Will the police ever be on top of the situation
Armed robbers and other criminals are fast abandoning their trades for the more lucrative business of kidnapping. And behind the abduction gangs springing up across the country are young, smart and intelligent university graduates who are being lured into crime by growing unemployment. Olaolu Olusina and Anayo Okolie report
Criminals and men of the underworld are surely beating the law enforcement and security officers to the game. At a time the police thought they were winning the war against crime and flaunting their score-cards of anti-robbery efforts, the men of the underworld were changing their tactics.
While the police were busy chasing the already dwindling army of armed robbers, the criminals were putting their guns to use for another business considered less cumbersome but more rewarding.
A recent report by ASI Global Response on kidnapping shows that the victims are mainly business men and women, politicians or their family members. Also, at a summit held in Lagos last year, the Regional Vice President, Africa, American Society for Industrial Security, Mr. Dennis Amachree, disclosed that of the top 10 countries with high kidnapping records in 2007, Nigeria occupied the 6th position. But Nigeria has since 2007 moved up to the third position, behind Mexico and Columbia.
Driving the new face of kidnapping and abduction that is fast gaining currency in every nook and cranny of the country are young, smart and intelligent university graduates who are daily being recruited into the dangerous world of crime by the growing unemployment in the country as well as the perceived high returns in the growing business.
From the North to the East and from the South to the West, the story is the same. Even the Islamic terrorist Boko Haram members appear to have abandoned their old trade of robbery for kidnapping and abduction.
Recent abductions and kidnappings with the whopping amounts of money raked in as ransom by the hoodlums are pointers to the new crime wave. Members of the gang of hoodlums which abducted former Minister of Petroleum and elder statesman, Dr. Shettima Ali Monguno, in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, recently, were said to have apologised profusely to the old man as they dragged him into their car, insisting they are merely driven by the need for money. They were said to have been paid a whopping N50 million within just 72 hours before they released their victim.
Last Monday, spokesman of the Joint Task Force (JTF) in Borno State, Operation Restore Hope, Lt. Col. Sagir Musa, told journalists in Maiduguri that based on intelligence available to them, the Boko Haram terrorists had resolved to concentrate more on kidnapping than robbery.
“They alleged that kidnapping is more lucrative, less dangerous and requires short time to plan and execute.
“Consequently a special kidnapping squad has been earmarked and tasked by Boko Haram to kidnap persons who could be a relation, politician, businessman/woman, civil servants, traditional rulers and foreigners alike,” Musa stated.
A video released on Monday showed the Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau and about 12 unidentified children – boys and girls – he claimed had been kidnapped in retaliation for the jailing of children and wives of the group’s members by the security agencies.
A recent kidnap victim, Chairman of Ejigbo Local Council Development Area (LCDA) of Lagos State, Mr. Kehinde Bamigbetan, whose family, allegedly, paid N15 million before he was released, said his return was miraculous. He said God made his captors to change their minds despite their initial plan to kill him.
According to Bamigbetan, the kidnappers claimed that they were graduates and that they did not like what they were doing but had to do it due to lack of jobs.
“One claimed to be an engineering graduate, another claimed to be a human resources management graduate, while another said he was already in final year in an American university when his father’s shopping complex was demolished and he had to be recalled home.
“One of them also said he was a commercial motorcyclist but his source of income had been outlawed by the state government. They were generally bitter about youth unemployment and I had to engage them on my various activities as a crusader for youth employment,” Bamigbetan was quoted as saying.
“They said they were graduates and this country has not provided jobs for them and the same country that has rendered them unemployable spend billions of naira everyday on wasteful projects. They graduated about six years ago with no employment and they have to do this, take the risk. They have to take part of the national cake.”
Tackling the Menace Head-on
But the Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola, has vowed that the state government will address the issue of kidnapping without compromise.
Speaking at the first session of the 32nd Synod of the Diocese of Lagos (Anglican Communion) in Lagos on Wednesday, the governor said, “As safe as Lagos State is, for the first time in a long time, people are afraid of the rapid increase in kidnapping. It is a new problem and I assure Lagosians that the government is on top of the situation and would deal squarely with it.”
Worried by the increasing menace, Chairman, Inter and Intra Party Relations Committee in the House of Representatives, Hon. Fort Dike, noted that though it is clearly stated in the Nigerian constitution that the primary purpose of government is the security and welfare of the people, “It is so unfortunate and so bad that state governments, even Anambra State, where I hail from, and the federal government has allowed kidnappers to be on rampage as if there is no form of counter-check
“It is so unfortunate; and it is not that the consequences are not so obvious and devastating to the extent that people who have kidnap value of N50 million to N50, 000 are scared of travelling to their states and if you have to go, you have to get security that will accompany you and even with the escort, because of the types of ammunition you will not be able to sleep.”
Dike said, “It is now as if there is no government in place and people are now asking what they are getting from the government when its primary purpose is to provide security for the people. So I urge the federal government and the state governments to tackle this insecurity called kidnapping. State governors collect huge security votes every month and yet they cannot tackle the menace.
