By Cosmas Omegoh (Lagos), Seye Ojo (Ibadan), and Jedex Okoro (Calabar)
Until in the early 1990s, kidnapping was alien to the shores of Nigeria. But then, the Niger Delta militants introduced it by abducting oil workers in the region. Since then the monster has been growing and is currently widespread in the country, making the citizens and the various state governments where it is thriving to now live in fear.
Today, most Nigerians are angry over the abnormal situation, as not many believe that the Federal and state governments have done enough to tackle this vice. Realistic efforts, they insist, are not being made, to curtail it, contending that the so-called effort at ending kidnapping only ends up becoming gaseous.
Everything ends up in politics and politicking, leaving the country sinking into the mire – leaving whatever it has left as a decent society going up in ruins, they said.
But, Sunday Sun investigations revealed that there have been lots of enabling laws aimed at checking kidnapping – enacted by the various states across the country.
For instance, lately, the Kebbi State government came out with a law handing out a death sentence to anyone convicted of kidnapping.
It was the latest state to do so. Other states before now had enacted laws prescribing either life or death sentences for kidnappers.
The Enugu State House of Assembly on February 19, 2009, unanimously passed into law a bill making kidnapping with the use of a gun a capital offense. Rivers State followed suit with effect from March 17, 2009. Anambra State House of Assembly had also passed a similar bill, the same for Lagos State, among others.
Besides, the Senate not long ago, approved death sentence for kidnappers and a 30-year jail term for their collaborators.
But in spite of all the legislations, kidnapping and kidnappers have had a free rein. In recent times, the vice has climbed to an act. The players have upped their game with frightening frequency – abducting at will and claiming humongous sums as ransom. No single day passes without a reported incident. Lately, they struck at Government Science Secondary School, Kagara, Niger State, and took away no fewer than 42 students, excluding other members of staff of the school; they killed a student.
At the moment, many of the country’s roads are offices for bandits and kidnappers. They abduct travellers in the day and in the night. Many farmers across the land can no longer access their farms. Kidnappers visit the homes of their victims and brazenly take them away and later demand a ransom. They rape, torture, molest, dehumanise, and ultimately kill their victims even after collecting ransom. No day passes without blood-chilling news of kidnapping being heard. Many cases have gone reckoned and others unreported.
Kidnapping in stakeholders’ eyes
A former member of Cross River State House of Assembly, Hon. Cletus Obun argued that kidnapping is such a heinous crime that all stakeholders must rise up to condemn in totality, adding that “it is the worst act of man’s inhumanity to man.”
Besides prescription of life sentence, the former law-maker suggested forfeiture of all moveable and immoveable property belonging to kidnappers.
He noted that “nothing could be harsher than that considering that victims either die of harsh treatment or get killed for not meeting the demand of the evil men.
According to Obun, who represented Boki II State Constituency between 1999 and 2003, “those property can be monetised for the dead victims’ family or used for providing facilities for security agencies, especially the NSCDC and the police.”
Mr Chinedu Ukeje, a legal practitioner, noted that “kidnapping is worse than armed robbery. It is a disaster to abduct a human being and keep him in an inhuman condition all because you want to make money. It is complete evil. Some of the kidnappers will collect money and yet kill their victims. It is a dastardly act that needs the worst of punishment. It is the worse treatment meted to a human being.
“If someone attacks you with a gun, collects your car, and runs away, that is better. But kidnappers abduct their victims and keep them in inhuman conditions and make money from that. That is totally bad. It is evil no sane society should tolerate.”
Government not doing enough
A former Speaker of Oyo State House of Assembly, Mr Adeolu Adeleke, has lamented that the government is not doing enough to end kidnapping and banditry.
“The government is giving out money to kidnappers and bandits,” he said, accusing both the Federal Government and some states of being guilty of the act.
His words: “Giving money to the kidnappers and bandits is tantamount to aiding and abetting a crime. If such is happening, how do you want kidnapping and banditry to end? The kidnappers and bandits have taken kidnapping and banditry as a profession.
“The truth of the matter is that both the legislature and the executive are not doing enough. They need to buckle up and take pragmatic steps to end insecurity in the country. If the rate at which kidnapping and banditry is rising is not effectively and holistically approached and addressed, I fear for the corporate existence of Nigeria. Everything that will make Nigeria work and prosperous should be prioritised.
“There is need to improve on our legislation. Members of the National Assembly must up their game, and the same thing goes to the executive arm of government. The insecurity in Nigeria must be addressed squarely.
“You will recall that the House of Representatives was worried about insecurity in Nigeria recently. This level of insecurity made the lower chamber of the National Assembly to invite President Muhammadu Buhari. Initially, Mr President agreed to honour the invitation. Eventually, he did not honour the invitation.
“What has the House of Representatives done on the refusal of Mr President to honour the invitation? Nothing! The issue was politicised.”
A retired police top brass, Iroha, lamented the absence of strong institutions in the country to fight criminality. “Once you don’t have strong institutions to enforce the laws, are you not wasting your time?
