The Senate has responded to the spate of kidnappings in the country with a bill prescribing death penalty for kidnappers, but would there be a political will to enforce the intended law? Vincent Obia writes
Until a few years ago kidnapping was not a subject most people in Nigeria gave much thought to. Nigerians hardly harboured the remotest worry about kidnapping for ransom. But today, kidnapping has elicited a deluge of interest. With an alarming ubiquity, it is rapidly snowballing into national crisis.
For the best part of the last one and a half decades, kidnapping was mostly a South-south headache. The main victims – and targets – were expatriate oil workers who were seen by some locals as part of a criminal alliance that exploited the people and expropriated their resources. But gradually, the epicentre of abduction moved to the South-east. Then, the northern geopolitical zones, and, currently, the threat is felt across the country.
Former Minister of State for Education, Senator Iyabo Anisulowo, was on April 27 abducted in the Igbogila area of Yewaland, Ogun State, about 8.30pm along with her security aides while returning from her farm. She was held for about one week before she was released. Former Secretary to the Government of the Federation and joint presidential candidate of the Alliance for Democracy and the now defunct All Peoples Party in the 1999 general election, Chief Olu Falae, was kidnapped on September 14 last year in Akure. He was later released.
In Kaduna State, three pastors were on March 14 abducted by those they identified as Fulani herdsmen. While two of the men, the president of the United Church of Christ in Nigeria, Rev. Emmanuel Dziggau, and Rev. Yakubu Dzarma, were held for nine days before they were released, the third priest, who was vice president of the church, Rev. Iliya Anto, died in the ordeal.
In April 2014, about 300 schoolgirls were abducted from their hotels at Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, while they were preparing the write the Senior School Certificate Examination. While some of the girls escaped from their Boko Haram terrorist captors, about 219 are still held.
From one kidnap incident recorded in 1992, to about 395 cases within four months last year, involving the abduction of 551 persons, Nigeria now ranks among the countries with the highest risk of kidnapping.
Nigeria placed fifth in the world and first in Africa in a 2014 kidnap ranking released by Control Risk, a UK-headquartered consultancy organisation that specialises in political, security and integrity risk. Nigeria ranked after Mexico, India, Pakistan, and Iraq. The report based on the number of complaints, placed Nigeria before Libya, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sudan, and Lebanon.
Last year, Nigeria was ranked as the second most dangerous country to live in, after Iraq.
NYA International, a global risk and crisis management consultancy based in London, in its Global Kidnap Review 2016, listed Nigeria among 11 “severe threat countries,” after 19 others classed as “high threat countries.”
In an overview of the rate of abduction in the country last year, NYA International stated, “The severe threat of kidnapping in Nigeria continued to be driven by Boko Haram’s mass kidnappings in 2015.
“Abductions continued to be predominantly politically-motivated, targeting high-profile domestic nationals. The 2015 elections were notably associated with a spike in abductions of symbolic individuals. There has, however, been an increase in wealthy, prominent victims, indicating a shift towards criminally-motivated kidnappings.
“The line between piracy and kidnapping became increasingly blurred as wealthy locals were targeted across over 21 incidents.”
In its forecast for this year, the organisation said, “The threat of kidnapping will remain severe in 2016. On-going Boko Haram operations in the region will maintain the current kidnap threat to foreign nationals in the North-east. Persistently high unemployment rates and poor prosecution rates will likely motivate more to resort to kidnap for ransom as a source of funding. An increase in maritime-based militancy in the South could result in an increase in kidnap for ransom cases involving foreign nationals abducted onshore and offshore.”
Now, the Senate is trying to find a national solution to the problem that is fast becoming a national security crisis. The Senate resolved on May 4 to enact a bill that would make provisions for death penalty as punishment for anyone convicted of kidnapping. The resolution followed the adoption of the report of the Senator Abu Ibrahim-led Joint Committee on Police Affairs and National Security and Intelligence.
The Senate had on November 19 last year mandated the committee to engage the Inspector General of Police Solomon Arase and Director-general of the Department of State Services Mamman Daura on the rising incidence of kidnapping and hostage taking and come up with recommendations on how to solve the problem.
The committee recommended adequate funding of the security agencies by the federal government, proper training and retraining of security personnel, and intelligence sharing among the security agencies. All these are with a view to equipping the security agents with the right knowledge and operational gear to effectively tackle the menace of kidnapping and other violent crimes.
It charged state governments to make laws that would facilitate effective prosecution of suspected kidnappers and culprits of other related offences in their respective states.
But as experience tends to show, the increase in the prevalence of kidnapping in the country is not so much a consequence of absence of laws as the lack of political will to implement existing laws.
Kidnapping was made a capital offence in 2009 in six states of the federation, namely, Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo. It became a capital offense in Edo State in 2013. Currently, about half of the country’s 36 states are said to have death penalty as punishment for kidnapping. Yet, there is hardly anyone arrested for abduction that has been conclusively prosecuted in the courts.
