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Knocks, cheers over plan to criminalise ransom payment

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Senate

Constituents Knock Bill Sponsor
• ‘It Will Endanger Lives Of Victims’
• Gumi, Sani Others Urge NASS To Drop Bill
• Eya Hails Move

Mixed reactions have continued to trail the proposed Bill before the Senate that makes payers of ransom to kidnappers guilty of a felony and liable to 15 years in jail, with some Nigerians, including victims, relatives and lawyers, kicking against it. However, others commended the move, insisting it would help in curbing the menace.

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The Terrorism Prevention (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which scaled Second Reading during plenary, is sponsored by Senator Ezenwa Francis Onyewuchi, representing Imo West senatorial zone.

The Bill essentially seeks to substitute Section 14 of the Principal Act to read: “Anyone who transfers funds, makes payment or colludes with an abductor, kidnapper or terrorist to receive any ransom for the release of any person who has been wrongfully confined, imprisoned or kidnapped, is guilty of a felony and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment of not less than 15 years.”

While attributing the rising cases of kidnapping in the country to corruption, unemployment, poverty and the connivance of security agents, Onyewuchi contended: “Our unemployed youths are also turning out to kidnapping to get money (ransom) as a survival strategy.”

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He advised: “The continuous payment of ransom must not be encouraged. In addition, the government should provide adequate security and strengthen the economy. It should, as a matter of urgency, accelerate its poverty alleviation programmes, provide employment opportunities targeting youths, who are mostly involved in abductions and kidnappings, strengthen our law enforcement agencies and provide the necessary support to end the menace of kidnapping.”

But some Nigerians, including victims, their relatives, and even constituents of the sponsor, have expressed misgivings over the proposal, calling for his recall, for not going for real issues that would address the security problem in the country.

Islamic scholar, Sheikh Ahmad Abubakar Gumi, civil rights activist, senator Shehu Sani, and others have condemned the Bill, urging the lawmakers to drop the proposal and rather work on one that would compel the federal and state governments to provide maximum security to Nigerian citizens under the present security challenges.

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Gumi told The Guardian: “Let me tell you the truth, the same people who are working on the Bill will be the first to pay the ransom if they are kidnapped or any of their relations fall, victim.”

He said the government should look into ways of solving the current security problems in Nigeria, instead of compounding the problems of citizens, adding: “My advice is that government should be proactive and solve this security challenges and kidnapping and not add to the problems facing ordinary Nigerians.

“Instead of criminalising those paying ransom, they should find a way to stop this menace.”

Sani, who represented Kaduna Central Zone in the 8th NASS, vehemently opposed the Bill, saying: “First of all, there is an argument whether kidnapping is a state or federal offence, because many states have come out with laws against it, with some laws prescribing life imprisonment, 25 years and so on.

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“You can see that there is a lack of coordination between the states and federal lawmakers, as far as the law against kidnapping is concerned.

“The law should have emphasised those who received the ransom, and not just those who give ransom or those soliciting for ransom because if you emphasised on those who give ransom alone, you will not be solving the problem.”

He added: “What the Senate should do is think of a strong law criminalising security agents for cooperating or cohabiting with Kidnappers. What you need to understand is that a law can only work if there is respect for rule of law. When you don’t have respect for rule of law, the law cannot work.

“Whoever finds his own loved ones in the hands of kidnappers, the alternative will be for him to pay the ransom and spend 15 years in prison or refuse to pay the ransom and pay the ultimate price.

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“Kidnapping is a criminal offence and you cannot use one criminal offence to tackle another criminal offence. If you cannot stop kidnapping, you cannot stop people from setting free their loved ones from the hands of kidnappers and bandits, unless you want to endanger the lives of the victims.”

The rights activist, however, urged the government to protect the lives of its citizens and not endanger them further, noting: “It is not just coming up with such Bill; it is about enforcement of existing laws.

“Security agents must use human intelligence and technology to track kidnappers. We cannot understand how a country like this is taken over by bandits, terrorists and other criminals under our watch.”

