According to the Oxford bibliography, kidnapping is the abduction of an individual against his or her will, usually followed by some duration of captivity. After the abolition of slave trade, kidnapping for rituals became a lucrative business in the western part of Africa and it was also a common source for slave trading of the black to the foreigners. A research conducted from 1992/ 1999 listed Nigeria in sixth position with total number of 34 reported cases against the 0.3 recorded value in 2013 with a total change of -6.86 per cent, while the present condition calls for concern.
The evolution of this business could be traced to the emergence of militancy in the Niger Delta in 2006 who originally were campaigning against environmental degradation, caused by the oil multinationals against their communities and which made life worthless for the inhabitants of the region and most significantly the attendant effects on their livelihood (fishing and all other riverine related businesses).
The agitation, fear of the unknown and unending calls for the release of beloved ones escalated the demands of kidnappers and contributed in no small measure to the high rise of people venturing into the kidnapping business. Another factor responsible for high demands include but are not limited to personality profiling of their captive, the position or status and the connection of the victim in the society.
The families are put through negative psychological trauma, some even lost their lives in the process of meeting the demands of the kidnappers. In some cases, ransoms were paid and captive unreleased and while some were released dead or recaptured to make higher demands. The effect is more enormous on the victim, who may likely live with depression, everlasting fear and above all lose trust in people and go into isolation, which may likely lead to depression.
Kidnapping business became so popular and earned Nigeria a position as the third most dangerous country in terms of abduction, with embassies sending a no-go signal to their citizenship. This business of kidnapping greatly trended unabated during the last administration, while most of their activities were restricted to the oil producing states, so unrepentant and adamant in their quests for fair sharing from the national cake through notorious activities. Other regions feigned ignorance and enjoyed a premature sense of relief with eyes half closed.
The inherent consequences caused by the unattended resolution to security alertness and strategy poised the blatant confrontation of the negative reality and which is almost too late as the fear of kidnappers have become the hard pills being swallowed by all and sundry regardless of region, sex, status and religion. Nigeria divided against itself, raising arms against the vulnerable and the centre refuses to hold while the sovereignty of our beloved country began to shake.
At the beginning, the menace was believed to be limited and restrained to the oil servicing employees, particularly the expatriates within the southern axis of the country, where security and safety became a matter of negotiation. The unavailability of loose money from the multinationals who would rather fortify their security apparatus than fund frequent unending ransom payment thereby shifted attention on rich individuals and well to do Nigerians.
It became the story of fish eating fish, this total revenue blockage and the urgent need for quick money created by the vacuum of the latter provided another avenue to channel their vengeance and target their kith and kins to maintain and sustain their affluence life style and satisfy their wide mouthed gluttony.
Festive periods and home coming became a no-go area for our brethren from the south and Eastern part of the country, who were ordinarily known for showcasing their achievements and affluence at “home” for the natives to see how blessed they have become in their sojourn to big cities. Gone are the days of come and see America wonders through the returnees as the fear of indiscriminate abduction and payment of high demand ransom is a bitter sweet hard kola they had to honestly weigh.
So the charade continued unchecked, bargaining continued and money continue to roll in for the kidnappers and their mighty godfathers who are out of the reach of the police. Thus, the contagious spread from geographical zones, regions, top to the low and cut across all socio-economic and political barriers and no more safe haven anywhere in the country. The stitch we refused to swiftly mend has become a torn garment ready to consume over 150 million Nigerians.
The world woke up to the dramatic turn in the method of kidnapping and abduction in 2015 laced with religious motive and bias for political control. Islamic extremist known as Boko Haram ( no to western education) came to limelight, struck and abducted 150 Chibok school girls during the examination period at a community in the Chibok community of Maiduguri, Northern state of the country. The multitude of numbers involved became worrisome and unprecedented in the history of the country and global attention was focused on Nigeria for the safe return of the school children. Five years after, Nigerians are still waiting for the safe rescue of the remaining girls still held hostage inside the forest of no return.
