Now that train abductees have been released
The release of 23 remaining abductees of the Abuja-Kaduna train attack, after a guided operation by the Federal Government certainly provided immense relief for the traumatised families, as well as millions of Nigerians who shared their agony.
Sadly, however, the euphoria of that release is fast melting into the reality that kidnapping for ransom has become perhaps the biggest criminal industry in the country. More despairing is that there is no indication of any official intent to end the vice any time soon. If anything, the surreptitious manner in which the government secured the release of the last 23 points to strengthening and empowerment of the kidnappers.
The government can hardly deny that money changed hands before the release of the abductees. In any event, the kidnappers were known to have garnered about N2 billion from the piecemeal release of more than 50 abductees before the last 23. And the government is yet to convince Nigerians that some Boko Haram detainees were not exchanged for the 23 hapless citizens. What cannot be disputed is that kidnappers are gaining strength, particularly in the South West and South East parts of Nigeria, and in some ways, expanding the kidnapping business.
The release of the remaining 23 abductees became a reality through the effort of the Federal Government, in particular, the Nigerian military under the leadership of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General L E O Irabor, who conceived and guided the operation.
The military was assisted by sister security agencies and the Federal Ministry of Transportation. Coming after eight months of captivity, the feat is late but laudable, considering that the kidnappers could have decided to keep their captives for whatever reasons. Kidnapping is certainly on the rise and it seems nobody is safe anywhere in the country.
Current incidents of kidnapping include that of a former Deputy Vice-Chancellor, of the University of Ibadan, Professor Adigun Agbaje and two students of the Moshood Abiola Polytechnic, Abeokuta, Ogun State who were among those kidnapped along the Lagos-Ibadan highway. Shortly after the incident, their kidnappers made contact with the families, demanding N50 million ransom on Agbaje and N10 million on each of the students.
Professor Adigun Agbaje was released by the kidnappers after spending two nights in the thick forests of Ogun and Oyo. He stated in a personal note of appreciation circulating on social media stated that ‘‘my mind goes to the five others who have still left with the kidnappers: two young ladies, two young men and a middle-aged person. I was shot in the head during the abduction process. I thank God that the bullet that went through my car’s windscreen left only a skin-deep wound on my head even though it left a gaping hole in the cap I was wearing.’’
Obviously, kidnapping in the country, which started as a low-level insurgency about 12 years ago is now a ‘multibillion naira industry’; While citizens are puzzled at the expansion of the ‘industry’ and the brazen impunity of the perpetrators, it is clear that lack of arrest of key suspects; lack of diligent investigation, prosecution and punishment of the perpetrators, have been combining to make the industry ‘thrive’ to the detriment of the Nigerian economy and citizens.
Government should be worried that insecurity is now a critical variable in the underdevelopment of Nigeria. For instance, since the ill-fated Kaduna-Abuja bound train attack in February, the train has not been working leading to a loss of revenue. On the part of the citizens, they have been paying ransom to kidnappers and bandits. Similarly, the ‘thriving’ industry may have a negative impact on the nation’s food security because farmers are no longer safe in their farms because of abduction, killing and morbidity occasioned by kidnapping and banditry. In consequence, many people are opting out of farming.
In some instances, citizens have resolved to organise and protect themselves and secure their communities and farmlands. However, that option may end up creating fresh problems; if it is not properly handled, it may heighten insecurity as it may lead to jungle justice and anarchy once the centre cannot hold. Again, while kidnapping is ‘thriving’, the economy and the citizens are at the receiving end! With increasing budgets being demanded to combat kidnapping and banditry, sectors like education and health can only have fewer funds to operate and this is sad.
As ‘mindboggling’ ransom is being paid to kidnappers which are further impoverishing Nigerians, the government needs to ask itself if it is fighting terrorism or reinforcing and encouraging it. Keeping mum over ransoms paid, or possible swap deals will not help the country unless kidnappers and bandits are brought to book. Importantly, now that train service on the Abuja-Kaduna route will soon resume, the government needs to convince Nigerians that the service and their lives are safe; and that they won’t end up in kidnappers’ dens as happened to their preceding commuters.
There are reports that sometimes, the abductors come to GSM-enabled locations to make calls for citizens to pay ransom for the release of their abducted family members; and also remind the government to come and negotiate and rescue their citizens yet the government cannot track them and bring them to account. Thus, if the political will is there, the perpetrators can be tracked by the relevant security agencies using technology, arrested and brought to book.
Although the government should not restrict itself to any single option when human lives are involved, the state’s idea of rehabilitating kidnappers and bandits instead of bringing them to account for their criminal misdeeds is not working but prolonging the war against kidnapping and terrorism. Re-integrating killers into society and even giving them employment is a pointer that the hegemonic control of the Nigerian state is real and some people are out for conquest.
Therefore, this self-inflicted ‘thriving industry’ of insecurity is a show of leadership incompetence, weakness or connivance of the ruling elite against the citizens. As long as accountability is lacking on kidnapping and banditry, there will always be suggestions that government may be complicit.
Ipso facto, it is the crisis of the Nigerian state which allows for hegemonic control that should be resolved; and the laws of the nation should be respected and applied as a penalty for any criminal act in order to tame kidnapping and banditry. The Federal Government should restructure the country’s security apparatus and allow states to establish police forces. Outfits such as Amotekun in the South West which has been proven to genuinely fight criminality should be adequately equipped to carry out their work.