Before criminalising ransom payment | Dailytrust

Before criminalising ransom payment

A bill seeking to prohibit the payment and receipt of ransom for the release of any person kidnapped, imprisoned or wrongfully confined recently scaled second reading at the Senate. According to the bill, the payer and receiver of ransom each risks 15 years imprisonment. The Terrorism Prevention (Amendment) Bill 2021 is sponsored by Senator Ezenwa Francis Onyewuchi.

Leading the debate on the bill on Wednesday, May 26, 2021, Senator Onyewuchi said the proposed legislation seeks to amend the Terrorism (Prevention) Act, 2013 to outlaw the payment of ransom to abductors, kidnappers and terrorists for the release of any person who has been wrongfully confined or kidnapped. He said the bill essentially seeks to substitute Section 14 of the Principal Act with a new section that shall 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.”

Onyewuchi raised the alarm that kidnapping has become a fast and lucrative business, adding that, “it has now remained the most virulent form of banditry in Nigeria and the most pervasive and intractable violent crime in the country.” He also noted that kidnapping is on the increase in Nigeria and it is prevalent across all the geopolitical zones. “Our unemployed youths are also turning to kidnapping to get money (ransom) as a survival strategy”, he opined. The lawmaker attributed the rise of kidnapping in the country to factors that include poverty, religion, politics, deficiency of existing laws, unemployment, connivance of security agents, corruption and greed.

“Whatever the reason, it is most obvious that kidnapping in Nigeria puts everyone at risk – the rich and the poor, old and young, male and female, foreigner or indigene, expatriate or non-expatriate, traditional rulers and religious leaders, among others”, Onyewuchi lamented. Buttressing his argument in favour of the bill, he contended that even where ransom is proven to have been paid, the life or safe return of a kidnap victim was not guaranteed. He, therefore, emphasised that the continuous payment of ransom must not be encouraged.

The anti-ransom bill illustrates an underlying failure of governance as manifest in the government’s inability to secure the country. The introduction of this bill further demonstrates how the legislative arm, like the executive, is not prepared to end the menace of kidnapping and other criminal activities of bandits. The legislature is supposed to work proactively with government to stop kidnapping instead of introducing laws that would cause more pains to kidnap victims’ families. It is sad that the legislature is lumping victims and criminals together in this bill. People pay ransom out of helplessness and failure of security operatives to secure release of their relatives. We believe very strongly that no Nigerian wants to or is happy to pay ransom.  There would have been no need for such a law if all the measures needed to stop the crime were taken. With an inadequate number of police personnel who are not only poorly trained but also work with archaic equipment, government is yet to demonstrate serious political will to put an end to the heinous crime of abduction.

In the case of criminals that are already in the crime of abduction, we believe that government does not require any new law to deal with them. While we encourage government to strengthen the economy and initiate poverty alleviation programmes, we urge it to reduce unemployment by providing job opportunities for the teeming population of youths who now see kidnapping as an alternative to legitimate means of livelihood.

The anti-ransom bill should not be a priority for the Nigerian Senate at this time. The senators would do better by mounting pressure on the executive to secure the country. We, therefore, advise the Senate to step down this bill until that time when everything has been done to secure the country. If Nigeria is safe and people continue to pay ransom, then they can be sent to jail.  For now, the bill is irrelevant.