Chairman of the Parents Forum of the recently released students of Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation in Afaka, Kaduna State, Abdullahi Usman, urged the National Assembly to immediately drop the Bill, saying: “It will not work. The senators should have brought out a Bill that will force the Federal Government to provide adequate security for citizens, instead of a bill prescribing 15 years imprisonment for anyone that pays ransom to kidnappers to free family members.

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“How can you prohibit me from paying the ransom when the life of my child is at stake and he/she is with kidnappers? It is not possible!

“We pray that one day, kidnappers will kidnap any family member of those in the Senate so that they can also pass through what we went through and see whether they will pay the ransom or not.”

Usman lamented that passing the Bill would endanger the lives of ordinary Nigerians in the hands of bandits or Kidnappers; hence should be dropped, while the federal government is compelled to provide a solution to these security problems.

Another victim, a musician from Onyewuchi’s constituency, Ugo Stevenson, described it as “a waste of time,” adding: “It shouldn’t have come up. I have been a victim. The main thing is stopping kidnapping; the thing should be creating a law to stop it. There is no point in creating a law that we cannot implement. The best thing is to know why people go into kidnapping and prevent it.”

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For Chief Jude Ugbaja, a social commentator, the Bill is “dead on arrival.”

Ugbaja, a former special adviser to a former governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha, said preventive measures should have been adopted by governments at all levels, rather than presenting such a Bill.

He stressed: “Do you expect one who has his loved one in captivity not to pay such ransom and get him or her free? The Bill will not see the light of the day.”

Coordinator of Concerned Citizens for Good Governance, Duru Daniels, also kicked against the Bill, urging the people to show Onyewuchi that they have rejected his proposal.

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For Tony Ekwerike: “Payment of ransom is a self-help that cannot be stopped,” saying it makes people not to approach the Police in such circumstance, but negotiate secretly.

An Owerri-based legal practitioner, Ifeanyi Thomas Olumba, wondered why the sponsor would propose such a Bill when there is a legion of problems in his constituency begging for attention.

He advised the senator to quickly withdraw it and go for what will impact the lives of his constituents, such as empowerment and creation of jobs, among others.

HOWEVER, former secretary-general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nduka Eya, told The Guardian in Enugu that the Bill would help reduce the spate of abduction for ransom in Nigeria, insisting that many Nigerians are going into kidnapping because it had become a money-yielding venture.

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Eya, however, stressed that the loss of confidence in the security provided by government makes people willingly negotiate to pay ransom to secure the release of their relatives, adding that for the Bill to work and benefit Nigerians, government must strengthen institutions, provide employment, address poverty and be ready to provide adequate security of lives and property.

Eya, who was a victim himself, added: “Once you pay ransom to a bandit, you are encouraging him to go for more people and make more money. It is a good Bill, but there should be a Plan B to it, which is: How do you secure the people? How do you ensure the safety of any victim?

“No parent would want to subject his child or relative to the pain and trauma of being in captivity with people, who punish him or her at will. They employ all manner of tactics to make the victim’s relative pay ransom, including starving their victim, inflicting injuries and pains on them, torture and what have you.”

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“I was a victim of kidnap arranged by my driver, who thought there was money. For three days, I was kept in captivity and they were demanding N15million. I couldn’t afford N15million, but the state government intensified their search and mobilised efforts to ensure that I was rescued without payment of any ransom.

“That is for me, probably because of the kind of governor we have here. In other places, you could be ignored. Those who are paying ransom are not happy doing so; they are denying themselves so much comfort to do so.”

“All I am saying is that when we do the right thing, the law will work for us, but not when it is passed and we treat it like several other laws we have in Nigeria that have refused to work.

“We should, as much as possible, address the factors that are fuelling kidnap in the country and these include poverty, hunger, lack of employment, greed, etc, but the important thing is to know government efforts to address the gaps.”

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Eya, who lamented the negative image kidnapping had created for the country, stated that it was sad that communities now contribute money and pay to bandits to enable them to go to their farms.

