The rising wave of kidnapping in Nigeria and government‚Äôs inability to curb it is creating tension in the country
Nigeria, the acclaimed giant of Africa, is certainly under siege, as kidnapping is fast spreading to every state in the federation.
In the last four months, there has been an explosion in the incidence of kidnapping in several parts of the country. The allure of robbery as the ultimate crooked money-spinner is fast giving way to kidnapping; reason being that robbers often have to slug it out with the police and could get killed anytime. But kidnappers are faceless and induce fear in the families of their hapless victims to unlock their pockets. Kidnapping has spread beyond the South-south and South-east, where it was rampant some years ago, to the South-west and northern parts of the country.
On 19 March, the Vice-Chairman (South-east) of Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN,¬† and former deputy governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chudi Nwike, was abducted and taken to a hidden location in Delta State. The kidnappers initially demanded N30 million ransom from his family but after negotiation, N5 million was said to have been agreed on.¬† The money was delivered to a specified location in Delta State through two couriers on 5 April. But rather than release Nwike, he was killed along with the two couriers by the abductors, who then cut off all communication with the family until the corpse of the former deputy governor was found by the road side in Alizomor, near Agbor, the headquarters of Ika South Local Government of Delta State. The kidnappers are yet to be arrested.
Also in March this year, a Nigerian woman, Joy Ada Okafor, 28, was arrested after she connived with one Kenny Oyemwina to kidnap her Spanish lover, Jose Antonio Turrillo, whom she had met on social networking site, Facebook and lured to Nigeria.
Kidnapped and holed up in an hotel room in Benin City, the suspects fleeced Turrillo thoroughly, and when there was no money left in Turrillo‚Äôs domiciliary account, he was forced to call his sister based in Spain to send 2000 Euros to him before he could be allowed to go back to Spain.
Also in Delta State, Kanene Okonjo, mother of the Finance Minister, was kidnapped on a Sunday afternoon from her home by eight gunmen who invaded her husband‚Äôs palace at Ogbe-Ofu quarters in Ogwashi-Uku. A $1 billion ransom ‚Äì which the police later denied ‚Äì was placed on her head. Though she was later released physically unharmed, it is unclear how much ransom was paid as the police kept such information from the public.
Recently, Marcel Okoh, a former Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, in Delta State who had just been appointed a judge of the state High Court, while on his way to Warri was trailed by some armed individuals from Umunede, along the Benin-Asaba expressway, and abducted at Oria-Abraka in Ethiope East Local Government Area of the state. A ransom of N40 million was demanded by his kidnappers.
In Rivers State, lecturers and staff of the Federal College of Education, Omoku, threatened to embark on strike in January in protest of a series of kidnapping in the institution by gunmen. They recalled that, among other kidnap cases the institute‚Äôs Dean of Academics, Ihenagbo Friday, was kidnapped by gunmen in the school.
In what can be interpreted as an admission that the state is under siege, the Rivers State government recently said it aborted over 50 abductions in one month.¬† The Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, said the state government had deployed men and resources into the battle against criminality, and assured residents of their safety. ‚ÄúWe are equally aware that abductions like this may sabotage or undermine the state government‚Äôs efforts towards the improvement of healthcare in the state, and we shall not let that happen because so much has been invested in the sector already. Members of the public should to join hands with government in the fight against criminality. This call becomes necessary because the kidnappers live with the people and it has become imperative for residents to report all suspicious characters among them,‚Äù Amaechi said, warning that government would not fold its arms and watch anybody, for whatever reason, sabotage its effort.
In February, gunmen attacked a vessel and kidnapped six foreign sailors off the Bayelsa State coastline, demanding N200 million for their release.
Richard Seiba, the traditional ruler of Okordia Kingdom in Yenagoa Local Government of Bayelsa State, was abducted from his home around 2 a.m. by kidnappers who demanded N50 million for his release. The kidnappers reportedly gained entry to the monarch‚Äôs residence after cutting the metal anti-burglary mesh in one of the windows. He was not released until an undisclosed ransom was paid.
In the South-west, residents of states like Ondo, Ogun and Lagos are living in fear of kidnappers, who have ensnared several victims into their web.
In Ondo State, Olubunmi Oke, a female journalist with the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, was kidnapped on 21 March. Four gunmen traced her to her residence at Oba-Ile in Akure and abducted her. The kidnappers later demanded for N8 million, which was later reduced to N1 million after negotiations. The money was delivered to the kidnappers before she was released.
