By Dennis Mackenzie
Since last week when the Terrorism Prevention (Amendment) Bill, 2021, scaled through second reading in the Senate, a number of Nigerians have been unsettled by aspects of the proposed law. The sponsor of the bill, Senator Ezenwa Francis Onyewuchi ( PDP, Imo State), and the entire Senate have come under some scathing criticisms on account of the bill.
The bill, for the avoidance of doubt, was first introduced on the floor of the Senate on March 10, 2021. It seeks to amend the Terrorism Prevention Act, 2013, to outlaw the payment of ransom to abductors, kidnappers and terrorists for the release of any person who has been wrongly confined, imprisoned or kidnapped and other related matters. Specifically, the bill seeks to substitute section 14 of the principal act to read thus: “Anyone who transfers funds, makes payment or colludes with an abductor, kidnapper or terrorist to receive any ransom for the release of any person who has been wrongfully confined, imprisoned or kidnapped is guilty of a felony and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment of not less than 15 years.”
This is the aspect of the bill that naysayers find objectionable. Their argument is that those who pay ransom do so because that appears to be the only way they can secure the release of their loved ones. They want the punishment for kidnapping to be visited solely on the kidnapper. The bill provides for life imprisonment for the kidnapper, abductor or terrorist.
It is worthy of note that the bill that is being objected to was earlier broached by the 8th Senate in 2016. Titled “Abduction, Wrongful Restraint and Conferment Bill, 2016”, and sponsored by Senator Isa Hamman (APC, Bauchi), the objective was to provide for the punishment of the offences of abduction, wrongful restraint and wrongful conferment for ransom. The Senator Onyewuchi bill is, therefore, an improvement and advancement of an idea that is in serious need of proper articulation and domestication.
Anybody who has had the privilege of looking at the finer details of the bill will appreciate the fact that a lot of reasoning and research went into the proposed law. The bill did not just go back in time to unearth what authorities on security think about the crime of abduction, it also draws attention to international best practices on the issue under consideration. The bill draws parallels from what obtains in the United States and the United Kingdom. The objective is for Nigeria to borrow and domesticate ideas about kidnapping that can work for us. It is evident, however, that most of those who are raising objections about the bill have not read the content, let alone understand the argument or force of logic behind the idea.
The arguments in favour of the bill are worth considering. We are all aware of the painful fact that kidnappings and abductions have become a part of our national life. It is a growing cankerworm, which the authorities are fighting hard to eliminate. This ugly trend has, in recent years, been accentuated by terrorism, a global blight that concerned nations of the world are struggling to kick out. It is a fact that kidnapping for ransom has become a very lucrative business in Nigeria. In the face of no real and meaningful engagement, our idle youths easily take to anti-social activities. Kidnapping has become one of their pastimes. This has a very ugly effect on our society. More and more youths are taking to this unwholesome act because they believe that there is quick money to be made from it. Besides, they indulge in this societal ill because there is no real consequence for offenders.
Even though efforts are being made to stamp out the ugly trend, experience has shown that payment of ransom is a major reason why kidnapping is persisting in Nigeria. The more ransom we pay, the more attractive the criminal act becomes to those who indulge in it. The U.S. and UK saw through this long ago and, therefore, decided to outlaw not just abduction but also payment of ransom to secure the release of the abducted. It is unlawful through and through in the two countries to engage in any act that borders on kidnapping, abduction or terrorism. Even in Nigeria, our security agencies, especially the police, do not encourage people to pay ransom because they have learnt from experience that ransom payments lead to future kidnappings. Payment of ransom oils the wheels of kidnapping, enriches the kidnapper and makes it possible for him to get strong in the illegal and illegitimate trade. This is the real point that the Senate set out to make through the bill. The bill, when it becomes law, will encourage the people to work with the police in the area of provision of information. As a matter of fact, what the police need to defeat kidnapping is information. A well-guided police force will easily catch the abductor in his tracks once it has useful clues as to what has happened or is about to happen. The logic of this argument is that the police can do better than they are doing at moment if the citizens provide them with useful information with which they can do their job, rather than rushing to pay ransom. The bill does not, therefore, seek to constrain Nigerians and punish them unduly. Rather, it aims at giving them the necessary impetus they need to collectively defeat kidnapping and consign it to the ash heaps of history.
Significantly, Senator Onyewuchi provides a lot of levers that can make the proposed law more beneficial to the people. It recognises that government has a big role to play in all this if kidnapping must become a thing of the past. That is why the bill urges government to provide security and strengthen the economy.
Nigerians need an enabling environment that will help their businesses to grow. Government has a responsibility to provide this, and the bill copiously canvases for this. The bill urges government at all levels to accelerate poverty alleviation programmes and provide employment opportunities, especially for the youth. A meaningfully engaged and gainfully employed youth population is not likely to embrace kidnapping.
Above all, the bill, when it becomes law, will strengthen law enforcement agencies. This strengthening mechanism will be embedded in the resolve of the citizenry not to encourage kidnapping by paying ransom. When people refuse to pay ransom, our law enforcement agencies will better be able to enforce the laws against the criminal act. In fact, if the people do not pay ransom, they will be sending kidnapping and abduction to their early grave.
In appreciating the merit of the bill, we must also recognize the fact that the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is peopled by wise men and women. A significant majority of the lawmakers are people who are accomplished in different areas of human endeavour. They are not likely to engage in frivolities by seeking to enact laws that will not advance the common good. There is an overriding need to push for this bill to become law considering the fact that kidnappings, abductions and terrorism are on the increase. Bandits are getting stronger by the day because we indulge them with huge payouts that encourage them to do more. It is important that we understand and appreciate the merit of this bill. If we do, we will support it for the good of one and all.
•Mackenzie, an intelligence expert, contributed this piece from Abuja