By Owei Lakemfa
KIDNAPPING was an occasional crime. Usually, it involved the hypnotisation orÂ enticement of a kid. So parents, guardians and teachers taught children not to talk toÂ strangersÂ or accept gifts. Occasionally, adults also fell victim usually through hypnosis which is a science.
The motives were usually for rituals. Child theft, perhaps by the mentally deranged, the desperate couple or the unscrupulous business person hoping to sell, was another reason. But all these in comparison to these times were seldom cases.
The recent agitations in the Niger Delta which began in the late â€˜90sÂ overÂ neglect of the oil producing areas, the devastation of the place by oil companies andÂ the greed of the ruling elitesÂ who loot the resources, led to marked increase in kidnap cases.
These kidnappings were, however,Â mainly for political purposes; to make a statement that the Niger Delta people are angry and will no longer accept their slavish conditions.
The fighters were making the statement that oil prospecting, exploitationÂ and exportation will no longer go on without the development of the areaÂ and the indigenesÂ welfare being taken into consideration.
MostÂ of those kidnapped wereÂ oil personnel, especially foreigners whose images in captivity when carried in the mass media sent shock waves across the industry and the country.
Invariably, perhaps due to the marked absence of a political ideology, some of these kidnappingsÂ degenera-ted into criminality with bandit gangs threatening to drain the kidnappings of their political content.
With the crossing of this new type of kidnapping from political to criminality like the bird or swine flu crossing to humans,Â it became common place.
And when this new wave of kidnappings crossed to the ever-resourceful Eastern part of the country, it became com-pletely deregulated. It trans-formed into a thriving businessÂ and I wonâ€™t be surprised if it now goes with a period ofÂ appren-ticeship.
Kidnapping has become such a lucrative industry that it is perhaps only the incompe-tent and criminal mismanage-ment of the Nigeria Stock Exchange that has stopped it from being listed on the stock exchange.
The North had seemed immune until the police told us that we were living in a foolâ€™s paradise; that the Boko Haram fundamentalists were actually experts in the field who had developed their skillsÂ over the years before kidnapping became fashionable.
Today,Â in the kidnapping business, everybody has become game; the toddler and the nanny, the sane and insane, the politician and the poli-trick-cian, the creditor and the debtor, the movie star and the movie watcher, the actor and the audience.
This is to the extent that a hitherto peaceful state like AkwaÂ Ibom has become a no- go â€“area for the security conscious as even govern-ment officials are accused of kidnapping not just political opponents but also anybody they have disagreements with.
It is no longer shocking or newsworthy; only a few cases of kidnapping still manage to make the headlines; a former General Officer Commanding an army division being kidnapped in Benin or a well known actor like Pete Edochie being kidnapped not on movie but in reality and a hefty ransom being demanded.
Soon,Â even victims of kidnapping in making socio-logical analysis of kidnapping and kidnappers degenerate into the rationalisation of criminality.
But in all the confusion and uproarÂ the designer kidnapping has caused, many forget that the greatest boost to the crime is the kidnapping of a sittingÂ Executive Governor of a state, Dr Chris Ngige by an angry godfather, Chris Uba.
This kidnapping which was executed by a then serving Assistant Inspector General of Police did not elicit an appropriate reaction from the Federal Government.
A decisive step needed to be taken and the perpetrators jailed, but the PresidencyÂ under Olusegun Obasanjo parried and passed it off as a disagreement between two conmen who stoleÂ Anambra Stateâ€™s gubernatorial elections. Later the Uba group turned to the massive destruc-tion of government property from the Government House to public-owned mass media.
Again, the Federal Government looked the other way. Chris Uba remained a free man with adequate police protection while his brother who all along walked the corridors of the Presidential Villa, emerged to declare himself â€œgovernorâ€ before the Supreme Court cut him to size.
The truth is that it was not Ngige alone that was kidnapped, but the entire country; the kidnap of ballot boxes and elections was perpetuated not just by the Independent National Electoral Commission under the infamous Maurice Iwu but also by the Presidency.
That was when we started having a Senate president- elect who was not even a senator. Things became so bad in theÂ Senate that at a point, the Senate President, Deputy Senate President,Â the Majority LeaderÂ and some principal officers were not even validly elected senators! They were in theÂ hallowed chambers not by the grace of the voters but because the then President directed that they should be there.
These crimes were not just against the political parties in opposition but also against dissent or suspected dissent within the ruling PeoplesÂ Democratic Party.
For instance, gubernatorial candidates like Senator IfeanyiÂ Ararume in Imo State and Rotimi Amechi in Rivers State were replaced by gubernatorial aspirants who lost the party primaries.
Politically, the Nigerian people have been kidnapped byÂ conscienceless political elites who monthly hold Annual General Meetings where the countryâ€™s wealth is shared like some ransom.
We are a people kidnapped and because we do not seem to realise it, the spate ofÂ kidnappings will continue. To stem or stop it, we have to put a stop to the political kidnap of the Nigerian people. The time to start is now!