Two days after Oke‚Äôs kidnap, another woman was abducted at Ayedun quarters of Akure. The woman, Kehinde Olusanya, in her 50s, is the sister of the late Josiah Olusanya, the Asamo of Akure. As usual, the kidnappers demanded for ransom.
Still in Ondo, a 90-year-old man was kidnapped on 23 April. The nonagenarian, Musa Adisa, a former president of the state branch of Master Bakers Association of Nigeria, was said to be on his way to a mosque close to his house when he was kidnapped. Adisa was on his way to observe his early morning prayers at a mosque located about 20 metres from his 121, Isolo Street, Akure when he was abducted. A witness, a fellow worshipper at the mosque, said an armed gang pounced on Adisa, covered his mouth, pushed him into a parked red Toyota Camry and sped off.
The northern part of the country is not free of the scourge. Though Islamic insurgence and cases of abduction of foreigners have been rife in the North, the Islamic militants were not known to engage in abduction for ransom. But in recent times, several people have been kidnapped and ransom demanded to secure their release.
In April, the former chairman of Abadam Local Government Area of Borno, Mustapha Gadobe, was kidnapped and a N50 million demanded. He was kidnapped at a village near Galtimari, a Maiduguri suburb. The abductors laid ambush for him and took him in his Toyota FJ Cruiser. An undisclosed sum of money was paid to get him released.
On Friday 3 May, also in Maiduguri, a former Nigerian minister, Shettima Ali Monguno, 92, was kidnapped by gunmen as he left the mosque after Jumat prayers at Mafoni ward. Northern governors and leaders condemned the kidnap and called for his release, which was rebuffed by his abductors. The kidnappers later demanded for N50 million ransom to secure his release.
The Northern States Governors Forum, NSGF, described the kidnap of Monguno, Nigeria‚Äôs first Minister of Petroleum Resources, as sad; and called on the kidnappers to release him without delay. The Chairman of the Forum and Governor of Niger State, Babangida Aliyu said, ‚ÄúIt is totally unacceptable that elder statesmen who have served the nation selflessly would now become the target of kidnappers who are now on rampage across the country. It is bad enough that several innocent citizens have been killed by unknown gunmen in the troubled Borno State in recent times.‚Äù
He called on security agencies to act swiftly to trace and arrest those behind the abduction to serve as a deterrent to those who may want to target other elder statesmen, or any Nigerian for that matter. The kidnappers were said to have collected some money before releasing him.
In Lagos, the peaceful atmosphere was shattered on 24 January, when it was reported that a two-year-old boy, Emmanuel Alonge, was kidnapped on his way to school at Ifako-Ijaiye area. The boy was being driven to school in his father‚Äôs car when gunmen attacked them and kidnapped the boy. They initially demanded for N150 million but later cut it to N5 million, which was paid to them before the boy was released.
The driver of the car conveying the boy to school was nabbed by the police after he gave conflicting accounts of how the boy was kidnapped. His initial story was that the kidnappers forced him to stop the Lexus X470 he was driving by hitting the front windshield with stones, which the police discovered was not an accurate account of the incident. He was also said to have told the police that the kidnappers escaped through Sango, in Ogun State whereas they headed toward Ikorodu in Lagos.
Emmanuel‚Äôs kidnap appears to have opened the wave of kidnapping that has swept through the Lagos metropolis in the last three months.
On 23 March, a British national was kidnapped on Victoria Island and was not released until 27 March. The US Consular-General in Lagos, Jeffrey Hawkins, on 26 March said that an expatriate was kidnapped in Lagos, and warned its citizens in the country to be cautious.
The most celebrated case in the state occurred on 16 April, when the Chairman, Ejigbo Local Council Development Area, LCDA, Kehinde Bamigbetan, was kidnapped by gunmen while on his way to his house after the day‚Äôs work. Bamigbetan was seized by unidentified gunmen at about 11p.m. along with his driver, Abiodun Olayiwola.
Olayiwola, who managed to escape with bruises all over his body, said they were ambushed by four gunmen. He said immediately he saw them, he pulled up and put the SUV in reverse gear, adding that they would have escaped the gunmen if the road was good. ‚ÄúWhen I saw them, I put the SUV in reverse gear. They gave us a hot chase and started shooting in the air.
‚ÄúThey would not have succeeded in kidnapping him if the road was good. I tried my best to ensure that we escaped but I was not seeing properly because it was very dark. The SUV was eventually halted by an electric pole and we could not proceed further. I managed to squeeze myself out of the badly damaged vehicle and escaped. I don‚Äôt know the kind of vehicle they came with and I could not recognise them because it was very dark,‚Äù he said.
