At the moment, kidnapping is widespread in the Northern part of Nigeria; while Boko Haram terrorist group abduct young girls for ransom in the North East, the bandits that operate in the North West axis keep, targeting the rich, famous, including poor people in the society for monetary gain. From Zamfara to Sokoto, Kebbi, and Kaduna, the story is all the same. Recalled the Chairman of the Board Universal Basic Education Commissions (UBEC), Muhammed Mahmood and his daughter were kidnapped along the Kaduna-Abuja Road and the authority paid an undisclosed amount of money before their abductors released them. In the same route, some student activists were abducted and paid as low as fifteen thousand naira ($41 equivalent) each to regain freedom. It is funny, but the bandits collect money from people based on their worth. It is a business. While there are no official estimates of the numbers of kidnappings, and many are never reported but the reality in Nigeria of today is that everyone lives in fear of kidnapping for ransom irrespective of status.
Kidnapping for personal or financial gain is on the rise in Nigeria and has become an everyday occurrence. It is so worrisome to the extent that even police officers were abducted, and the agency was forced to purchase freedom for their men. These are not political violence but a criminal act that require competent security agencies to respond and defeat the crooks. Criminals have never been this audacious in the history of Nigeria. There is no gainsaying in the fact that without an effective security organization with the capability to tackle and crush the kidnapping epidemic, economic development becomes extremely difficult.
Recently, a Professor at Obafemi Awolowo was kidnapped in the South West of Nigeria, and the University paid five million naira ($14000 equivalent) to secure his freedom. The victim described his abductors as herdsmen, the same people who have been kidnapping, killing and raping people across the nation. This is just to mention a few out of numerous high-profile kidnapping for profit in Nigeria.
Kidnapping as National epidemic
KIDNAPPING is the illegal seizure and holding of a person for ransom. It happens everywhere in Nigeria. Leadership failure, ineffective law enforcement, Poverty, unemployment, lack of opportunity for youth and decline in societal values are mainly responsible. Kidnapping is an act caused by criminal action; it is traumatic and could result in loss of life if not carefully and rationally responded to. Also, it has a severe destabilizing effect on the affected family and Nigeria at large that could have serious international repercussions.
Kidnapping in Nigeria comes in two categories; political kidnappers and criminal kidnappers. Of course, the varieties do overlap; sometimes all two general types are incorporated in on the case. The political kidnappers or terrorists have publicity in mind to achieve a political goal. The actors kidnap to force governments or those with money and power to implement some change or act. Remember Leah Sharibu and schoolgirls abducted in 2014. Primarily, Nigeria is dealing with criminal kidnappers, and the agenda of the criminal kidnapper is to make quick money. The most alarming and disturbing form of kidnapping in Nigeria is those who kidnap for ritual purposes. Uncountable numbers of children, women, and men have been abducted without traces, and the deed is ongoing. Unlike political kidnappers who kidnap for political agenda, dialogue and show of weakness on the part of the government may not yield a positive result.
What to do
The government must use all the acceptable instrument of law to overcome this menace. Hence, engaging in such dialogue with criminals and their sponsors may not yield result.
The Nigerian government claims security agencies are working hard; fighting terrorism on the one hand and dealing with bandits and organize crimes all over the country. The presidency has initiated dialogues with herdsmen and Cattle breeders association to find common ground. Also, President Buhari has given a marching order to the head police and military to bring everything under control.
First, the Nigeria government must understand who they are fighting to identify the best approach to adopt. You cannot beg a thief not to steal your properties as long as there is an opportunity is there to do so. At this point, containment is necessary through the rapid application of force, and adequate law enforcement to deter the criminals. The government must use all the acceptable instrument of law to overcome this menace. Hence, engaging in such dialogue with criminals and their sponsors may not yield result.
Meanwhile, the government should move faster by empowering police with funding and equipment to fight the bandits. Intelligence is the life and blood of effective policing. The law enforcement agencies should work with the community to identify the criminals and bring them to book. Citizens should have the confidence to provide actionable information to Police without fear of becoming a victim. The reality of today is Nigerians are afraid of volunteering information to police for lack of confidence. Also, the government should as a matter of urgency device a way to mop up the small arms in the circulation. How and where the bandits are getting the weapons, the use remains issue to resolve.
Confront Insider Threats
Experience has shown that criminals have people within law enforcement, Military, and community working for them. The police and army must find a method to deal with malicious insiders within their organization who collude or work with the bandits. It was evident that most operations of the criminals were successful because of collaboration with those who supposed to protect citizens. There has been a rumor that some of them may be providing information and weapons assistance to bandits/kidnappers and share part of the money collected from victims. It is time for police leadership to look inward to identify the bad eggs and purge them out of the service.
There is no easy solution. Currently, the political office holders travel by train from Abuja to Kaduna while top business executives from the region move around with a minimum of four armed guards. Even, the men of God (Pastors, Imam and Sheik) who are supposed to trust God for their security now rely on armed law enforcement officers for protection. The clergies and not taking things for granted. Over time, the insecurity in Nigeria and the need for personal protection has shifted the additional burden on the overstretched Nigerian Police workforce. The police have a constitutional role in maintaining law and order and protecting ordinary citizens. At this point, the government must intensify efforts to educate her citizen, empower police to mitigate the crisis and improve on good governance to reduce poverty and those conditions that make young people turn to criminal activities.
Dr. Oludare Ogunlana is a Security Expert and writes from Washington DC.