyond this at times. Another report indicated that about $18.34million was paid to kidnappers as ransom, mostly by families and the government between June 2011 and March 2020.