Kidnap After Kidnap, After Kidnap

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For the umpteenth time, Bandits visited their dastardly act this time on Government Science Secondary School, Kagara, Niger State, kidnapping 27 students and 15 others, killing one and leaving in their wake, blood, sorrow and tears as families have been left devastated. This was only the latest in a series of similar nasty incidents, in the North East and North Central parts of the country. Thankfully, the passengers who were kidnapped from Rafi Local Government, also in Niger State, a few days before the Kagara incident, have been released. The Bandits are gradually extending their ignoble and bloody reign of terror, to as many parts of the country as possible. Like a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association said, ‘Nigeria is in a low grade war’. Does the Federal Government have the will, strategy and logistics to win this war? Jide Ojo, Emmanuel Onwubiko and Dr Sam Amadi take on the complex issues in this national malaise, and proffer viable solutions to fight it

Kidnappings: How to Smash the New Honeypot of Nigerian Criminals

Jide Ojo

Introduction

Security and welfare of the people are the primary purpose of government, so says Section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended. Unfortunately, Government at all levels have failed abysmally to ensure these basic human rights of the citizens of Nigeria. Banditry, kidnapping for ransom, insurgency, cultism and street gangsterism, robbery, pipeline vandalism, rape, arson, ritual murder, internet scamming, herder/farmer clashes and burglary are some of the heinous crimes being perpetrated in Nigeria with near impunity. Many citizens are having sleepless nights while the Very Important Personalities now live in fortresses, and drive armoured vehicles with armed Police and private security escorts. The hapless majority are left to cater for themselves too by hiring private security guards to secure their communities, while some others join in mounting guards to ward off criminal elements from their neighbourhoods.

Kagara School Abduction and Other Recent Kidnapping Incidences

On Wednesday, February 17, 2021 bandits, donning military uniform, around 2am invaded Government Science College, Kagara, Niger State and whisked away 27 pupils and 15 staff members, after killing a Senior Secondary School 3 pupil. As at the time of writing this opinion, negotiations are still on to secure the release of the abductees.

On Friday, December 11, 2020, an estimated 344 schoolboys at the Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State were abducted by kidnappers. They were released after six days in captivity. On Monday, November 23, 2020 unknown gunmen reportedly invaded the house of a staff member of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and abducted him and his family. Also in November 2020 nine French students of the Ahmadu Bello University were abducted along Kaduna-Abuja highway with heavy ransom demanded of them, before they could be freed.

On February 19, 2018, Federal Government of Nigeria confirmed that 110 female students of the Government Science and Technical College in Dapchi, Yobe State were abducted and most of them later released except for Leah Sharibu the only Christian among them who is still in captivity to date. In February 2014, gunmen from Islamist group Boko Haram shot or burned to death 59 pupils of Federal Government College of Buni Yadi, Yobe State. As dastardly as this killing was, it did not generate international outrage as the April 14, 2014 Boko Haram militants’ abduction of 276 students of Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State. This incident sparked off one of the biggest global social media campaigns, with tweeter using the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

Kidnapping of students is not only a Northern Nigeria phenomenon. In May 2017, Pelumi Philips, Farouq Yusuf, Isiaq Rahmon, Adebayo George, Judah Agbausi and Peter Jonah all of whom were students of Lagos Model College, Igbonla, Epe spent 65 days in the kidnapper’s den before they were released.

Kidnapping is not limited to schools, as there are more abductions on the highways as travellers get picked up like snails by bandits. Kidnappings have also been recorded at an orphanage. On Saturday, January 23, 2021 gunmen reportedly kidnapped eight children and two adults from an orphanage, Rachel’s Home, in the Abaji Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory. The abductors later made contact demanding N10m.

