The security agencies could do more to arrest the rising cases of kidnapping

Since the release of Iyabo Anisulowo, erstwhile Minister of Education from the kidnappers den, the authorities in Ogun State have been on a media blitz. From the Commissioner of Police, Abdulmajid Ali to Governor Ibikunle Amosun, Nigerians have been regaled with interesting stories of how everything was done to secure the safe release of Senator Anisulowo without paying a ransom. “The Inspector-General of Police believes in intelligence-led investigation and that was what we did during the incident,” said Ali. “He sent all his intelligence teams to Ogun and there was helicopter surveillance. We monitored the kidnappers down to Okeho, Oyo State, and then to Jabata forest.”

While we are happy for Anisulowo and commend the police and Ogun State authorities for ensuring the safe return of the senator to her family, it is also our hope that when other citizens who may not be as prominent, but are in distress, are given the same attention. More importantly, we believe that the lessons learned from the deployment of critical assets that led to the arrest of some of the suspects in the Anisulowo kidnap saga will serve as a model for cracking the crime that has become commonplace in our country today.

Over the past few months, Nigerians have lost count of victims of the gangs who operate virtually everywhere in the country, extorting money from people, both rich and poor, in the name of ransom. The crime is not only well organised, it has also becoming a thriving industry with a network of support staff. From the wife and daughter of a justice of the Supreme Court to university vice-chancellors, a former deputy governor to royal fathers, the list of people who have fallen victims to kidnappers is long. Most of them regained their freedom only after their families had parted with huge sums of money. But not everyone survives to tell their stories as many of the victims have also been killed.

Initially, the targets were rich businessmen, politicians and other well-heeled professionals. However, kidnappers also come to the lower bracket, perhaps out of desperation. In some cases, these criminals randomly stop vehicles on the road in the hope of finding someone worth kidnapping. So notorious has our country become for this crime that when the African Insurance Organisation, a non-governmental outfit, held its forum in Mauritius last year, Nigeria was designated the global capital for kidnapping, having overtaken countries like Colombia and Mexico that were hitherto the front-runners. Unfortunately, the authorities have been unable to find a lasting solution to combat the crime, despite increased patrols on the highways.

The accounts of some of the victims, according to a recent Global Kidnap for Ransom Update, reinforces the notion that most of the kidnap gangs now target middle class Nigerians: “They demand a high ransom from the families, and accept a much lower sum to enable a swift conclusion so that they can then move on to the next target. The risk to gangs who operate in this way is moderate, and their costs are low. Reports from victim and police accounts, following both rescues and cases confirmed that ransoms were paid for the victims’ safe release indicating that hostages are frequently held in unpopulated areas. Such environments are in abundance close to kidnappers’ urban operating areas, and have allowed their escape from security forces on numerous occasions.”

While many see the spread of kidnapping for ransom as a symptom of a wider problem in the society, it is important for the security agencies to device strategies for tackling the challenge of this most heinous crime. We must find a way to end what has become for our country another emblem of shame.