Kidnapping A Nation

by Michael Egbejumi-David

The chickens have come home to roost.

The octogenarian mother of Nigeria’s Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was kidnapped right from inside their palace last week. Of course it had to happen in Delta State, the home of corrugated kidnapping.

This whole kidnapping trade took off full speed when a few politicians in the South-South (notably during the inglorious reign of Peter Odili) armed some disgruntled and unemployed youths in their domain and used them to terrorise and kidnap political opponents. After the elections, the boys were abandoned, left to fend for themselves. They discovered that a politician’s stock-in-trade is lying through their teeth; never to be trusted. Unable to properly feed themselves, but loaded down with plenty of sophisticated weapons and ammunitions, the boys turned their guns on expatriate workers in their vicinity. They kidnapped anyone who didn’t look like them or speak like them. Later, perhaps predictably, they would turn their guns on themselves and their community.

When Rochas Okorocha’s regime ‘boko haramed’ the kidnapping kingpins in Imo, their drugged-out surviving underlings scurried across the river. There, they teamed up with the kai-kai infused home-grown small timers in Delta State. A hellified marriage was consummated and their trade has been booming ever since. Their practice, completely unchecked by the authorities.

Now, poor Prof Okonjo is their latest high profile victim.

But the truth is that in Delta, there is only a minority of families that has not been touched, one way or another, by the scourge of kidnapping. No person in their right sense goes to Delta anymore for holidays. Both their governor, Uduaghan, and kidnappers have made the State unliveable. Giving this trend, I imagine, pretty soon, even Youth Corpers would be refusing to honour posting to any part of that State.

Because of endless kidnapping, most non-oil foreign investors and firms have legged it out of Delta a long time ago. Sapele, in particular, has become a ghost town. The irony is that the same people who made it impossible for whole industries and businesses to thrive would turn around and complain about unemployment and the under-development of the area.

A little over a year ago, an officer in the Police high command in Delta was caught red-handed aiding and abetting kidnappers. For a cut of their earnings, he was providing kidnappers with information about VIPs’ movement, and was also supplying them arms. What happened to this officer? He was neither jailed nor dismissed. He was simply transferred to another place.

The last budget for Delta was N437.2 billion. This is bigger than the national budget of Senegal and every other country in West Africa except Ghana. A big chunk of that money is tucked aside as ‘security vote,’ expended wholly at the pleasure of the governor who also fancies himself the ‘chief security officer’ of the State. But there’s no security of any sort in that place – physical or social, and no jobs.

So the chickens have come home to roost. This government and previous ones have left job creation and security to the will of God. The only people seemingly getting on in society are government officials and fake pastors. It is therefore easy to see how madness spread across the land. Though highly deplorable and unjustifiable, it is easy to see why unemployed youths would give up, get stoned out of their minds, and begin to kidnap their own kith and kin.

If it’s not boko haram in the North, it is militants and kidnappers down South. Jonathan is, literarily, stuck in the middle, powerless and clueless. What is a hungry criminal to do in the face of such hardship and government impotence?

It was reported in some quarters that the kidnappers asked for N1 billion as ransom. In fact they never did. They initially asked for the money the federal government recovered from oil marketers in the fuel subsidy scam. But they later changed their demand to N200 million. However, when I initially heard that they asked for N1 billion, I was surprised that they stopped there. I wondered why they didn’t ask for the whole of Delta State, or even Nigeria.

I do hope that this government would buck the trend, catch these misanthropes and castrate them with a blunt instrument. But I am not holding my breath. So far, the only acknowledgement by the government to the incessant kidnapping in the Niger Delta was to award the warlords handsome contracts as appeasement because some of them were blowing up oil installations in between kidnapping runs. And giving this government’s track record, it is expected that they would now ‘enter into dialogue’ with the criminals. No thoughts whatsoever would be given to addressing chronic unemployment in the land.

Now those brazen kidnappers have pushed us deeper into international shame and derision. Maybe, just maybe, President Jonathan will rise from his prolonged slumber and do something.

Meanwhile, Delta recently changed its State’s motto to ‘The Finger of God.’ Eh? How’s that? Methinks the State should concentrate on getting rid of the rabid kidnapping that is destroying its little domain by doing the needful, or it would slowly become the finger of God’s arch rival. Nonsense!

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