“That is the height of what anybody can suffer in his environment. You contribute money and pay bandits so that they will not kidnap you? So, what are our law enforcement agents doing?

“People contribute because they wanted safety. So, when the situation is reduced to that level, I do not know what such law will address again,” he added.

Rights activist, Jerry Ohabuenyi, doubted the workability of the proposal, saying: “those that will enforce it may be part of those organising the kidnap. It is good, we try to find solutions to the ugly trend, but the government must begin by being responsible enough for the yearnings of the people.

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“Should such law become effective, Nigerians would no longer want the kidnap of their relatives to become public knowledge; they would no longer want the public to know that ransom was paid.

“These people would kidnap and tell you not to involve the Police and when that is not kept, you are putting the life of the victim in danger. It is going to be difficult to implement, but if we have improved security, it can work.”

PERHAPS the kidnap in Kwara State of Oluwashola Ojo Olokose, a staff of the department of NHIS of University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital (UITH) a few days to his wedding, with the abductors demanding N3million ransom, shows the futility of payment of ransom, sometimes. 

As family members and friends were making frantic efforts to pay the money, news of his death came to them and expectedly caused unpleasant moments for them. Even at death, his body was dismembered, as the abductors took his head, wrists and breasts away.

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According to Dele Olokose, his elder brother: “If you look at my brother’s case, it went beyond the issue of kidnapping. Even though the matter is being investigated at present, we keep on pondering on the reason for his cold murder and removal of all his vital parts.

“We have since accepted it as our fate, but we as a family, we believed the state and federal governments should rejig the security network as a matter of priority, rather than talking of amendments of any existing law on kidnapping.”

A relative of one of a farm manager kidnapped on in Asa Local Council criticised intelligence units of all the country’s security networks, attributing the surge in kidnapping cases across Nigeria to their ineffectiveness.

He declined to disclose whether ransom was paid before the eventual release of his uncle, a veterinary doctor, saying: “Nigeria, as it is today, looks like in nation at war. When war is ongoing, you need more weapons and effective intelligence gathering technique to prevail and not legislation.”

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IN Oyo State, victims, friends and family members chided the National Assembly on the proposal, with a lecturer and victim, Dr. Tunde Amusat, saying the Bill is dead on arrival.

Speaking from his experience, the Ibadan-based don said two people were killed in his presence when he was in captivity, insisting: “This Bill has passed through the Second Reading does not mean it is not going to be shut down.

“It shows the mindset of the people that we have at the hallowed chamber, to the extent that you need to ask yourself when last did any of these people visit their constituents. The whole of this country is at the mercy of these bandits.

“In the past, they used to harass, kill and maim children of the downtrodden. I think they have taken the battle to the elite; call it an extension of elite conspiracy theory. Anybody, whether you are a kidnapped victim or parents or friends of the victim, you don’t have any alternative than to negotiate with these bandits. 

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“No option, from my own experience should be off the table. Let me refer you to El-Rufai, who said anyone who paid ransom to kidnappers would be prosecuted. What arrant nonsense! It just shows the minds of the people that are superintending over our lives. Even in saner climes, they negotiate with bandits.”

“I was a victim. Two people were slaughtered in my presence. That ransom is even paid to these men of the underworld does not guarantee that the victim will be released alive. Things cannot go on like this. 

“For decades, we lived in denial and played the ostrich. The truth is that there is no state security apparatus that has the monopoly of the instrument of violence. The superior firepower is tilted towards the men of the underworld. Who are the people sponsoring them? Enough is enough; we cannot continue like this.”

An analyst at a popular radio station in Ibadan, who was once a victim, explained how the kidnappers opete: “Abductors work on the psychology of fear, so they allow a minimum of 48 to 72 hours before any contact is established with victim’s relatives.

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“If victim’s relations stick with the Police, they are almost always persuaded not to speak directly with the kidnappers. All sorts of weird reasons are given for this. As soon as a report is made to the Police, a  ‘mobilisation’ fee must be paid by the reporting family, ranging from N100, 000 to N750, 000, depending on what is considered the capacity for the paying family.

