Despite her best diplomatic and sustainable efforts, Nigeria’s just because is being marred by incessant hostage-taking, kidnapping and unjust harassment against her own citizens at a ransom. As a detriment to international appraisal and recognition, the situation has created helpless threats in the face of sophisticated security outfit in place. People vanishing into thin air in front of witnesses, is a day-by-day occurrence. There are countless stories from around this country of these incredibly weird phenomena. There is no amount of government corruption and ineptitude sufficient to pair with the spate of hostilities exhibit by these hostage takers who operate at gunpoint.
After daylight robbery escalated several months ago, in the city of Aba, Abia state and her neighbourhood is being envisaged by these men of underworld who alternate robbery to kidnapping after the advent of internet-banking services. They wallop the victim, most times sent some errands to a bank- ATM to empty the victims account should s/he run into them alongside her/his ATM card .S/he owes revealing the secret code to them, should s/he flop they rebut him/her with a bullet-shot. They panic the victim’s relations into pursuit and hostage negotiations.
The circumstances of the hostage-taking incident still remain unclear. There is FG amnesty getting implemented, but what else can warrant such hostage-taking. Strive as this government might, it seems no amount of moral suasion is likely to amend the damages such kidnapping activities has caused or rebrand Nigeria into the ivory tower of global diplomacy. For when it comes to making a place for Nigeria, what is required most on the part of those who would grant Nigeria that rebranded recognition is imagination — and how precious little there is of that at the foreign ministries .
The spate of kidnapping in Nigeria does not seem to abate. Taking from the militant’s example, criminal organizations mostly based in suburban areas began to practice ransom kidnappings. Victims are boarded in places with little police presence or where they are most vulnerable. Most commonly these are performed after victims withdraw money from ATMs or while riding in fake, terrors-operated taxi cabs. The targeting of women and children is uncommon, however, with attackers generally focusing on male employees of large, international companies that are presumed to have money for ransom payments.
But much work needs to be done to make this new strategy effective, for as every expatriate who has lived in Nigeria can testify, people back home know precious little about it. Ask anyone to locate Nigeria on a map, or whether it is officially a country, or a region of West Africa, or a member of the UN. Absent that knowledge, it becomes a feat to imagine what it must be like to be Nigerian — and to empathize with them, let alone care about their fate.
This dearth of imagination, in turn, is the worst enemy of a people, as it does not allow for the emotional bond that compels individuals — and in turn governments — to act for the sake of someone else. This calls for a shift in approach, a brand awareness campaign that starts from the bottom up rather than the top down and focuses on a different customer .Such a lack allows for all types of transgressions to be visited upon people, from ethnocide in south-east to minority cleansing in Niger Delta. Or can a leadership growing repression of economy-prone areas?
So what can be done? One secret weapon, perhaps, lies in the expatriates who live in Nigeria who have come to develop and implore its people and appreciate its democratic accomplishments, and who wish for it to succeed. All can mobilize to act as ambassadors. When they visit home, for one, they should never allow a customs officer to belittle Nigeria by ignoring its existence. Instead, they should express their outrage and deliver the necessary correction. The worst that can happen is that their luggage will be more thoroughly searched because they rubbed the officer the wrong way — a temporary setback that, in the grand scheme of things, is minor compared with what Nigerians would have to endure should Britons have the upper hand in the battle for identity.
This democracy is being soured by extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances of innocent citizens as known when it comes to illegal liquidations, unlawful or felonious killings and manned disappearances. These havoc are carried out in military uniforms which does not exclude extrajudicial punishment; extrajudicial executions, summary executions, arbitrary arrest and detentions, and failed prosecutions due to political activities of leading political, trades union, dissident and or social figures, left-wing political parties, non-governmental organizations, political journalists, outspoken clergy, anti-government activists, members of legal political parties or organizations that the concern perpetrators claim are allied with the suspected supporters of the opposition and its political wing.
It is no coincidence that courses on how to react in hostage-taking situations teach participants to show pictures of their spouses and children so that an emotional bond can be created with their captors. By giving himself a face, a history, and the captive is making it more difficult for the hostage-taker to treat him as a faceless individual who can be subjected to violence, or someone whose fate can be ignored.
These kidnappers often observe the routine of their intended victims and plan carefully for the nabbing. The majority of cases occur when a wealthy victim is traveling to or from the office (or the moment they arrive home). The criminals use several cars — normally stolen ones that are abandoned shortly after the abduction to avoid identification (9,166 cars have been stolen in the Niger Delta in the past three months). At a convenient point, they block the victim’s car and rapidly force him or her into one of their cars, or they enter the hostage’s own car. Once they have the victim safely contained in a remote location, they will contact the family to begin negotiations.