It later became a frequent operation in the area as many others follow such as the Dapchi abduction in February, 2018, more and more joined the league with little or no hope of freedom. No valid account of the whereabout of the hostages except for the few lucky ones who were either released after powerful negotiation (exchange) or ran way from the claws of their captives and later lived to tell the bitter ordeal. The mention of Sabisa forest therefore sends shiver done the spine of common Nigerians.
The failure of government to protect the citizenry from the claws of kidnappers and sustain the integration system of amnesty beneficiaries properly into the system and total check or overhauling of recycling submitted ammunition back into the society especially back into the hands of the kidnappers, lack of basic amenities, employment, corruption,fragrant flaunt of wealth by children of political class, discrimination and segregation towards sharing of positions, and most importantly lack of transparency and accountability of stewardship by the public office holders are major causes of insurgencies around the globe.
Another reason for the up rise in kidnapping is lack of political commitment on the part of the government to implement the capital punishment enshrined in the constitution and judiciously bring to book these culprits within a limited time frame. The crime attracts life sentencing or jail terms between 10/30 years for convicted person but even the famous tabloid reported case of Evans have not been concluded months after the arrest, hence the reason while the heinous crime continues to trend unperturbed.
The South-west, which was known for its peaceful and harmonious atmosphere with receptive hospitality towards visitors and investors also have it share story as its currently exposed to the dangers of kidnapping due to its commercial relevance and also as economic hub centre with grandeur lifestyle, especially Lagos with its aquatic link to border states. They make use of their swimming prowess and ability to walk the swamp to launch attack on innocent inhabitants of states/ cities endowed with rivers and sea who are primarily vulnerable to their strategic random attack. The riverine community became a hidden treasure for these perpetrators who easily mingled among the natives.
Research has shown that criminals are harbored within the community for a give a way token or with threat of coming back for reprisal if their identity or existence is revealed. Some of the natives even volunteer to carter for the hostages or source for intelligence information for the kidnappers as a result of economic hardship and ignorance of the evil being perpetrated.
Their method of operation varies from top to down,very important personality to the down trodden petty traders, peasant farmers and the likes, its business as usual for whoever can meet their demands .
The business of kidnapping has become an unchecked menace, hitting deep into our system and causing havoc and agony with everlasting devastation and bitter taste in the mouth of victims and their families. Daily post recently listed eight states with highest rate of kidnapping and which include, Zamfara, Rivers, Lagos, Jigawa,Delta, Kogi, Bayelsa and Kaduna State.
A victim who was recently released disclosed that the experience is better imagined than experienced as they were exposed to all sorts of torture, trauma and threats of loss of lives if demands were unmet by family members. Eating became a privilege, marching through the forest unguided at night, transiting from base to base on unstable river, all these and many more looming dangers are what the victims are confronted with, away from the comfort of their homes.
Like a tree, the perpetrators are branched, connected and well equipped with state of the art modern devices that makes tracking cumbersome and puts them always a step ahead of the security agencies in terms of professionalism, information gathering and management. Whether we like it or not some of the bad eggs in the security formation are snitches who are planted and on the pay roll to reveal and divulge top secret information to the perpetrators for a maintenance fee.
Collectively, we can rid our country of this people or reduce to barest minimum their operation if we come together as a team and give information that will enable the police trial and rescue the victims and reunite them unhurt to their families. Other developed countries also count on their people for accurate information sharing without holding back a bit and this can be replicated back home. The police need to build the confidence of the people in doling out information. Kidnappers are not spirit, but human beings with hardened minds who are getting back to the society for their perceived grievances and inability to make a livelihood.
Nigeria is bigger than every individual, thus all hands must be on deck to curb this menace and foster peaceful co-existence without fear or prejudice against each other. Therefore, let us abolish fear and build a crime-free entity where love and unity exist. If you know something, please say something, as this might save a life and bring succor to a family.
*Ajao writes from the Lagos State Ministry of Information and Strategy.