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Kidnapping: An open letter to acting president Goodluck Jonathan

Our clarion call is necessitated by the need to remind the Federal administration under your watch that the essence of having a government in place…

Our clarion call is necessitated by the need to remind the Federal administration under your watch that the essence of having a government in place is for the provision of the security of lives and property of the citizenry.

In the context of the Nigerian Constitution, the people are the true owners of sovereignty going by the provision of section 14(2) (b) that “sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this constitution derives all its powers and authority.” What then is the primary duty of government if we may ask? The 1999 constitution in section 14 (2) (b) answered the above question when it provides that; “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”.

A notorious fact of life in Nigeria since the operation of the 1999 constitution which incidentally marked the return of civil rule is the unprecedented level of general insecurity of lives and property of citizens. One clear manifestation of the general break down of law and order in the last decade is the unacceptable rise in some criminal activities such as armed robbery and violent kidnapping for ransoms which has made some members of the international community to issue travel warning to their citizens not to travel to the areas where kidnapping has increased.

According to Hank Eso, kidnapping simply means ‘to seize and detain unlawfully, by force or fraud and to remove a person to an undisclosed location against his/her will usually for use as a hostage or to extract ransom’.

On July 17th 2009, the United States of America’s state Department warned US citizens of the risks of traveling to Nigeria and recommends avoiding all but essential travel to the Niger Delta States of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers. The United States government anchored the travel warning on what it called continued risks of kidnapping, robbery and other armed attacks in these areas.

Hank Eso, a researcher and contributor to some online journals drew a frightening conclusion when he wrote in his article entitled; “incessant kidnapping and Beirutization of Nigeria” that; “Between 1991 and 2000, Nigeria ranked ninth behind nations like Columbia, Mexico, Russian Federation, Philippines and Venezuela in the number of annual kidnappings. Nigeria had 34 reported cases, compared to Columbia’s 5,181 and was a notch ahead of 10th ranked South Africa”. The statistic for incidence of kidnapping has however jumped geometrically in the last two years.

A serving minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria responsible for police Affairs Dr. Yakubu Lame was widely reported in the media  last year July to have raised the alarm that 512 kidnappings had been reported in the first half of that year (2009) compared with 353 for the whole of 2008.

The Nigerian government needs to put in motion mechanisms to effectively curb the growing trend of kidnappings and other manifestations of criminality in Akwa Ibom and a few other states spread across the federating units of Nigeria. If government fails to stamp out once and for all the unfortunate cases of kidnappings in parts of Nigeria, then the perception in the international community that that the twin social evils of impunity and lawlessness have become acceptable practices will become entrenched. This perception will surely undermine the international importance of Nigeria as a respectable member of the civilized global community.

The federal government is therefore called upon to confront the serious challenge posed by kidnappings to the continuous existence of Nigeria as a political entity.

One area which government through an unbiased high power security team could tackle the increasing cases of kidnappings in Akwa Ibom and other places is to investigate whether some of these kidnappings have political undertones and government must arrest, and prosecute alleged sponsors so as to restore the confidence of Nigerians in the project Nigeria.

Dear Acting President, the situation of unprecedented rate of violent kidnappings across Nigeria is such that demands that the nation’s police be reformed and made to be proactive in preventing and tackling the menace of kidnappings.       

The proposed registration of Sim cards of all subscribers of the service providers in the telecommunication industry in Nigeria must be effectively carried out by the Nigerian communications commission so that crime investigators can speedily through rights-based approach, determine the owners and locations of the Mobile phones used in making demands for ransoms by kidnappers.

Importantly, the federal government must ensure that sufficient enlightenment campaigns are carried out to discourage family members of victims of kidnappings from paying ransoms. Hank Eso traced the growth of kidnapping as a thriving business in Nigeria to the earlier concessions and payment of ransoms to kidnappers made by oil companies operating in the volatile oil producing Niger Delta region where kidnappings on larger scale started around 2006.

Eso asked the question; Why is kidnapping becoming an industry in Nigeria? He answered; “First, because kidnapping pays. For its perpetrators, it obviously, yields far more illegitimate money, with minimal risk, than armed robbery. There is, also, a near certainty that families of the victims will pay up.”

“In addition, the kidnapping problems persist, because the Nigerian government and the foreign oil companies continue to work at cross-purposes. Whereas paying ransom is as illegal as taking hostage, foreign oil firms that rake in billions from their oil exploration in Nigeria, consider several million dollars a paltry and fair sum to pay to keep their production facilities ongoing. They worry less about the damage of their actions on Nigeria….”

Onwubiko heads Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria.

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