Monday Philips Ekpe suggests that citizens’ deliberate self-help is inevitable in the face of government’s seeming powerlessness  

Even instances that should ordinarily elicit hope in the thick, dark clouds that best describe Nigeria’s worsening security situation are, themselves, shrouded in uncertainties. Sadly. Few weeks ago, in the euphoria of the new year festivities, kidnappers captured the family of Mansoor Al-Kadriyar in the Dutse area of Bwari, Abuja which included father and six daughters and took them away to an unknown destination. Nigerians who were becoming numb to the news of such criminalities, as a result of their regular occurrences and the resultant prolonged helplessness, somehow couldn’t take that anymore and reacted accordingly. The outburst and anger towards the villains and security operatives were unmistaken.

The man was released early enough. A business decision, actually, as the felons needed someone to scout for the ransom. Internet-powered crowdfunding, a novel phenomenon in this increasingly hopeless theatre of pain, was initiated by a former minister to meet the kidnappers’ demands – an action that made them see the bumper prospects and changed upwards the initial amount. In the meantime, to prove that they weren’t joking, the abductors killed Nabeeha, one of the sisters, and their uncle. Last weekend, luckily, the remaining young ladies regained their freedom.

As the army and police were debating the ownership of the ‘heroism’ that produced that triumphant moment, some citizen journalists and family members of the victims went to town with stories of how the emissaries and negotiators were already on their way to deliver the ransom when they ran into the uniformed men. Mubarak, a relative of the Al-Kadriyars, however, gave an account that seemed credible: “They (abductors) released 12 people altogether, five from Al-Kadriyar’s family, and seven other people from three different families…. We jointly made the payment last Wednesday. They told every family what to pay and one person agreed to collect all the money on behalf of the others and (was) given directives on how to bring the money….

“They (security operatives) have done their best actually, but as I said, what they did was not enough. The security agencies have failed to prioritise the lives of the citizens, which is their duty…. The bandits shouldn’t have stayed conveniently from Wednesday down to Saturday night and at their convenience to release them to us, and they left thereafter without anybody confronting them.” This narration amplifies the suspicions and frustrations of Nigerians concerning the heightened wave of kidnappings in parts of the nation. They include the complicity or collusion of law enforcement agents, low morale among those saddled with the job of countering and defeating the menace, and the inability of same to rise to the occasion and win the love and confidence of their fellow citizens.   

That melodrama has neither taken away the venom of the evil men and women on the loose nor indicated tangible solutions anytime soon. Instead, the kidnappings in Nigeria appear to be digging deeper and assuming a life of their own. Like porcupine, they’re hard to attack and even harder to swallow or digest. But we can’t afford to surrender our collective aspirations and the right to be safe to despair and cluelessness.

For the record, kidnapping, as a troubler of human societies, is not new in the country. In pre-colonial times during slave trade, most of the people who were whisked away to Europe and America were abducted from the comfort of the lands of their ancestors before they were herded to the various departure points along the coasts. From ancient eras even to the present, unfortunate persons have also continued to disappear and, then, dismembered for rituals.

But abductions, beginning from the dawn of the country’s current democratic dispensation, have taken on varying characters. Niger Delta militants who could no longer stomach the destruction of their region occasioned by oil exploration, started kidnapping expatriate workers of the erring companies, essentially to draw the attention of the international community to the plight. The gamble did pay off. The fallouts are largely responsible for the monstrosity that this well-organised crime has become today. In their desperation to secure the release of those captives, the corporations were eager to part with hefty cash. The kidnappers discovered that their professed cause would need plenty of arms, ammunitions and organised operations and, so, dug deeper into the prospects for the overflowing financial gains of kidnapping.

The spread of the nefarious trade to other parts of the country was only a matter of time. When it got to the south east, all the business possibilities were perfected. Abduction eventually made its way to the far north into the warm embrace of terrorists and bandits. The disproportionate focus on Boko Haram and their fellow morbid journeymen ensured that before abduction was identified to be as lethal as the more visible atrocities, it was a bit too late.

How late? Or, better still, how did we get here? In many parts of Nigeria at the moment, road travellers are hardly at peace for the nagging fear of being intercepted and driven into the bush. Some parents of boarding students still live with similar worries, many years after the painful Chibok experience. Persons are randomly picked from homes and streets. Now, more than any other period, the nation’s capital has come under the shadow of abductors who seem bent on sending a clear message to its most important resident – President Bola Tinubu – that they’re past caring.              

The January 18, 2024 edition of The Economist paints Nigeria’s dire situation thus: “Many politicians seem keener to spend on themselves, rather than create the conditions for peace or fill the country’s fiscal hole. Even if Tinubu resists the temptation to reinstate the petrol subsidy that he largely removed last year, debt servicing alone in 2024 may gobble up 61 per cent of revenue. In November, the National Assembly approved new SUVs for all 460 lawmakers, at a reported cost of $150,000-plus per car. In two months, the government has budgeted $31 million to improve accommodation for the president and vice president in a country of around 220 million people where more than 80 million are reckoned to live on less than $2.15 a day and many fear being kidnapped.” Some government apologists have dismissed this view, not surprisingly though, but an assuring picture is yet to be seen.

While agents of state struggle to put their acts together, citizens don’t have the luxury of ignoring survival strategies. A viral advisory for Abuja residents reads thus: “Avoid late movements. This includes coming late from events and meetings. Events and meetings can hold without you. /Be alert when driving, including being aware of escape routes in the event of a blockade or attack. /While driving, avoid passengers who can distract you with chats and banters. Be alert. /Ensure that your car is in good condition, and locked at all times, including when driving. /As much as you can, drive on main roads and avoid lonely or ‘apiam way’ in your quest to beat traffic.

“Unless it is absolutely unavoidable, don’t carry all your family members in the same vehicle, especially when travelling at night or early hours. /Be careful how, when you slow down at bumps and potholes. /Be super sensitive when boarding public transportation. /The days of ‘leave the door or gate open till I come; I will lock it when I return’ are gone. Take responsibility for locking all doors and windows before going to bed. /If it is late, consider sleeping over where you visited, especially if it is a better option than going ‘home’” That truly sounds like a garrison regimen. Unfortunately. 

Dr Ekpe is a member of THISDAY Editorial Board

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