By Olaniyi Olayemi Luke
Growing up in Ibadan, parents left no stones unturned in warning us about the menace of kidnapers, called gbomogbomo in Yoruba parlance. Everyday stories of lucky survivors were told to our hearing to all the more underscore the need for us to be conscious of danger from strangers. Prayers were specially offered in religious gatherings by parents entrusting their kids into God’s hands, lest one day any child got hypnotised by the diabolic touch of kidnappers and is then led to their slaughter thickets for money-making rituals.
The kidnapper was more loathed than a villain in a gothic fiction. He, by reason of metaphor, was a paedophile who robbed children of their chaste innocence. No one compared with him in the love for filthy lucre. He was an epidemic whose morbidity rate was high among children.
As I reminisce on the many cases of kidnapping that form a trope in my childhood narrative, a particular instance vividly comes to mind. My brother and I were in the wee hours of a Saturday morning woken by the cacophony of an angry mob pursuing a man.
The only thing he had on was an unbuttoned shirt bellowing like a flag to the aerial whims of the wind whilst he ran. He had nothing else on. I surmised he had been caught in the very act of adultery, but hours later, I heard he was a gbomogbomo and, when he was caught in some neighbourhood farther afield, was burnt alive by the frenzied mob.
Kidnapping within the last decade took a more brazen dimension across the federation. From the fluvial habitats of the Niger Delta to the hubs of Lagos, many Nigerians of proletariat and aristocratic backgrounds have been kidnapped either to be held hostage until ransoms are paid by moneyed relatives or killed for some mysterious money-making rites in some obscure thickets. I’ve oftentimes tried to understand how human blood can mint money; the type that is common in Nollywood blockbusters; but always failed to piece it all together. However, this ogun owo – money ritual – culture is generally believed to be real, especially in the South West. The nouveaux riches are even sometimes sceptically stereotyped as money ritualists for no just cause. So is the extent to which people believe that a very fast way to wealth is the sacrificing of human life to a greedy deity.
On a recent visit to my uncle’s, I learnt that kidnapping has taken unprecedented heights in the city of Ibadan. People are said to be going missing daily. In fact, my uncle had while I was travelling down called me repeatedly to tell me to take extra care in boarding any vehicle, especially a Nissan Micra. On arrival, he told me stories upon stories of different persons saved in the nick of time before being used for rituals. He spoke with a familial burden that proved something was indeed wrong in the society.
The question we, perhaps, should ask is what has stoked the flames of kidnapping in the society today. What has exploited the purported moral backdrop upon which our ethos are built? The simple answer is the pecuniary instinct in the vast majority of youths today. The fact is that the system has failed them and they think the only way around it is to resort to get-rich-quick schemes like kidnapping, cybercrime, etc damning all consequences. This ideology is so steeped in the youth demographic today.
Nigeria has a culture that deifies the rich and so everyone is in quest of wealth one way or another. Even in religious gatherings, people pray in stentorian tones to God asking for money. There is a consensus among Pentecostal churches today that material riches serve as testament to God’s blessings and if anyone is poor, it only means they are yet to grasp the intricacies of dealing with God. Everything in Nigeria tells you, you just have to be rich. Who better understands this more than kidnappers?
By any stretch, I do not support a culture that worships ill-gotten wealth. Neither do I say people should not be rich when they can. The undeniable truth is the dire need for value reorientation where the nouveaux riches are not necessarily seen as the best among us; where money does not buy titles but uprightness of character.
For all the inexhaustible things one can achieve with money, I believe it cannot procure values. Our ethos as a people has been tinkered with a long time ago with pecuniary sentiments. Kidnapping is just a by-product of a faulty system and should be addressed holistically. We might decry the stock-in-trade of Evans and his ilk but nothing changes if we do not decry the very culture that breeds them.
Luke writes via [email protected]