But some newer forms of abductions have become common in Nigeria, as the public becomes more alert and takes preventative measures. “Kidnapping for Ransom” have become popular. This is when victims are held and forced to withdraw money from ATMs until their bank accounts are drained. This has prompted some Nigerian banks to limit the withdrawals per ATM after 10:00pm, as well as to restrict the naira amount on daily withdrawals per card. Most recently, criminals have begun to carry out “virtual kidnappings,” which is a form of pseudo-abduction. The kidnappers contact a family and claim that they have a relative as a hostage. They pressure the family to pay a ransom, even though the kidnapping has never truly happened. The fact that kidnappers have been successful in acquiring money for phony abductions gives measure to the psychological stronghold that kidnappers have.
So common are kidnappings that the Nigerian press today pays attention to the issue only when the victim is of prominent status. Recent “press-worthy” victims included Chief Soludo, the father of a wealthy then governor of CBN and a 2010 governable material was napped. All were targeted under the assumption that they would be relatively “soft” targets (i.e. unaware and unguarded) and would produce a valuable ransom.
Last year’s rash of kidnappings of the mothers of several professional soccer players followed the same rationale. The brother of the soccer star Joseph Yobo, was kidnapped and freed after 41 days, reportedly after some ransom was paid. Three separate cases with similar circumstances followed, but the police were able to find the kidnappers’ hideouts and free the man.
Although kidnappings occur in other major cities around the world, it is important to distinguish between kidnappings for political or ideo
logical interests (such as those in Iraq) from the ones for purely economic interests. What makes kidnapping proliferate in the Niger Delta including Abia State and some northern states of Nigeria is a combination of inequality, weak state institutions, and a sense of impunity. All of these elements work together to make such a “business return” attractive when balanced against the risks. Moreover, it is clear that crime grows along perceived opportunities and draws quickly on successful techniques.
A recent study by the participants of”nigeria4betterrule “demonstrated that Nigeria is becoming one of the unresolved nations of the world. Their findings showed that in the past two decades murder rates in Nigeria have more than tripled, from 13,877 homicides in 1980 to 49,587 in 2002. There is no simple explanation for these escalating crime rates. Instead, it is a combination of several causes in a “perfect storm” of mutual causation. Poverty — but mostly the huge gap existing between the rich and the poor, which is amongst the worst in the world — creates a fertile environment where drug dealers operate with ease and criminals can establish substantial areas of influence.
Nigeria’s seemingly intractable inequality has been a case study for economists and social scientists for decades. According to the World Bank, Nigeria’s inequality pattern is only better than Sierra Leone’s and Central Africa Republic’s. Nigeria’s richest 20 percent earns 62 percent of the nation’s income, while Nigeria’s lowest 20 percent earns just 2.6 percent of the income. And Nigeria’s inequality is even more relevant because of the size of Nigerian population and because Nigeria’s GDP ranks amongst the ten growing GDPs in the world.
The causes for this incredible income gap are varied. Historically Nigerian elites were able to influence the government policy for their advantage. The model of Nigeria’s insertion into the world economy by exporting products of low value, produced at low wages because of the labor surplus, worked to widen the gap. Finally, decades of hyper-inflation — from the 1970s to early 1990s — affected mostly the poor who had no financial artifices to protect their assets.
Under these circumstances, during the last half of the 20th century, millions of Nigerians moved from the poorest Northeastern region to urban centers in the South looking for jobs and better living conditions. The resulting population boom in the Southern urban centers contributed to the proliferation of slums. An erratic urbanization pattern developed in many of the major cities in the South, particularly in Abuja, Lagos, and Port Harcourt, where eventually rich mansions share the same neighborhood with miserable housing.
From the perspective of the perpetrator, the act of kidnapping is a relatively easy and safe way to make a bundle of money quick (compared to robbing banks, for example). The tricky part lies in the kidnapper’s need to work with a crew that has the skills to effectively hold the victim in captivity and oversee the negotiation that follows. The team needs to be capable of careful planning and considerable organization. They also need access to a number of non-identifiable cars, as well as a number of safe houses to hide the hostages. Sometimes several hideouts are used in order to evade the police. These unique requirements help explain why kidnappings are usually conducted by specialized gangs.
The Niger Delta also offers a number of tempting soft targets in the figure of multinationals’ executives, prosperous entrepreneurs, and other VIPs and their families. Feeling unsafe, many have adopted preventive measures, such as hiring bodyguards for personal security, acquiring armored vehicles, bullet-proofing their cars, and buying special insurance policies. Executives frequently use helicopters, not only to escape from The Niger Delta’s chaotic traffic, but also for security reasons. The Niger Delta has currently registered the sixth largest helicopter fleet in the world — it jumped quickly from less than 300 helicopters in 2002 to about 500 in 2005. Because children are especially attractive targets for kidnappers — since they offer little resistance and are emotionally appealing as hostages — some wealthy families have concluded that the best protection they can buy for their children is to send them to live abroad, mostly in London.