The kidnappers, suspected to be graduates, first demanded for N158 million ($1 million). The chairman was released after N15 million ransom was paid to the kidnappers who took him to their hide-out in Badagry. His kidnap visibly jolted the state government, the police and residents, who felt that if a council chairman could be kidnapped in such an easy manner, nobody in the state was safe.
Few days after Bamigbetan‚Äôs release, a female head of an insurance company based in Lagos and in her forties, was abducted a few metres from her home in the high-brow Magodo area of Lagos while on her way to work. The abductors, according to sources close to the woman, overtook her vehicle in a dangerous manner moments after she left home and forced her to stop. The woman was carried out from her car and dumped into the kidnappers‚Äô SUV. They then zoomed off, leaving the woman‚Äôs driver and her car. They demanded for N30 million to secure her release. It was not certain how much was paid as ransom.
On 19 April, Olufolabi Adeniji, a 16-year-old student of American International School, Lagos, was kidnapped. Another lady, Nnena Edu, was kidnapped in front of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Sabo, Yaba within the same week Bamigbetan was kidnapped.
Despite these, the Lagos State Police Commissioner, Umar Manko, said: ‚ÄúWhile I agree that there are few cases of kidnapping in recent times, I don‚Äôt believe they are on the rampage. When we face challenges, we find a way to tackle them. We have gone after the kidnappers in the state and we have started recording progress.‚Äù
Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer, Ngozi Braide, said the command is doing everything possible to nip kidnapping in the bud. She stated that kidnapping is a new development in Lagos and ‚Äúwe are doing everything to stop it. For example, we have started sensitisation of our officers in Lagos to alert them. Most times, kidnapped victims were threatened to remain silent even at police stop-and-search points. It requires a very intelligent officer to notice that some occupants in a car are kidnap victims, like the one we smashed at Badagry recently. The victim just sat in the car saying nothing because he was under threat but our careful officers were able to see through this ruse.
‚ÄúWe have also intensified our stop-and-search operations; although we realised that citizens complain, alleging police check-points are back but stop-and-search is different. People keep calling to complain that there are check-points but they are not. Stop-and-search is different and for the purpose of this new menace, we have intensified that. We have also put other checks in place and we can confidently say that kidnapping would soon become history in Lagos.‚Äù
As the case is, no part of the country is exempted from the menace. Kidnappers are on the prowl, lurking around to prey on hapless victims and experts are of the view that if nothing urgent is done to curb this dangerous trend, the nation could be in grave danger. Worried by the trend, state governors are devising methods to checkmate its spread in their domains, as the federal government appears too weak to salvage the situation.
In Delta State, the House of Assembly has passed a bill that stipulates death penalty for terrorists and kidnappers. The lawmakers unanimously voted for the bill to Prohibit Terrorism, Kidnapping, Hostage-taking and the Use of Bombs and Other Explosives and other Matters Connected Thereto. But Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, exercising his veto power refused assent to the bill. However, 26 of the 29 members have voted to override the Governor‚Äôs veto, which effectively makes the bill now a law in the state.
Similarly, Bayelsa State Governor, Seriake Dickson, has also approved death penalty for kidnappers in a bid to checkmate their activities. Other states are also tightening the noose on kidnappers. On 12 February, Dickson assented to the bill passed by the state House of Assembly, prescribing death sentence for the offence of kidnapping in the state. Tagged ‚ÄòBayelsa State Kidnapping and Allied Offences Bill 2013‚Äô, it empowers the governor to assent to the death warrant of any person or group of persons convicted for the act of kidnapping and other related offences in the state. Signing the bill into law, Dickson warned those involved in such act to steer clear of the state because he would not hesitate to sign their death warrant.
‚ÄúIf you are involved in any act of kidnapping, let me warn you today, don‚Äôt come near Bayelsa. We have put measures in place. I have commissioned 15 fast moving patrol boats for use by our security forces to ensure maritime security and safety. If you try that, whether it is sea-piracy or kidnapping, we are going to get you. We will make it difficult for you to succeed and whoever you are and wherever you are operating from, we are going to get you.
‚ÄúI am aware that the security agencies have made several arrests and most of the young men and women, who are involved in the recent kidnappings that took place are currently in custody. Any of them found guilty of the offence will be dealt with in accordance with the law. Today, with this bill having been signed into law, we have entered a new phase in terms of the provision of the legal framework that will support our fight against kidnapping and related offences.
