Nigeria: One kidnap too many, theatre of crimes

on   /   in Special Report 7:31 pm   /   Comments

It is now a sin to be educated and rich. It is worse of if  you are poor. The affluents  have gone into hiding.

Too appalling is that the horde of stern-looking armed security men, who swarm around the highly placed has proved not to be proactive in the event of any eventuality, making life so cheap.

This special report by JOHN BULUS examines the security situation in the country in the wake of recent cases of killings and kidnapping in the country.

To many Nigerians, the word “incredible” is still very appropriate to describe the death of former Attorney-general of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the late Bola Ige who was gruesomely murdered on December, 21, 2001 of his Ibadan home, Oyo State .

Now, the pity isn’t that a man died, but that eleven years after life was snuffed out Ige, his killers are yet to be found.

At the time he was killed, Ige was not just an ordinary man but a serving Minister of Power. Ordinarily, that fact would have propelled the government to deploy every available security apparatus and intelligence to ravel the mystery behind the killing of late Elder Statesman. But since 2001, apart from the regime at the time, two successive regimes had come and yet, Ige’s killers have largely remained unmasked.

IGP Abubakar and President Jonathan

Related to that scenario was the killing of Mr. Olaitan Oyerinde, Edo state Governor, Adams Oshiomole’s Principal Private Secretary who was murdered in his house  May this year by hired assassins. Yet again, no name has been clearly given as to who really killed Oyerinde, instead, there arose a discrepancy between the Police and the Department of State Security service, SSS over the circumstances of his death.

These are just the few of many unresolved murder cases that are either pending in court or may have been swept under the carpet by the security agencies.

Today is the sixth day after the after the kidnap of Professor Kename Okonjo, the mother of Nigeria’s Minister of Finance and coordinating Minister of Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala from her country home in Ogwashi Uku  Delta State. Professor Okonjo, an octogenarian who retired from the University of Nigeria , Nsukka was abducted on Sunday, December 9, 2012.

Almost in quick succession, the same fate befell the wife of General Oluwole Rotimi in Ibadan , Oyo state on Monday. Up till now, the security agencies are yet to make any significant progress as regard the release of Mrs Rotimi.

Genesis of Kidnapping

Even though it generates controversy, most people belief that kidnapping started with militancy in the Niger Delta area in 2000. It was a practice by restive youths in the area to press home their demands from multi-national firms operating in their domain. Targets were mostly expatriates and other oil workers. But there was a cause for that. Militants claimed they were seeking attention to address the menace of environment degradation and severe neglect of their area by both the oil companies and the Federal government. And so, they kidnapped their victims.

Escalating Situation

Surprisingly, what started as an attention-seeking mechanism in the Niger-Delta region, Rivers, Delta and Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Cross River states was later  assumed a different dimension when it became a lucrative business for the youths. Long after late President Umaru Musa Ya’Adua had offered amnesty to  the militants, kidnapping escalated and persisted in the area. Thus: Abia, a neighbouring State to Rivers State became a den of kidnappers. With the development in Abia, Anamabra and Imo State in the south east got affected. It was such that for almost two years, Aba , the commercial hub of the south-eastern Nigeria was constantly terrorized by the hoodlums. This literally paralyzed business activities in the city and brought Aba to its knees forcing many residents to relocate.

Military Intervention and the Killing of “Osisikankwu”

For Aba residents, the killing of the suspected notorous leader of kidnap gangs in Abia State , Obioma Nwankwo, popularly known as Osisikankwu in December, 2010 at Obokwe market, in Ukwa West Local Government Council by the military task force deployed to the state by the federal government was one significant feat achieved by the security team. The news of his death led to wild jubilation among Aba residents and Umuahia. Since then, the city of Aba and its environs have become calm and commercially activities had long picked up in earnest.

Many cases of Kidnapping

Kidnapping in Nigeria reached new heights on July 11th this year when four journalists and their drivers were kidnapped on their way from Uyo, Akwa Ibom State , after attending the National Executive Council meeting of the Nigeria Union of Journalists. Among the journalists was Wahab Alabi Oba, the chairman of the Lagos State Council of the NUJ. The journalists were later released although an initial ransom demand of N250 million was not paid.

Also, a few days before the nation’s 50th independence anniversary in 2010, gunmen seized 15 primary school children on their way to school in Aba . The abductors had contacted the owner of the private school and demanded a N20 million ransom before the children could be released. However, the students were set free on the day of the nation’s independence anniversary. Mr. Nwankwo’s gang was reportedly responsible for the kidnapping.

Similarly, in August 2012, the Vice-Chancellor of Enugu State University of Technology, Prof. Cyprian Onyeji was also abducted by about 10 suspected kidnappers at the school’s entrance gate in Agbani, Nkanu West Local Government Area of the state.

