Security experts, lawyers proffer tips on tackling national plague, advocate the ‘Anambra initiative’
By Cosmas Omegoh
When kidnapping first started in the creeks of the Niger Delta, years ago, many had passed it off as a rude joke taken too far. Still in its embryonic stage, it was wished away as a Niger Delta challenge. Then the militants were seizing expatriate oil workers, as a way of registering their deep seated grievances.
But at some point, the militants changed gear and began asking for ransom. It was their considered way of extracting their own chunk of the huge oil wealth that expatriate companies were funnelling off the region. It worked for them – perfectly. The reward was handsome. That was how the crime grew to an act. Like a ripple, it began spreading, increasing rapidly both in size and circumference.
Now, there is no let up to the damaging effect of this criminal act. The proportion is gargantuan, the intensity unimaginable. Having become a national malaise, threatening Nigeria’s future, every region in the country is feeling its heat.
An evil trajectory
In this New Year alone, there has been a frightening upsurge in the wave of kidnapping. Hoodlums are unleashing mayhem on the society, spreading fear, misery and death and in the process driving pain and sorrow through many hearts.
Days ago in Imo State, a certain Chuks Okebata, an American returnee, was reportedly abducted and later murdered in cold blood in his native Mbieri in Mbaitoli Local Government Area. On the heels of this incident came the kidnap of an unnamed Malaysian returnee in Akokwa in Ideato North LGA of the state. The sin of the duo was that they were home to celebrate the Christmas and New Year with their loved ones.
Then early in the week, attention shifted to the South-west. A vigilance group in Ondo State reportedly frustrated a kidnap attempt on Mrs. Grace Faduyile, the wife of the traditional ruler of Ikale-land, Oba Gabriel Babatunde Faduyile, in Okitipupa Local Government Area of Ondo State. The vigilance group spiritedly killed a member of the gang and arrested one.
But a day after, a frightening story filtered out from Ogun State where another gang of kidnappers raided the Nigerian-Turkish College in Isheri, abducting five students and three staff. The victims are still in captivity, with their abductors demanding outrageous sums of money in ransom.
Why kidnapping persists
On the sideline of these recent happenings, experts have been speaking and proffering solutions to curb this criminality. They are united in their thoughts that the trend is worrisome, insisting that drastic measures need to be taken quickly.
“Sincerely speaking, the recent upsurge of kidnapping incidences across the country in this New Year is worrisome,” Rotimi Aromolaran, an American-trained security expert told Daily Sun. “This development does not augur well for the country. It is a bad omen that stalls development. No country bedevilled with a challenge like this can experience real progress; it is a development government needs to fight determinedly.
“When an individual is abducted, their abductors simply limit them and deny them of their fundamental human rights. They make them go through unimaginable pain and distress. This is criminal; it is unjust,” he fumed.
Musa Ahmed, Secretary General, Association of Licensed Private Security Practitioners of Nigeria (ALPSPN), believes that the problem has escalated because of three reasons.
“First, many people have lost hope in the economy because they have no source of livelihood,” he said. “Some people are even tired of living. If you look at the crop of people involved in kidnapping today, most of them are not educated; even the educated ones among them don’t have jobs. So, they see crime as a way out.
“Secondly, this challenge persists because already we have enormous security challenges plaguing the country. So, people are taking advantage of everything happening around them.
“Thirdly, the economic situation in the country is now strangulating. It is driving many people into doing a lot of things. It is now obvious that both the literate and the illiterate are finding life tough. So, some people are going into crimes, kidnapping in particular, because it is paying.”
But a lawyer, Chief Andrew Oruh, is unhappy with the situation. He blamed the Federal Government for the trend, regretting that it is not doing enough in tackling the problem.
“Left to me, the present administration at the federal level has deceived the people. You recall that the people at the helms right now used insecurity as one of the key points to edge out former President Goodluck Jonathan. But now the same security situation they campaigned with has worsened.
“It needs to be said that tackling insecurity does not begin and end with fighting Boko Haram. What about the menace of the Fulani herdsmen? To me, this government does not have any plan to tackle the myriad of security problems, particularly kidnapping now plaguing the country. If there is any clear-cut plan to tackle this crime we need to see it.”
Special courts for kidnapping
He is equally unhappy that even when suspected kidnappers are nabbed, the public does not see the government prosecute the accused in court to the end. And no one hears that an accused has been convicted. So, the much-trumpeted fight against kidnapping is a hoax; people arrested for kidnapping are left to walk free in a matter of days, he noted. He told Daily Sun that for government to be seen as fighting kidnapping, it needed to think out of the box.
“Government, you know, is made up of the executive, legislature and the judiciary arms. The three arms need to work together to combat this mind-boggling problem. In doing this, the existing laws on ground need re-jigging. And we need the will of the government and the relevant agencies too to get the job done.
“But look at the courts; they are all overloaded with cases. If any meaningful progress is to be made in the fight against kidnapping, the Federal Government has to make provision for special courts that will ensure speedy handling of special cases like kidnapping. More judges too have to be appointed to handle such cases.”
He maintained that “with the way things are going, a state of emergency needs to be declared on security. If government is serious about tackling kidnapping, it needs to go frontal against it.