Due to the growing occurrence of kidnappings and increased terror among the population, the police in the Niger Delta have stepped up efforts to address the situation. In 2004, recognizing the specificity of kidnapping as a crime, the government of various states created, within the civilian police force, a special Anti-Kidnapping Division (DAS). This division has a specific intelligence unit, SWAT-type training and abilities, and expertise in negotiation. Other efforts to curb crime include the establishment of a toll-free police hotline, for tips on cases and to report criminals. The State has also developed a campaign to promote safety, which is aimed at educating the public about measures they can take to prevent becoming a victim. The recommended tactics include avoiding the identification of family members in the media, frequent changes in traffic and time patterns between office and home, use of shadowed and bullet-proofed car windows, careful scrutiny of employee references, as well as the use of trained drivers and bodyguards. The rationale here is that many kidnappers will choose a different target if they perceive that stakes are high and the potential victim is alert.
Police in the Niger Delta have also scored a few moderate victories, including the dismantling of some criminal bands. Also, so far, they have been able to preserve the lives of all abductees. Neither the police, nor private security firms have reported killings related to kidnappings. Notwithstanding these few successes, the overwhelming crime culture in Nigeria increasingly works to undermine the population’s confidence in the state to protect them. Nigeria’s judicial system is slow and antiquated, allowing cases to pile up and creating a huge backlog. In addition, smart attorneys have exposed the system’s vulnerabilities and they frequently exploit loopholes to delay cases indefinitely. In addition, the penal system (under the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice, which controls over 5,000 penal institutions) has proved ineffective. In the year 2000, 212,000 inmates were incarcerated in Nigeria. Prisons are overcrowded, riots are frequent, and drug kingpins keep control over their gangs even from inside prison. Escapes — either by spectacular breakouts or simply by bribing prison guards — are not uncommon.
Given the inability of the Yar’Adua administration to resolve the Niger Delta problem including the problem of extreme crime, why has the federal government not adopted a comprehensive plan to tackle the problem? Well, plans – impressive ones – have been presented, both in response to particularly dramatic crimes and during political campaigns. The central theme that emerges from these plans is that the state’s action must involve social programs and judicial reform, in addition to improving enforcement capability. Nevertheless, effectiveness has only been observed, and modestly, at the state level. For example, Imo state was able to map regions of crime occurrence and use this information to coordinate social and educational programs. The also strengthened the police effectiveness by retraining the force, including on human rights, and improving intelligence gathering and analysis. This government as well, beginning in 2008, has been revamping and reorganizing its enforcement apparatus and has been constructing new prisons.
This government should enact and issued National Plan for Public Safety, a comprehensive project aimed at preventing crime, reducing impunity, and “increasing the overall sa
fety for all citizens.” The plan should assign a budget of approximately N75b and included 124 strategies to fight extrajudicial imprisonment, abduction and organized crime. The NPPS should advocate for total disarmament and gun control laws, provide for professional training and police re-equipping, ordered an end to police violence, and promise to update legislation related to public safety.
I hope we are going to be a little more forward thinking. The added complication now is that it is difficult to know who the hostage takers are. Among them were insinuation about militants, but since they have embraced amnesty, could the criminals and armed gangs be on this row? There are those who genuinely believe that the tactic will sap the morale of the nations who are Nigerians either directly or in support roles. Their hope is to sow anguish and confusion by seizing innocent people, making phones negotiation, pricing and bargaining ransom and of their fear and humiliation in captivity and in a final cruel refinement, threatening and executing their murder. It does not seem to matter to them that these crimes do not lead to the fulfillment of their demands or that the tactic has been condemned by all those who sympathize with their cause. Their resistance to occupation has support across the world, but their method of slaughtering defenseless men and women has turned the environment into public enemies.
There are other rogues in the partisan. A great number of criminals and jobless crooks have got into the act, with profit as their only motive. The mystery surrounding the kidnapping of the citizenry is a case in point. I do not think they kill them because the material gain from holding them is big; I have my doubts about the whole operation from the start because the style and method all indicate that the kidnappers are an organized gang with no connection to the resistance. The motive behind the militant-induced kidnapping was inconsistent with the goals of the present criminality, whose purposes remain to usurp and maltreat the security and well-being of Nigerians. No easy-going!, no free movement!!
And finally, the government should take effective steps to rein in the kidnappers, especially members of the militants who refused to embrace amnesty and other such criminals who have shown an alarming inclination to disturb the peace of Nigerians. There have been so many incidents where people, including elderly persons and juveniles, were abduct and subsequently concealed for ransom in either ‘crossfire’ or ‘shoot-out’ or ‘encounter’. In a significant number of these cases, those detained and killed were claimed to be innocent Nigerians. Even if they were not innocent, they did not deserve to be killed just like that. The government must put an end to extra-judicial abduction, once and for all; it should realize that civilization and extra-judicial kidnapping do not go hand in hand.