The security agencies could do more to contain the problem

Despite the payment of an undisclosed amount of money as ransom by his family, the abducted member representing Takum I constituency in the Taraba State House of Assembly, Hosea Ibi, was last Tuesday afternoon found dead. The unfortunate tragedy that has already elicited tension in the state, underscores the enormity of the security challenge facing the nation. While we sympathise with the family of Hon Ibi, we call on the security agencies to move in quickly to find the culprits and bring them to justice.

However, the greater concern now is the increasing number of kidnapped victims who do not survive to tell their stories, even when ransom may have been paid by their families. Indeed, the death of Ibi is similar to that of a former Deputy Governor of Anambra State, Dr Chudi Nwike. Kidnapped on March 19, 2013, it was his lifeless body that was found several months after the family had paid a ransom of N5 million which the abductors reportedly considered not enough before murdering him.

The authorities should be worried by the manner in which the criminals in our midst have become so emboldened. Over the past few months, many have lost count of victims of the gangs who roam the countryside, extorting money from people, both rich and poor, in the name of ransom while killing victims whose families refuse or are unable to pay the demanded amount. What particularly worries is that the crime is not only well organised, it has also become a thriving industry with network of support staff as it is now common to hear of medical doctors, nurses and other professionals being part of the kidnapping ring.

This is a problem that is yet to be interrogated. While we believe that crime cannot be rationalised, it is also a fact that the increasing desperation by a growing young population that is not productively engaged is a serious issue we must deal with as we seek solution to the menace of kidnapping and other crimes in our country. Initially, the targets were rich businessmen, politicians and other well-heeled professionals. But kidnappers have 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.

The accounts of some of the victims, according to a recent Global Kidnap for Ransom Update, reinforce the notion that most of the kidnap gangs now target middle class Nigerians: “They demand a high ransom from their family, and accept a much lower sum to enable a swift conclusion so 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 where a ransom was paid for the victim’s safe release indicate that hostages are frequently held in unpopulated areas of bush. This environment is in abundance close to kidnappers’ urban operating areas, and has allowed their escape from security forces on numerous occasions.”

So notorious has our country become in this crime that when the African Insurance Organisation, a non-governmental outfit, held its forum in Mauritius two years ago, Nigeria was designated the global capital for kidnap for ransom, having overtaken countries like Colombia and Mexico that were hitherto the front-runners in the crime. Although many see the spread of kidnapping for ransom as a symptom of wider problems in the society, it is important for the security agencies to device strategies for tackling the challenge of this most heinous crime that has not only damaged our image but is fast becoming an epidemic.