Even journalists are not spared. On February 3, 2021, gunmen abducted a PUNCH journalist, Okechukwu Nnodim, at his house in the Arab Road area of Kubwa, Abuja. The kidnappers also attacked his neighbours, and went away with the two sons of a widow, Mrs. Faith Gbeyide. They were released on Saturday, February 6, 2021. Also, Chidiebere Onyia, a staff of Nigeria Television Authority was abducted by gunmen at about 6.30 p.m. on Tuesday, February 9, 2021 around Woji area in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Mrs Onyia, a mother of three, was said to be with some of her colleagues in her car when the kidnappers intercepted her vehicle, fired gunshots into the air, forced her out and then drove her away in their vehicle. She regained freedom five days after her abduction. These are just to mention but a few.

International Rating of Nigeria on Terrorism

Nigeria is surely slipping into Hobbesian state of nature where life is short, brutish and nasty. Little wonder the 2020 Global Terrorism Index, put Nigeria at number three in the world. According to the Report produced by “Vision of Humanity”, “Nigeria is the third country most impacted by terrorism……Boko Haram, Nigeria’s deadliest terrorist group, recorded an increase in terrorist activity mainly targeted at civilians by 25 per cent from the prior year. Additionally, Fulani extremists were responsible for 26 per cent of terror-related deaths in Nigeria at 325 fatalities”.

The Push Factors for Kidnapping and Insecurity

There is no gainsaying that poverty, unemployment and corruption, are among the drivers of insecurity in Nigeria. According to the “African Liberty” publication of April 11, 2019, Steve Hanke, a Professor of Applied Economics at The Johns Hopkins University and a Senior Fellow at Cato Institute, in 2019, ranked Nigeria and South Africa as Africa’s most miserable countries. According to Hanke, he arrived at this ranking by considering the “sum of unemployment, inflation and bank lending rates, minus the percentage change in real GDP per capita”. Among the countries ranked in his 2018 edition, Nigeria, South Africa, and Egypt are in the top 10 of most miserable countries.

Most Nigerians are hungry because they are poor, and as the saying goes, a hungry man is an angry man. The hunger and anger of many Nigerians were demonstrated last October, during the #EndSARS protests that engulfed many States in Nigeria. The invasion of the warehouses where Covid-19 palliatives were stored by multitudes, shows that the country may not survive a similar uprising in near future. Poverty, unemployment and inflation have continued to soar. As the saying goes, ‘water must find its level’. Many Nigerians without prior criminal records are now taking to crime, in a bid to survive the deplorable economic situation.

The porosity of Nigeria’s borders with over 1,400 illegal entry routes, have made the smuggling of small arms and light weapons, as well as hard drugs into the country very easy. Africanews in its online publication of August 4, 2016, reported that the United Nations has raised alarm over the illicit proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons in Nigeria. The global body said that more than 350 million out of the estimated 500 million of such weapons in West Africa, is domiciled in the country. According to the UN, this has highlighted, more than ever before the critical need not only to control the flow of arms in the non-State sector, but also the State owned actors through the effective management of the armoury and weapon stockpiles”. Easy access to small arms and light weapons, as well as psychotropic substances by criminally minded people, facilitates crimes.

Unfortunately, the huge size of Nigeria and limited number of security agents, have given room to non-State actors to operate with impunity in the widely ungoverned spaces in the country. With less than 400,000 officers and men recruited to Police a country of 206 million people; a country whose total strength of its combined Armed Forces is less than a million and which also operates largely manually, it shouldn’t come to anyone as a surprise that the country ranks high on the Global Terrorism Index.

Implications and Solutions to Unsafe Schools

The implication of unsafe schools is very serious. Already Nigeria has an estimated 13.5 million out of school children, although Government is claiming this has been substantially reduced. This ugly phenomenon is going to get worse, as students and pupils will shun school due to fear of being abducted. Ironically, such out of school children is a bad omen for the Nigerian society, as many of them may grow up to constitute a nuisance and terror to the rest of the society.