“We can say that bombing is everywhere both in America but in kidnapping, there is technology to be applied to trace those people and because people are scared of investing their money in the country it is now increasing the rate of unemployment in the country, even though, the menace had already increased due to the government’s inability to provide jobs for the citizens. So government must wake up to its responsibilities.”
The officer in charge of the Special Anti-robbery Squad (SAS) in Anambra State, Okafor, said: “From our findings we discovered that kidnapping is the quickest way that the perpetrators can get the kind of money they want without much risk and that is why they are abandoning bank robbery because kidnapping is what they can do within five minutes and be talking of millions. So I think that they resorted to kidnapping because it is safer for them.
To curb the menace, he said the government had to be fully involved and provide equipment like tracking machines and cameras to enable the security agencies track kidnappers easily.
“The public has to also get the police involved because sometimes the kidnapper frightens them that if they get the police involved they will kill the person. The ones that contacted us, we rescued and nothing happened.
“Why it is difficult to rescue people sometimes is because people are afraid to use the police. They rather take what the kidnappers said than using the police and another thing is, if we have a law that can take urgent action on this kind of matter so that it is not when you charge to court and the judge retires because of the congestion of cases in the court they go to release them in the prison or where they are kept and they continue with it.
“The state governments and the police really need to put heads together to see how they can curb the menace, to me, bringing a tracking device and removing the power of negotiation from the public because it makes it difficult for the police to stop it.
“We also need to establish a law that will take care of those who harbour them or allow their houses to be used for such, so that even if you are in Abuja, you will know the kind of people you assign to take care of your house.”
‘No Your Tenant’
The case one Barrister Muoma from Ihiala, in Anambra State, who lives in Abuja but had somebody who took care of his house in Ihiala seems to buttress the need for laws that would people take more interest in the kind of persons they put in their houses. Not long ago more than three persons were kidnapped and kept in Muoma’s house in Ihiala, but he claimed ignorance of it.
“Is it possible for him to say he is not aware when they have used his house about three times,” asks Okafor. “But if there is a law that takes care of this kind of thing everybody will be on their toes? If you have a house and you don’t live in the state, you hand over the house keys to the vigilante of the area so that they can make occasional routine visits to your house.”
Hon Ipoola Omisore of the Lagos State House of Assembly said mismanagement of the economy was responsible for the rising incidence of kidnapping in the country.
“You hardly find an oil producing nation like Nigeria facing what Nigeria is facing today,” he said. “It is as if we, the elders, have eaten up the future of the youth and if we don’t care about taking the youths out of idleness, we are indirectly recruiting them. Unemployment is rising by the day, every year two batches of NYSC members are being recruited and they are coming out to an unemployed market that is so large that in some families we have three graduates that have left NYSC for years and have not gotten a job.”
Omisore said, “The case of the chairman of Ejigbo Local Council Development Area is a case in point. He was kidnapped by unemployed graduates who have no jobs and they go to revenge on the society. We have a lot of our graduates going into 419, internet fraud, and other kinds of fraud. You can hardly believe that Nigeria, where we have a lot cultures, people went and kidnapped an over 87 years old man like Ali Monguno that is highly respected in the North. This suggests that we are not really safe.”
Convener, Nigeria Centenary Group (NCG), Ariyo-Dare Atoye, noted that kidnapping was becoming more sophisticated daily due to the involvement of young educated minds, mainly the unemployed youths.
“It is fast becoming a big and lucrative business with culprits getting away with the crime. Even recently, Boko Haram has bought into this lucrative crime to keep its operation alive,” Atoye said, stressing that the insurgents who have a significant number of graduates among them have perfected kidnapping with significant success, making hundreds of millions of naira in the process.
While security agencies are making arrests on a weekly basis, the camp of the kidnappers is daily swelling with more young unemployed youths joining the illicit trade.
Sadly, according to Atoye, the level of unemployment in Nigeria is alarming and a good number of young people without means livelihood are becoming more desperate and fast losing hope in the governments’ promises. He said they are becoming easy recruits for kidnapping, which is fast becoming another social cancer, like corruption, eating deep into our nation with impunity.
What Can Be Done
Solving the problem of kidnapping, Atoye said, will require the active involvement of all stakeholders in the country – government at the three tiers, the private sector, traditional institutions, religious institutions, opinion/community leaders. He said everything necessary must be done to significantly improve the economy to provide jobs for the youth.
Atoye said Nigeria must re-examine its economic roadmap to make it production-led. He said Nigeria has no business with unemployment if the critical economic sectors – textile industry, agriculture etc – are working. These are sectors that could employ millions of people if the country stops importation of items it could produce at home, even in commercial quantities.
“We can stop kidnapping through a multilevel initiative, exploring all that is necessary to address the remote and the immediate causes. However, we must act fast as a nation as this crime is becoming more alarming and challenging. We are getting late and behind schedule. The monster of kidnapping is capable of driving-dry foreign direct investment and make the nation ungovernable,” Atoye added.