“In USA the other time, Donald Trump supported hoodlums who stormed the Capitol in protest and caused mayhem. They went through the Senate to impeach him, but he was exonerated. Can that happen in Nigeria?
“In Nigeria, once you are in power, you can do whatever you like. Is that not why everyone is rushing to join the party in power?
“Now, the question is why are we having more kidnappers among the so-called herders?
“Just recently, a governor in Bauchi State emboldened the herders by supporting that they have the right to carry riffles to defend their cows. If that is the case, why won’t someone in my village carry an AK 47 rifle to protect his crops? So, why would the law make it possible for someone to roll into the South with a gun to defend his cattle, while the one in Port Harcourt who applies for a license for his gun will not get it? These are the issues that are making it possible for people to commit a crime and get away with it.
“The way it is, whatever law anyone will come out with without restructuring Nigeria is rubbish and won’t work.”
Ukeje too lashed out at the government and even the society for encouraging kidnapping.
He said: “Certainly, the government has not done enough to stop kidnapping.
“We see some individual members of the society doing something on their own. We see that in the Southwest. In the Southeast, we see, the Eastern Security Network. But this is not a challenge individuals alone can fight. That is my worry.
“Even some of the state governors are not helping matters. The Bauchi State governor wants herders to carry guns because people were rustling their cows. But what about the farmers whose farms are being destroyed? That is an invitation to anarchy.
“The society has to do enough by providing information about kidnappers. They are not spirits; they live among us, even the criminal herders too. Is it not people that take cooked food to them in the forests?
The society ought to be giving information to security agents.”
He equally lamented the action of security personnel who give away informants, saying that doing so destroys people-security agents’ relationships.
He is bitter that “even our so-called politicians are not doing enough about this; everybody has a blame to share in.”
Law against kidnapping not implemented
Ukeje again is unhappy that kidnapping still persists even when the laws are there to take care of the offenders. According to him, implementation of the laws is the real problem and not the law themselves.
“Of course, legislation against kidnapping is one of the sure ways to go to stop kidnapping. But before now, laws against kidnapping have always been part of our statute. Perhaps the legislators are coming out with different ones now.
“But I know Anambra State has a law against kidnapping, which is working. They are arresting and demolishing their houses.
“So, kidnapping has always been part of our criminal law. But the way it’s going now, state governments need more stringent laws to make the vice unattractive.
“We simply need stiffer laws. In Anambra, for instance, once they arrest them, they destroy their homes; that serves as a deterrent to others.
“But again, enforcement is always the problem with Nigerian laws. We have the best of laws, but to enforce and execute them is the question.
“Even the states that have made laws against kidnapping, has the evil stopped there?
“You can catch a kidnapper, but once he is related to a top police brass, or a top politician, all they need to do is to make a phone call and ask that he should be released. That is the problem Nigerian society has. That is why we have had the best of laws, but the problem lies in their execution. The laws being made are not executed the way they should,” he said.
Iroha also believes the various anti-kidnapping laws in the country’s books are never implemented, pointing out that it’s the major problem.
“It is one thing to make laws, but another thing to enforce the laws and make them effective. Do we have the will to enforce the laws?
“Assuming the so-called criminals or militants or bandits enter a community in the disguise of being herders, will the law be effective to curtain them? These are the questions we have to ask ourselves.
“Something is wrong with the system in the first place. Nigerians should stop white-washing and sugar-coating issues. The issues ought to be tackled the way they are. Do we have equal rights in Nigeria? Do some Nigerians from one part of the country have equal rights with some other persons from other parts of the country? Why will some people said to be foreigners from Mali, Niger, and Chad enter the country and be kidnapping? They migrate from the Sahel region and come to the forest belts to kidnap people? What sort of country allows that to happen?
“In the South, most people see what they should say or do and turn a blind eye to them, all because of what they would get as crumbs, forgetting that there are millions of people suffering the consequences of their neglect. These are the issues.
“Yes, the laws are there, but who is enforcing them? Is it the police or the military?
“Sadly, when the so-called criminal herders are arrested and someone gives an order that they should be released won’t they be released? In this case, how will the law be effective?” he asked.
Providing further insight into why kidnapping persists, he lamented that “if people are also joining kidnapping locally, it is because they don’t have jobs. An idle mind, they say, is the devil’s workshop. Kidnapping happens because some people want to make ends meet, maybe because of their family background.
“But if someone commits a crime, he has to face the consequences of the law. But the annoying part of it all is the brazen effrontery being displayed by certain people and nothing is happening to them.
“In Anambra State, kidnapping has been curtailed because Governor (Chris) Ngige set up strong structures such as local vigilantes and they fought the kidnappers. Now, if you are caught, your house is demolished and you go in for it.
“But now, we are told some herders from Mali are the ones kidnapping people; they are emboldened and they have been getting away with it.
“Right now, many have joined the act, believing that if the herders are doing that and getting away with it, why won’t they try their hands on it. That is why the young people in the villages are doing that.”