“The kidnappers always have a cache of arms and ammunition at their disposal. When all these protocols have been established and contact has been made between kidnappers and the victim’s relatives, then negotiation begins after a ransom is demanded.

“Threats and actual physical abuse could be utilised to traumatise victims into convincing their relatives to look for money anyhow. Sometimes, relatives are called to send airtime. Most families will fall into their trap at this point. It is a test to see how desperate and comfortable they are.
They could ask for N5, 000 airtime. 

“When the ransom sum has been agreed on, if the victim has been surveyed before the abduction, the abductors may ask for a particular vehicle and person to deliver it.”

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She, however, imagined that the Bill is being misunderstood, saying it is not targeted at kidnap victims, but rather at those who have become professional negotiators.

She explained: “Over the years, a crop of professionals from the security agencies have become go-between relatives of kidnap victims and their abductors. When a person is kidnapped, the family makes a report to the Police and they are assigned to an officer. In my case, we also used the DSS.”

Also speaking, a Lecturer of Criminology and Security Studies at Lead City University, Ibadan, Oladayo Folarin Ayoola, said the Bill is not a citizen-conscious approach to the state of affairs. 

“The legislative arm, once again, is placing the cart before the horse. The paramount issue plaguing the country is that of insecurity. The National Assembly should formulate strategic security solutions in beefing up security within the federation.

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“Insecurity, and indeed, kidnapping, is at an all-time high. When the issue of security is adequately tackled, naturally the citizenry would repose trust in the security operatives to retrieve their loved ones without the payment of ransom should kidnapping occur. The lawmakers should focus efforts at tightening security within the country first. 

‘’The Bill cannot be said to be workable or pragmatic. The citizens have little or no trust in security operatives and as such, are more likely to pay ransom and risk imprisonment rather than fold their arms and do nothing. 

“The kidnappers prey on the emotions of relatives and loved ones to extort huge ransom and as such, the law would hold little or no water in this case. 

“I think the proposed law endangers the victim of kidnappings more, as the abductors would be emboldened and inflict more punishments on their abductees, knowing fully well that our security agents have little or no competence in securing the release of their loved ones.”

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He continued: “In my opinion, this law will not have any positive impact on the state of kidnappings in the country, as security agents still do not have the requisite tools to combat the menace 

“The only way for the government to tackle this menace is stated police. Devolution of power to the states to inaugurate their own Police is the only solution in sight. The federal policing has shown its limits and the National Assembly need to react and amend the Police Act to give states the authority to fashion out their own force according to the peculiarities and unique challenges they face. I

“It is only then that the country can have some sort of reprieve from the scourge of kidnappers and insecurity in general.”

A public affairs analyst, Mr. Jare Ajayi, whose comrade was once abducted, said the Bill to criminalise payment of ransom for kidnap victims is symptomatic of the way our ‘leaders,’ nay politicians in Nigeria, tackle serious problems, adding: “They go for the symptoms rather than the root cause of the problem.

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“Who in the world would willingly and happily pay ransom to save the lives of their kidnapped relations, workers or associates? Money for such is usually raised under duress and paid with pain in the heart.

“For anyone to want to jail those who suffered that much is not only inhuman but also patently wicked. I am tempted to say that our lawmakers resorted to enacting such a law because they are totally bereft of how to realistically and effectively solve the kidnapping problem.”

He said the proposal would not stop any problem and must not be allowed to see the light of the day, saying: “If they must be told, what they are proposing can never solve the problem of kidnapping.

“They propose jail term for giver and receiver of such a ransom. If they have the wherewithal to apprehend the taker, why don’t they prevent him from engaging in what led him to take the ransom to free a kidnap victim? This particular Bill, far above many others, exposes the emptiness of many of our legislators. It should never see the light of the day.

