Just as the Buhari administration is redeeming itself in the eyes of the world with its valiant efforts to stamp out corruption, revamp the economy, and make the Boko Haram insurgency history, the recrudescence of kidnapping across the land threatens to push post-PDP Nigeria into the status quo.
Kidnapping as an organised crime was hardly known in Nigeria prior to the emergence, in January 2006, of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND.
The movement’s stated goals are to localise control of Nigeria’s oil and to secure reparations from the Federal government for pollution caused by the oil industry.
Since 2006, militant groups in the Niger Delta and emboldened kidnappers in other parts of the Federation have kidnapped (and released) more than 2,000 foreigners and Nigerians, after huge ransoms have been paid.
The situation had been such that as the Niger Delta militancy degenerated, and kidnappers elsewhere got more daring and enterprising, kidnapping became entrenched and the huge payoffs to secure the release of victims soon became a bait that further energised abductors to go for more. Slowly, but surely, kidnapping was becoming a huge racket and a money-spinner for both the abductors and the negotiators nation-wide.
From the Niger Delta to the South-east, where a high mercantile spirit soon guaranteed that kidnapping became a booming franchise, kidnapping is now reported in nearly all states of the federation.
Kidnapping, like other crimes, thrives in Nigeria simply because the environment is amenable to it. Among the factors conducive to the growth of the kidnapping industry in Nigeria are: high unemployment; high level of poverty; growing social inequality and marginalization; criminal impunity; a lax and inefficient criminal code that tends to reward criminal behavior; weak law enforcement procedures and capabilities and a weak criminal justice system that doesn’t sufficiently sanction crime and ensure deterrence.
Kidnapping is bad for our country, any country. Apart from creating an atmosphere of public insecurity, it portrays Nigeria in a negative light with corresponding negative consequences for trade, tourism and foreign direct investment.
This constitutes a threat to sustainable development, and a threat to any nation’s sustainable development is a threat to its national security.
The Nigerian Expression believes that that because of the national security threat posed by kidnapping, the Federal Government would be justified to declare it a national emergency. Kidnappers kidnap because the benefits exceed costs.
A kidnapper should be charged with a capital offence if the kidnapping results in death. This is a national issue and it is unacceptable that only a few states like Lagos, Edo, Bauchi and Anambra have prescribed harsh punishment for kidnappers.
Beyond this, we think that the setting up of a special tribunal to try kidnap cases, cyber- crimes, drug-related crimes and financial crimes generally, is long overdue.
We call on the Federal and State Governments to accelerate efforts to address the reasons kidnapping is rife through legislative action and adopting policies and programmes that will reverse the high levels of poverty, the high rate of unemployment and the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor.
Existing laws and weak law enforcement procedures and capabilities should be upgraded to ensure that our criminal justice system sufficiently sanctions crime and ensures deterrence.
Institutions should be strengthened just as the morale and quality of law enforcement agents should be enhanced through motivation and special training.
Kidnapping is a phone-assisted crime, and new and emerging high-tech interventions (such as the recently introduced mandatory SIM-card registration) should continue to help to identify the owners and location of mobile phone-numbers.
The Ministry of Communications, the National Communications Commission and the Ministry of Science and Technology should work together and with GSM providers to help kidnap the kidnappers.
Lastly, whistle-blowing should not be just about reward for information on theft of public funds, contract scams and all that. Governments at all levels should reward citizens who blow the whistle on kidnappers. Cross River is already on course as it now offers 1 million Naira for whistle-blowing on kidnapping and armed robbery. Other States should follow suit.
Nigerians want to see the beginning of the end of kidnapping. Today.