‚ÄúIt is morally indefensible for young people, for whatever reason, to go under the cover of darkness, armed with illegal weapons, to terrorise villages and old people in their homes and then forcefully abduct and rough handle old people and take them as an article of trade,‚Äù he said.
In Lagos, a bill against terrorism and kidnapping is before the state House of Assembly. While the sponsors of the bill suggested between 10 and 20 years imprisonment for acts considered to have contravened the law when passed, others have argued in favour of the death penalty for convicted terrorists in the state. The bill has scaled the second reading on the floor of the House and will greatly help in checkmating activities of kidnappers in the state.
Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola said his administration is on top of the security situation in the state and that rather than being afraid, people should be vigilant, stressing that kidnapping constitutes a new form of challenge which has come upon the society and could not be confronted with the same methods used for other crimes.
Also, Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, inaugurating an anti-kidnapping squad to wage war against kidnappers in the state, declared zero tolerance for kidnapping, which is rampant in the South-south.
The Anambra State government is also is putting machinery in motion to tackle the menace through stiffer penalty for offenders. It has sent a bill to the House of Assembly to amend the state Criminal Code Law.
Under the proposed law, entitled: ‚ÄúCriminal Code Amendment Bill 2012‚Äù, the government seeks to empower the State Security Council to confiscate, seal and demolish any property or building identified to be used for kidnapping. The bill has scaled the first reading.
At the national level, the Senate has passed the Anti-Terrorism bill stipulating death sentence for terrorists whose acts resulted in the death of Nigerians. President Goodluck Jonathan had sent three reminders to the National Assembly urging them to pass the bill, which was introduced by the late President Umaru Yar‚ÄôAdua in 2010.
The bill proposes a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment or death penalty if there is a loss of life in any terrorist act. It also outlaws actions of individuals or groups that can be likened to terrorism, including kidnapping, oil bunkering, piracy and airplane hijack.
One thing is certain: kidnappers operate in an organised fashion. With the way they carry out their operations, it can be deduced that many of them are well educated.
According to Bamigbetan, his captors were graduates who left school several years ago without employment. ‚ÄúThe whole agitation was that they were graduates without employment. They graduated about six years ago with no employment and they have to do this, take the risk. They have to take part of the national cake,‚Äù he explained.
He said his captors claimed somebody had paid for his life, saying that they explained that many graduates were roaming the streets without jobs and that as long as those in power did not provide jobs for them, the government should be held responsible. If this is the case, it then means that several unemployed graduates employ their knowledge to carry out well-crafted kidnapping acts, and evade arrest.
Investigation has revealed that many connive with close aides of their victims, such as drivers, cooks, house helps, among others. For instance, the kidnap of Professor Okonjo was made possible through a palace aide, Chiejine Onochie, who crafted how she could be kidnapped.
According to Governor Fashola, some of the kidnapping incidents resulted largely from information provided by insiders to criminals through relations, friends and domestic staff, urging everyone to take it as a point of duty to be very vigilant and be the first policeman in their individual houses, as it is practically impossible to post policemen to every household.
‚ÄúPart of the question that should be agitating the mind of anyone is, How did you get that domestic staff? Does he or she have a reference or a referee? Who is the surety? We cannot afford to live in those laissez-faire times anymore where we ask people to just bring house helps for us. Because even if Lagos is safe, it does not mean you should go to bed at night without locking your doors,‚Äù he warned.
Backing Fashola, Manko said residents must also be cautious while discussing their businesses or talking to their business partners because what the police and security agencies discovered was that most of the kidnapping businesses were organised by associates and relations.¬† ‚ÄúWe have had these situations whereby relatives of these victims organised these crimes, trying to make money out of it. So, people must be wary of their business environment and partners and domestic staff, even their relations.
‚ÄúKidnapping has become attractive to criminals as an easy way of making money, after the state security curtailed robbery. Lagosians should ensure that once a victim is kidnapped, the family should let the police or security agencies know and they should desist from rushing to pay ransom on the victims. Ransom payment encourages the crime. We have noticed that in cases where we have quick information, victims of kidnapping are rescued without the family paying anything,‚Äù he explained.
Mr. Ade Ipaye, Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, said the incidence of kidnapping in the state was being exaggerated, advising residents of the state not to panic but to be security conscious at all times.
‚ÄúFrom investigations conducted thus far, it is clear that the problem is considerably exaggerated. There is a need for caution but no cause for alarm. Let us all be security conscious and make sure that we know the people that are around us all the time. These include our drivers, maids, cooks and even relatives. Most of the cases so far investigated were instigated by someone well known to the victim,‚Äù he said.
