Nigeria is truly a viable market for any kind of business, legal or illegal. That is why the world is astonished at our capacity for inventiveness and our ability to survive all situations. Opportunities abound and so have people demonstrated their boundless energy. Nevertheless, crime rates continue to soar. Part of the reason why many people take to kidnapping as an occupation is because of the prolonged period of suffering and neglect of the citizens by government. Poverty is a veritable source of anger. For that reason, Nigeria has become a war zone, literally.
How did we get to the current situation? Local crime lords engineered plans that turned hostage-taking into a profitable business. No one, not even a government that appears sympathetic by its body language, can touch these masterminds of crime. It is in this context that widespread kidnapping has become a daily bazaar in which human lives are traded for money. Some victims are freed after hard bargaining and payment of ransom, while the unfortunate ones are butchered and incinerated. This is a sickening booming trade that provides income for the rich (the sponsors) and the indigent, unemployed youth who commit callous crimes on behalf of their employers.
The breakdown of law and order is evident. Kidnappers now determine where we can go to, when we can go to those places, and how we can reach our destinations. The ultimate outcome is fear and instability. All this is happening as the government is soundly asleep, while the house of cards called Nigeria is consumed by flames.
Kidnapping has done irreparable damage to the country’s image. How can a ragtag militia comprising untrained and unprofessional miscreants carrying AK-47 assault rifles be too difficult for professionally trained police officers and soldiers to dismantle or overpower? Nigeria was once referred to as the giant of Africa. It sent peacekeeping troops to African countries torn apart by ethnic conflicts and insurgencies but, ironically, Nigeria cannot now protect its citizens from the vice grip of kidnappers that dictate the kind of life citizens should live. This is one of the major contradictions of our society.
The reason for the current sad situation is obvious. The fight against kidnappers, if at all there is any Federal Government effort to curb the menace, is not sincere and well-structured. The architects of the flourishing abduction industry are well connected, as evidenced by the daring actions of the Taraba State kidnap top dog, Hamisu Wadume. He showed us that he was untouchable because he had networks in high places that provided him security and intelligence. He also had ready supplies of weapons. In general, kidnap masterminds pay attractive salaries or allowances to their infantrymen. If the government was genuinely committed to ridding the country of kidnapping, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
Nigeria is not officially at war but the situation looks very much like a country at war. Sadly, the country is now seen as a centre for the training and despatch of kidnappers. Kidnapping is a well-paid trade. Many unemployed youth are lining up to enrol in the forests where kidnappers are trained, armed, and rewarded. The youth have sound reasons to do so. Why should they carry university degree certificates that are useless in the employment market while a few nights of successful hostage taking would generate millions of naira in their first month of operation? This is the practical situation the government and all institutions of society must deal with. There is more money in masterminding the successful abduction of citizens and their family members.
The fear of kidnappers is real. Everyone is a primary target. Previously, kidnappers tended to mark out affluent members of society. Today, the rich are no longer the main target or focus of kidnappers. Ordinary people are targeted too. Across the country, the poor and the rich, men and women, boys and girls, lawmakers and judicial officers, Nollywood actors and musicians, pastors and politicians, student representatives and labour leaders have become easy game for rapacious abductors.
Kidnappers are earning huge amounts of money because of the failure of government to provide for the safety of citizens. For this reason, some people have argued quite thoughtlessly that kidnapping is justified. I am not persuaded by that argument. The trite logic is that every strategy used by criminals to rouse a slothful government to its responsibility must be deemed lawful. Kidnapping can never be justified on any ground. Yes, our situation is decidedly ghastly but kidnappers and their masters cannot continue their chokehold on all of us. Something has to give.
In every democratic society, political leaders have an obligation to look after the welfare, security, and wellbeing of citizens. That duty is non-negotiable. Look at Nigeria and decide for yourself whether government has achieved these obligations. In our environment, everyone looks after themselves. It is this persisting culture of master-servant relationship that explains why leaders refuse to address social problems such as poverty, unemployment, and homelessness. The poor in particular are responsible for their own penury. They do not query why they are consistently treated as second-rate citizens in their fatherland. They settle for less, for the fragments that fall off the tables of their political leaders. They accept to serve political leaders while, in practice, politicians are elected to serve the people.
Unfortunately, the police and other security agencies have failed to match the speed, craftiness, nimbleness, and resistance of kidnappers and their masters. This explains why some victims are picked up like ants in the comfort of their homes, and on their way to or from work. Other victims are kidnapped right inside church premises. The fear of kidnappers has compelled everyone to live reclusive lifestyles. To confront crime, federal and state governments must first address unemployment. Joblessness is the propeller that fans poverty. And poverty drives people to crime. Unemployed youth are forced to find ways to survive the country’s harsh economic climate. In a system that does not cater to the needs of unemployed youth, crime offers some therapy, indeed an option for survival. This is where the government has failed the future generation.
In present-day Nigeria, many people are trapped in an endless cycle of poverty. They have responsibilities they cannot fulfil. They have families they cannot feed. They have school fees and yearly rents they cannot afford to pay. They are obliged to buy clothes and decent shoes for family members. They have to pay the cost of transportation every day. They have financial commitments that cannot be accomplished. This is the grim life that confronts many people. Paradoxically, the same people who have been rendered indigent by the system continue to defend political leaders.
How do you defend someone who does not care for your welfare? How do you fight for politicians who remember you only during election? How do you carry the burden of political leaders who are responsible for the current excess weight on your head? To paraphrase a local phrase, our mumu don do (that is, our stupidity has exceeded tolerable levels).