Apart from the widely publicised death warrants of two prisoners on death row signed by Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State in 2012, there has, reportedly, been a de facto moratorium on executions in Nigeria since the last official execution in 2002.
Experts say the lack of effective prosecution of kidnap suspects is behind the rising prevalence of the menace.
Security consultant and president of Transworld Security Systems Limited, Mr. Ona Ekhome, says, “What is happening in Nigeria is a national disgrace. Over half of the states in the country have death penalty laws for kidnapping, but nobody is enforcing the laws.
“When you do not enforce the law, you are only telling the bad guys that you are just playing; you are not serious with them. And that is the impression that a lot of kidnappers have, that these people are not serious and even if they catch them, nothing is going to happen.”
Ekhome, nonetheless, supports the attempt by the National Assembly to deal with the problem of kidnapping, saying it will serve as both retribution and deterrence.
“It is an astute move on the part of the National Assembly,” he says. “This problem of kidnapping has been on for many years, claiming lives, destroying property, making Nigeria look like an unserious country. Like they say, desperate ailments require desperate remedies.
“Since this problem appears to be an insoluble one, the National Assembly wants to get traction on it by making a national legislation that would prohibit it and prescribe very severe punishment. What we see in Nigeria today is that there is too much impunity, and because there is no punishment for crimes committed, people just do whatever they like.”
He dismisses as flimsy the excuse of the harsh economic situation, which some kidnap suspects often give as reasons for going into the evil enterprise.
Former executive secretary of the National Human Rights Commission, Dr. Chidi Odinkalu, however, believes the Senate has embarked on a misplaced attempt at solving the problem of kidnapping by pursuing the death penalty law without first addressing the issue of poor law enforcement.
“I think the law is a non sequitur,” Odinkalu says. “Not because I don’t realise that kidnapping is a serious issue. But you can only sentence those you catch and whom the courts try to conclusion. Our law enforcement capacities are compromised; detection is poor, and prosecutions last until the day after eternity. Does this proposed law respond to any of these? I doubt it.”
Many Nigerians also do.
The resolution by the senate identifies the usual funding and equipment deficiencies in the Nigeria Police and other security agencies. But it is unclear if the senators can really get their teeth into the practical solutions to those deficits, in the bill on capital punishment for kidnap convicts.
‘A Chicken and Egg Problem’
Negligence on the part of the security agencies has been identified as a factor in the poor implementation of laws, especially as it relates to the attempt to curb kidnapping and other vices. There are suggestions that security agencies should be made to account for breaches in their areas of jurisdiction. Many believe the fact that heads of security agencies are hardly held accountable is breeding incompetence among the security services.
But the security agencies are sometimes too poorly equipped and motivated to respond to security threats.
“Generally, we have a chicken and egg situation here. We desire good law enforcement; we want the police to be active, but the government is not ready to provide the resources that would make this happen. They are not ready to provide the money to train these men to collect and analyse intelligence and to hold people accountable.
“We don’t have call centres. Even when you call a place, is it being recorded? There must be accountability. The people who are receiving the calls must know that it can be checked behind them and if they handle it poorly they can be penalised. And the rapid response squad, what kind of equipment do they have? We have seen situations where people called the police and they said they did not have tyre, etc.”
In the recent case of killings by suspected Fulani herdsmen in Nimbo, Enugu State, the heads of the police, military, and other security agencies in the area were alerted to the impending attack days before it happened. Yet it occurred. Nigerians are demanding greater sanctions for security agents whose negligence give room for violent crimes.
The people certainly support the move by the Senate to enact a death penalty law for kidnapping. But their experiences with similar laws in the states have made them thoroughly cynical about the proposed federal law.
“We hope the federal death penalty for kidnapping statute will not go the way of the states’ statutes, where the laws are not being enforced,” says Ekhome.
Human Rights lawyer, Ozekhome
kidnapped in Benin on August 23, 2013.
Released on 12 September 2013.
Chief Olu Falae, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, former Minister of Finance, and founder of the Social Democratic Party was kidnapped on his birthday September 21, 2015.
He was released on September 24, 2015.
Professor Kamene Okonjo, the mother of former Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was kidnapped on December 9, 2012 in Delta State and released on December 14, 2012.
Titilayo, wife of a former miltary governor of the old Western Region, Brig-Gen Oluwole Rotimi (retd.), was kidnapped by gunmen in Ibadan December 10, 2012.
She was released after two weeks.
Veteran Nollywood actress and former special assistant to the Imo State Government on Public Affairs- Miss Nkiru Sylvannus was kidnapped on December 16, 2016 and released after four days.
Polycarp Nwosu, who was kidnapped on August 28 at Rumuigbo in Port Harcourt and released on September 5, 2015.