He also advised relatives of kidnapped victims to report promptly to the police, instead of paying ransom to the kidnappers, stressing that: ‚ÄúIf we quickly pay ransom to kidnappers, we will be encouraging the crime and at the same time funding the acquisition of firearms, drugs and other such things. I want to assure the public that Lagos State is one place where kidnappers are actually being arrested. We are giving the Police and all other security agencies full support and this is yielding results. The first set of persons accused of kidnapping will be charged to court on 16 May and I will be there personally to lead the prosecution team.‚Äù
To nip kidnapping in the bud, security agencies have come up with useful tips in this regard. For example, the Lagos State Security Trust Fund, LSSTF, came out with kidnapping security tips, such as keeping emergency numbers on one‚Äôs phone; not giving away any personal information such as phone numbers and home address, especially on social networking websites or to persons unknown to one; and watching what and where to speak, especially on phone.
Others are: being alert to suspicious and unusual behaviour happening around one; being discreet in philanthropic gesture as this could make one a target; not discussing financial matters in open places, including cars or within the hearing of domestic staff; avoiding huge cash transaction; not leaving one‚Äôs children in a car unattended, particularly while shopping, refuelling or on social outing; avoiding going out alone and installing CCTV in school surroundings to monitor activities in and around the premises, especially at opening and closing times.
Other security tips on kidnapping released by the police include: avoiding late outings; varying your route to work or leisure locations; always pre-plan your journey and ensure the vehicle is in good working condition; do not give ride to strangers; stick to main roads and avoid lonely routes; discourage children from talking to, or receiving gifts from strangers, it could be bait for kidnap; always let close family members know where you are going and when you would likely return; avoid keeping all the kids in one vehicle with you at all times and always remember that your security is your personal responsibility and in an emergency, call Lagos State Emergency Response 767 or Police Control Room: 08035068243, 07035068242, 08073777717, 08073777787.
Observers are of the view that the allure of kidnapping will not abate unless pragmatic solutions are adopted by government at all levels to curtail its spread. Such solutions, they say, should be to tackle the pang of unemployment confronting the nation. Many are of the view that as long as unemployment persists, adopting tips and beefing up security will not stop the attraction for kidnapping.
In a nation where good governance is lacking, observers aver that kidnappers would continue to reign as long as nothing is being done to remedy the situation. According to them, good governance would certainly usher in employment that will take the hands of unemployed youths off kidnapping.
The convener of the Forum for Justice and Human Rights Defence, Mr. Oghenejabor Ikimi, said: ‚ÄúPassing death sentence on kidnappers is not the solution to kidnapping,‚Äù adding that the only solution to kidnapping and other violent crimes is good governance. ‚ÄúThe Firearms and Armed Robbery Act prescribes death penalty for armed robbery, but since the first person was executed in the 70s, armed robbery has continued to increase,‚Äù he said.
According to Comrade Eneruvie Enakoko, a rights activist based in Lagos, to stop kidnapping, government at all levels must take concrete end effective measures to eradicate deplorable conditions such as poverty, unemployment, lack of an enabling environment and weak infrastructure that encourage societal ills.
‚ÄúWe call on Nigerians in all walks of life, as the days and months unfold, not only to look out for themselves but to look for one another, and be more careful, alert and extra security-conscious, for in a nation like Nigeria as it is currently structured, it is perhaps wiser to create your own government around you and your family, friends and loved ones,‚Äù Enakoko advised.
Security Tips Against Kidnapping
‚ô£ Keep emergency numbers with you at all times. You can create speed dial numbers in your mobile phone just in case you find yourself in a very compromising situation.
‚ô£ Do not give away any personal information such as our phone numbers and home address, especially on social networking websites or to persons unknown to you.
‚ô£ Watch what and where you speak, especially on the phone. A lot of people have no sense of security while speaking, and could end up bragging yourself into being kidnapped and asked to pay a ransom.
‚ô£ Be alert to suspicious and unusual behaviour around you.
‚ô£ Be discrete in your philanthropic gestures as this could make you a target.
‚ô£ Do not discuss financial matters in open places and not even in the car or within the hearing of your domestic staff.
‚ô£ Do not leave your children in a car unattended, particularly while shopping, refueling or on social outings.
‚ô£ Avoid going out alone
‚ô£ Schools should install CCTV in the school surroundings to monitor activities in and around the premises especially at opening and closing times.