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On kidnapping: Breaking the silence of the lambs

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A few weeks ago someone I know got kidnapped and was released after about a week and paid nearly N10m in ransom.

One hears about these things but I never think too deeply about them. But this one made me wonder to myself – what if you don’t have the money to pay? So I took the question to the place I go when I am seeking answers – social media. 

The replies I received completely shocked me. What began as people telling me that you will have to find the money some way, somehow quickly turned into something like a therapy session. People began to talk about how much they paid when someone they know or a member of their family was kidnapped. They talked about what the experience was like and how the ransom was dropped off and how the person was finally released.

The responses went on for two days and in the process, I found out that three of my friends had suffered through the agony of having one of their loved ones kidnapped and how they had raised the money to pay. 

One of the most harrowing was a young man who said his wife was kidnapped at a time when he had only about N200k to his name. Friends and family came to his rescue and they were able to raise a few million to free her.

Another man was on a work assignment when he was kidnapped. The company refused to pay saying it was against their policy (as callous as it sounds, there are good reasons why a company might do this). His wife and family managed to raise the money to get him freed. When he was released, he found out some of the money had been borrowed so he assumed the debt and began paying it off.

More than one person mentioned that they knew bankers who had been kidnapped and the bank paid off the ransom. Upon resuming to work, however, the ransom payment was immediately converted to a staff loan for the affected staff. One man had managed to convince the kidnapper to accept around N2m. Then an alert came on his phone. The kidnappers promptly increased his ransom to N10m. 

It has gotten to the point where you do not need to ask more than one person to get a story about kidnapping now. Over the years, like any other Nigerian problem left unaddressed, it has taken on a life of its own to the point where it has now visited almost every home or family in one way or the other. So my next question was –
given how pervasive kidnapping now is, why are people silent about it? As I said, I only got to know about three of my friends who have experienced kidnapping in some form from their responses to my question. It’s just not something people are willing to talk about except in special circumstances. So why?

The first obvious answer is as a friend of mine put it – kidnapping is not like chickenpox that you get only once. You can be kidnapped again thus, discretion is the better part of valour. But there are other reasons, too. People don’t want to disclose how much they were able to raise to pay off kidnappers as that might expose them to further unwanted problems. Where women have been kidnap victims, who know what horrific crimes may have been committed against them while in captivity? In general, the trauma is not something that people want to remember and so they file it away somewhere deep in the recesses of their memory. 

All of these work in favour of the kidnappers. People do not share experiences because they are not things they want to talk about.

As such, everyone suffers alone and in silence. The best thing is of course not to get kidnapped at all and for that only an improvement in the security situation in the country can help. But people who have been victims might have useful and valuable insights to share with other people to at least ensure that the kidnappers don’t have their way completely.

What should you do to your phone if you are a victim? Should you throw it away or find a way to disable text messages? Maybe, maybe not. Only information can help. Alas, the kidnappers continue to lead Nigerians like lambs to slaughter in silence.

But even worse is that the silence allows the government to pretend that there is no problem or the problem is not as bad as it actually is. This also serves no one but the kidnapper’s interests. Yet the problem is there and people are suffering. A frightening amount of money is also regularly changing hands in a way that ensures kidnapping will only continue and get worse as more chancers decide to try their luck at being kidnappers for ransom. Unless and until something is done.

But the first step is for us to find ways of breaking the painful silence.


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