The spate of kidnappings in the country has assumed an alarming proportion; it is now time to deal with kidnapping and kidnappers. The kidnappers now go for soft spots – children in schools, mostly in remote areas where the absence of security is well pronounced. This is not acceptable. Hapless and harmless school children are kidnapped for ransom. They are just picked up like sitting ducks or like defenceless sheep without shepherd. This, again, is no longer acceptable. Any form of kidnapping is bad but the kidnapping of school children should be seen as the worst form of kidnapping. First, think of the trauma and emotional stress the children are exposed to. Their innocence is so rudely and brazenly assaulted and destroyed at so tender an age that it becomes difficult, if not impossible, for such children to live normal lives again. How do they see the adults – people they should, ordinarily, see and relate to as fathers, uncles, older brothers or sisters and, who, ordinarily, they should see as defenders, now turn traducers and vicious enemies? How will such children view society and what kind of opinion of law and order should they have? What should be their view of government? Kidnappers of children are hitting us where it mattered most – they are ruining our future. Call this the Noah syndrome who, when he should have cursed Ham (his son who saw his nakedness), cursed Ham’s son, Canaan, instead. Then consider the trauma of the family of the children so kidnapped. Consider also the humongous amount the kidnappers always demand. Where will average parents find such monies? Consider, also, the uncertainties that attend this heinous business. Even after paying the ransom demanded, many of the victims had still been killed by their captors.
We will forever remember kidnapping as one of the evil legacies bequeathed to this country by Niger Delta militants under the aegis of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). They started kidnapping on both political and commercial scale in this country. They started first with expatriate oil workers when they were fighting their so-called resource-control war against the Federal authorities. Later, they moved to the kidnapping of Nigerian oil workers and those they think could help them put pressure on the authorities to bulge to their demands. Well, the Federal Government of the late Umaru Yar’Adua did budge and a deal was done with the militants called “amnesty programme” worth billions of dollars in training and cash compensation to militants and the Niger Delta region as a whole. Except for a brief period recently under President Muhammadu Buhari, who tried to tinker with the Yar’Adua amnesty arrangement, restiveness in the Niger Delta has greatly subsided, commercial kidnapping and kidnapping for political reasons inclusive. The evil, however, has caught on in other parts of the country. Common criminals have latched on to kidnapping to make ends meet. Herdsmen have taken to kidnapping to wreak havoc on an alarming scale all over the country. Kidnapping for ransom has become a scourge whacking the South-west in recent time. Much of this kidnapping is believed to be the handiwork of ex-militants who come from the creeks to ply their illicit and despicable trade.
It is time to deal decisively with kidnapping and kidnappers. Firstly, the security agencies must be alive to their duties. Requisite training and equipment in addition to sound intelligence will be of great assistance in this regard. Secondly, this is the time for every one of us to become more security conscious. Why our schools are left un-policed? It happened in Chibok and it keeps happening all over the country. We see how the Western countries respond to security breaches; they take every available step to prevent a recurrence but here, we learn no useful lessons and we take no action to prevent reoccurrence. We are neither proactive nor reactive. We need also to address the issues that have made crime to become a lucrative business in this country. First, is that the criminals usually go away scot-free. Where this is this case, it is usually a huge incentive for criminals. This is why the Western countries relentlessly pursue criminals to let it be known that crime does not pay and that criminals will be fished out, no matter how long it takes and whatever the cost. We must imbibe the same mentality. Second, is that ransom-payment encourages kidnappers. Once they know they will get money out of it and they will be let alone to enjoy the proceeds of their criminal act, they will continue with it. It is important, therefore, to discourage ransom payment.
Crimes blossom in an environment of harsh economic realities such as we have in this country today. The economic depression ravaging the country has led to the loss of millions of jobs. School leavers also have no hope of securing jobs. Out of the millions of youths seeking admission into institutions of higher learning every year, only a fraction gets the opportunity. An idle hand, as they say, is the devil’s workshop. This is further compounded by the low-scale wars we have fought or are still fighting all over the country. Immediately after the Civil War of 1967 – 1970, armed robbery, which was alien to the country before then, became commonplace. The Niger Delta militancy, the Boko Haram insurgency and, lately, the Fulani herdsmen’s rampage have all led to the prevalence of armed conflicts all over the country. Such conflicts come with the proliferation of small arms. Even when the conflicts are resolved and open hostilities cease, the arms in circulation are always difficult to retrieve. They subsequently find their way into the hands of common criminals. So also is the problem of the mentality of people who have been engaged in such hostilities not easy to de-brief and re-channel into productive ventures.
It is, thus, not an easy task. Nevertheless, it is a task that must be done and the problem, which is hydra-headed as itemised above, must be attacked with solutions that are multi-pronged. And the earlier, the better.
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