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“I don’t want to be misunderstood, though. I am not saying that paying such a ransom is okay and should be allowed, what I am saying is that the root causes of kidnapping are what the lawmakers should tackle. How can you tell someone not to employ any means possible to rescue his or her person who is in serious danger?

“Nigerian politicians often behave as if what they are dealing with is not the same reality that the rest of us see very clearly. Too bad, indeed!”

IN Calabar, relatives of victims called on the National Assembly to enact a law that would also prosecute security agencies that did not immediately respond to kidnap cases, as well as death by firing squared against convicted kidnappers.

A relative of a victim, who had been kidnapped twice in Calabar, Mr. Oko Amaka, said the Bill has a good intention, but enough security measured must be put in place for it to work in Nigeria, insisting that no relative would watch his or her loved one kidnapped for days and sit down and do nothing while security agencies are not doing enough to secure the release of the victim.    

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He stated: “The Bill has good intentions to ensure that people will not be paying the ransom if you fall a victim, but before you come up with such a Bill, you have to put in enough security measures to protect the citizenry.

“Two, you need to put up a lot of enlightenment of citizens on the do and don’ts of kidnapping, and again, you cannot tell a victim or relatives not to negotiate with kidnappers to save the lives of their relations who have been in captivity for some days or hours when the security agencies are not helping matters.

“My take is that the National Assembly should also make propose a Bill that any security agency that refuses to act immediately, if a case of kidnapping is reported, should be tried and dismissed.”

Amaka who lamented security agencies delay in rescue missions, accused them of collecting money to even fuel their cars before swinging into action, contending that such Bill, if passed without borrowing a leaf from the Western world on the use of technology to tract down kidnappers, could make many people commit suicide.  

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“Except they have agreed that when you report to the nearest Police station or security agency, they will immediately go after the kidnappers and get the victims out; hence there will be no need for ransom. But when you report to security agencies, they will even ask you to bring money for tracking, transport, to register the case, etc.

“I cannot report to a Police station, one day, two days, as the case may be and they are not responding and you tell the relatives not to pay ransom to get their loved ones from the kidnapper’s den. This thing has to do with life and death

“Unless the National Assembly wants to build enough hospitals or mortuaries where they will drop the victims after their abductors must have killed them. They should be ready to have a lot of mad people on the street because relatives will go mad if their loved ones are killed since they did not allow them to pay the ransom and the Police are not going after the kidnappers and you expect the person to sit in his house and sleep well?

“The person will just commit suicide. There will be more suicide cases if they pass that bill, because if my relative is kidnapped and you don’t get the person out, the next thing is, I will commit suicide because there is nothing to stay alive to do.

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“I don’t think we have the Bill to see what will be the punishment for security agencies that refuse to do the needful to secure the release of the victims, because sometimes when you informed them, they go back and give the kidnappers information.

A lawyer, Mr. Chukwuemeka Nwuli, of the Ikeja Branch of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) said the Bill could be seen to blame victims for their “natural human survival reactions,” adding that government could be misconstrued to be punishing the victim’s family, even when that might be their only means of getting their kidnapped family member back.

Nwuli urged the Senate to look into Bills that would fight kidnapping from a security point rather than introducing laws that would cause more pains on victims’ family.

Technology law expert, Mr. Nnamabia Charles, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN): “Do you seat back and do nothing while your loved one is held up and tortured or do you simply meet the demands of the kidnappers and secure the release of your loved one?

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“The position of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) mandates the government to secure lives and properties, but going a step further by imprisoning those who pay for the release of their loved one is simply over-reacting.

“Government should rather deploy resources to curb the terrorist activities and vigorously combat insurgency in Nigeria as a whole. It will be safe to suggest that this Bill is not in the best interest of Nigerians.”

But another lawyer, Miss Ngozi Godson, said: “This proposed law will put an end to kidnapping or at least slow the pace. Once those criminals realise that nobody is paying anymore, they will stop. These are desperate measures to better our country.

“I will cautiously compare the Bill to the 14 years imprisonment imposed on receiving stolen property under Section 328 of the 2015 Criminal Laws of Lagos State.”

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