“The relevant agencies that are fighting kidnapping need to be strengthened. But unfortunately, what we are seeing now is that those agencies are being corrupted, bullied and even used to witch-hunt political opponents. Nigerians are not happy about this. The government should allow the agencies to do their work without any form of hindrance.
Speaking at a recent forum, President of ALPSPN, Mr. Davidson Akhimien, described the rising cases of kidnapping as “desperate.” He advocated stiffer measures to combat the problem. “Desperate times need desperate measures,” he said. “There should be stiffer penalties for crimes. We can even bring back firing squads if need be. Things have become that bad.”
Concurring, Chief Oru said drastic measures needed to be taken to forcefully stamp out kidnapping in the country, emphasising that death penalty should not be ruled out.
“I’m of the view that death penalty should be introduced to stop this menace. Often, we deceive ourselves by comparing ourselves with western nations. We are not on the same level with them. They have relevant laws and strong institutions that have long taken care of crimes of this nature. They have prisons where people go to and come out reformed. But in our own case, people go to jail and come out hardened.”
Aromolaran too believes that stiffer penal code needs to be introduced and rigorously enforced for the war on kidnapping to be sustained. “We need stiff laws and penalties to take care of criminal acts like kidnapping. The point is that if the existing laws are weak, people will take advantage of them. So, we need reliable laws; we need tough penalties that take care of matters like this.”
The Anambra iniative
Both Chief Oru and Aromolaran agreed that in the meantime, various governments should adopt the Anambra State example in dealing with kidnapping and kidnapers. “We have a lot to learn from Governor Willie Obiano; we need to see how he had succeeded in taming the monster, destroying buildings known to have been built or purchased with proceeds from kidnapping.
“Go to Awka today, people now sleep with their eyes closed. What can be better than that?
“For us Nigerians, the only language that we clearly understand is force. Therefore, we should not be seen as treating kidnapping and kidnappers with kid’s glove. That is where I support the Obiano example to the fullest in stamping out this menace. We should not be pretending. We should rather act now.”
A former commissioner in the Anambra State told Daily Sun that the Governor-Obiano administration had largely succeeded in wrestling kidnapping to the ground first because it had the will and second because it deployed technology in tracking the hoodlums. “Apart from destroying the houses of identified kidnappers in the state, government at some point had to deploy technology in its fight against the crime. With that, kidnappers were always tracked to their hideouts and routed. When the heat was fully turned on them, they fled the state never to return. That was how the state began to get some breather.”
While commending this brilliant effort, Aromolaran said every state government should take a cue from the Anambra initiative in dealing with kidnapping to be taken seriously. “What is happening in Anambra is a big plus for the Obi and Obiano administration.
“What we hear about the state now is criminals have all restrained themselves from acts of kidnapping. They are now cautious of how they tread. Destroying their properties and even those of people harbouring them has brought sanity to the state. Even going all the way to deploy technology to checkmate them has brought tremendous impetus to the push to fight off this challenge. That is just the right way to do it.”
He said the reason kidnapping had persisted in most areas was because security agencies were not doing enough about to tackle it. “This is probably because we are not sharing enough information with the security agencies,” he said. “For this crime to be defeated, the security agencies need to do a lot of intelligence gathering.”
It was on the strength of this that Ahmed called for active collaboration between the security agencies and the public in the area of information sharing. People, he said “should be willing to offer useful information to the police to work with. If anyone sees suspicious persons in their neighbourhoods, they should quickly report to the appropriate agencies for prompt action. That is where this collaboration between the security personnel and the citizenry becomes very important.
“Those of us who are private security managers have a big role to play in supplying information to the police too. We have trained personnel who are working at the grassroots. They see what is going on every day; our men are in a good position to supply useful information to the police anytime.”
While agreeing with this, Mr. Akhimien, admitted that the association had huge resources in gathering intelligence at the grassroots. “Our operatives do not live in barracks. They live among the people. Kidnapping can be curbed if government finds a way to incorporate us into the country’s security architecture.
“In fact, we have included intelligence gathering as part of our activities. We have directed each state to make this a priority and we can then pass such intelligence reports to the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, which regulates our activities.”
How telecoms can help
Now, one industry that needed to be fully drafted into the fray, according to Aromolaran is the telecommunications. He said companies operating in the sector had been helpful in information sharing, adding that their efforts had contributed to curbing the challenge. “They have been helpful in terms of wire-tapping of calls and tracing the bases of kidnappers.
“But we now gather that a lot of criminals are adopting all manner of tricks to evade monitoring by registering multiple telephone lines. It is because of this that companies in this sector need to add more effort in the battle; they should not relent until this monster is effectively checked.”
He was, however, unhappy that often, Nigerians didn’t do enough to secure themselves. And this was because “in Nigeria, we take things for granted a lot. People don’t have any orientation to guide them on how to guard themselves.
“It is for this reason that people need to be vigilant at all times; they need to conduct themselves well while in the public space. They need to be cautious in relating with people and disclosing information about themselves and their families and avoid giving themselves away. And they need to cultivate the habit of neigbourhood watch and try to be there for one another.
“As a matter of importance, everybody needs to have a minimum amount of airtime on their cell phones. This is important so that they can communicate in times of distress,” he added.