This latest kidnapping of school children is a wakeup call for Government at all levels, to up their ante in terms of provision of safety measures in public schools from primary to tertiary levels. Private school owners, also need to do same. It is imperative for Schools’ Management Boards or Committees to adopt some of the following security measures: perimeter fence for the school, security posts should be at the entrances to the schools, with possible scanning machines; installation of Closed Circuit Television Camera within and around the school remises; trained security personnel should be deployed to schools; increased police patrols around the school areas, and provision of 3-digit security alert toll-free lines. There is also the need to provide security education and tips for both staff and students of schools, so that they are knowledgeable about what they could do if and when they are under attack by undesirable elements.

Breaking the Honeypot of Kidnapping for Ransom and Other Crimes

In order to curb the incessant kidnapping for ransom and general insecurity, broader tactics and strategy need to be put in place. The change of the Service Chiefs is a step in the right direction. Though not the silver bullet or panacea, to resolve the growing insecurity and insurgency. However, it will boost the morale of the troops and encourage them to perform better. The real antidote to the festering insecurity, lies in two broad approaches. The hard and the soft approaches.

Hardware Approach

The hardware approach includes recruitment of more security personnel, building of more police stations and military cantonments to enable them secure the ungoverned spaces, procurement of security hardware such as Armoured Personnel Carriers, Rifles, operational vehicles, sophisticated communication gadgets, building and equipping of forensic laboratories, data capturing of arrested criminals, deployment of technology in the fight against crimes such as use of all-weather drones, Close Circuit Television Cameras, Automated Scanner Machines, Jammers, Trackers, etc.

All this will aid intelligence gathering by security operatives, and with better coordination and information sharing among the security agencies, significant headway in the fight against insecurity will be achieved. Further to this, is the rejigging of the community policing system which involves the use of locals for intelligence gathering and whistle-blowing. I do not blame the Minister of Defence, Maj. Gen. Bashir Magashi (Retd), and former Minister of Defence, Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (Rtd), for asking Nigerians to defend themselves against bandits. This is the charge that has produced ethnic champions like Sunday Adeyemo aka Sunday Igboho in Oyo State. As the saying goes, homicide is not a crime when committed in self defence. People must learn to defend themselves, whichever way they know how to do it.

In order to reduce the farmers/herders clashes, there is need to ban open grazing of cattle and other animals, documentation of herders, ban of herders from carrying rifles which some of them are now using to engage in kidnapping, and promotion of ranching as a form of animal husbandry. Nigeria’s e-border project aimed at adequate manning and surveillance of all legal and illegal entry routes into and out of Nigeria, needs to be fast-tracked. This will make it easy to cut off smuggling, especially of small arms and light weapons, as well as trafficking in drugs and persons.

Software Approach

However, the hardware approach alone will not solve the problem. There is need to complement it with the software approach. As rightly pointed out by immediate past Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai last Thursday, February 18, 2021 during his ambassadorial screening at the Nigerian Senate, there is need for good governance. He was quoted as saying, “The military alone cannot solve this. There should be hospitals, schools, roads and Government presence in these communities. There are so many ungovernable spaces, and until these spaces have government presence, it will not be resolved”.

Thus, the software approach includes job creation and economic empowerment, especially for the teeming Nigerian youths who constitute over 60 percent of the population. There is need to also scale up the social safety net, through pro-poor measures. Conditional Cash Transfer, is a good case in point. Beyond this, there is need to fix the decadent and insufficient infrastructure, especially affordable electricity supply. This will reduce the cost of doing business and grow the informal sector, including the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises. In addition, there is need for value re-orientation.

Conclusion

Above all, it is imperative to break the culture of impunity. As the saying goes in the United States of America, “if you do the crime, you will do the time”. Arrested criminals should be diligently and effectively prosecuted, in a competent court of law. The blanket issuance of amnesty to criminal elements can be very counter-productive.

Jide Ojo, Development Consultant, Author, Blogger, TV Show Host and Public Affairs Analyst