Four of the kidnappers, according to ESUT Public Relations Officer, Mr. Ossy Ugwuoti, blocked the VC’s Honda Accord with rickety vehicle and shot sporadically into the air, while they dragged out the driver and the police orderly before he was whisked away. Professor Onyeji has long been released.

Renewed Scourge

The abduction of Professor Kename Okonjo and Mrs. Rotimi has again created fear that the ugly days are back here. It has also tasked ability of security agents in combating crimes. Not many believe that six days after the incidence, the security apparatus of the Nigerian state is yet to make significant progress in the safe release of the victims.

State of Insecurity in Nigeria

To say that security has since taken its flight from Nigeria might not be an over-statement. For some time now, especially  after the 2011 general elections in Nigeria, the security in the state  has nose-dived.  In the North, there is persistent killing, maiming and burning of houses arising from the Boko Haram insurgency. In the south, kidnapping has also become the order of the day.

Reaction of Nigerians

Many Nigerians have reacted to the enormous security challenges in the land, dismissing the federal government  efforts to tackle the vice.

The  fiery Lagos Lawyer and Human Rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) at a recent  lecture  tagged “ Nigeria ’s Democracy and Insecurity, the way forward”, organized by the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, Lagos State council noted in dismay the “The kidnap of Finance Minister’s mother is a big disgrace to this nation and unfortunately, no new approach or tactics has been put forward by the security operatives. The question we need to ask ourselves is how we found ourselves in this situation when billions of naira is voted for security in the budgetary allocation every year. The situation has shown that nobody is safe in this country anymore and the hypocritical reaction of this government is getting embarrassing by the day”.

He went further to identify unemployment as one of the reasons while crimes have persisted in the country.

“Lack of unemployment and the concentration of the wealth of Nigeria in few hands would only make the insecurity we are experiencing now get a boost simply because government has refused to listen to the yearnings of its citizens”.

The Integrity Question

Apart from Falana who pointed out the negative impact of kidnapping to the Nigeria State , the Senate President, David mark also recognized the damage such trend can do on the reputation of Nigeria before the international community especially, given the fact that the Minister of Finance, Dr. Okonjo Iweala is globally known having served the World Bank.

On the wake of Professor Okonjo’s kidnapping, Mark through his Media aide Kola Ologbondiyan, said: “Abductors are causing grave harm to the nation’s reputation particularly among the comity of nations. Such crime is not different from the senseless killings being perpetrated by Boko Haram”.

He also urged Okonjo’s unconditional release from the kidnappers’ den, saying “the abductors should honour the time-tested Biblical injunction that we honour our parents and by extension, those who are old enough to be our parents”.

Similarly, the African Insurance Organization (AIO), a non-governmental organization recognized by many governments has said that Nigeria accounts for a quarter of kidnap for ransom cases reported worldwide in the last one year.

The AIO disclosed in its newsletter at the 18th African Reinsurance Forum in Mauritius that Nigeria had been designated as the global capital for kidnap for ransom due to the huge record of kidnap cases reported in the country yearly.

In a report released in October, 2012, the AIO stated, “The number of kidnaps for ransom in Africa continued to increase. In the first half of 2011, Africa ’s proportion of the global total increased from 23 per cent in 2010 to 34 per cent. Nigeria is now the kidnap for ransom capital of the world, accounting for a quarter of globally reported cases.”

Kenyan Human Rights

Activists Opinion

A visiting Kenyan human rights activists, Mr. Nduko o’Matigere who spoke to Vanguard in Abuja on the issue said:  “my view is that it is a crime that can happen anywhere, in any country. Any country has its own experience of kidnapping. Kidnapping is out rightly a crime and a symptomatic rationale that I could give about Kidnapping is: it is an evidence of a system of law enforcement to begin but we also have situation where a pattern is established for kidnapping and the state is not able to match it with its law enforcement agents. Then, this calls for concerns: is it a question of state condonement or is it a symptom of the inability of the state to protect its citizens because at the end of the day, victims of kidnapping have a right to be protected by the security agents”.

Federal Government’s Reaction

As at the time of filing in this report, no categorical statement had been made by the Federal Government as regard the kidnapping of Professor Okonjo. But President Jonathan was quoted as saying that Nigeria needs the assistance of the United States (US) government to tackle its numerous security challenges.

He said this when delegation of the US African Command, AFRICOM led by its commander, General Carter F. Ham visited at the State House on Wednesday.

A presidency statement declared that “Nigeria was facing various security challenges, such as Boko Haram, policing the nation’s extensive maritime borders, crude oil theft and kidnapping, and called on the USA to support the Government’s efforts to find lasting solutions to these problems”.

Search for Victims and the Demand for Ransom

Police in Delta State has launched manhunt for the kidnappers even as they  had made a demand of some ransom to be paid before the release of the professor Okonjo.

Hear the Delta State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Ikechukwu Aduba: “We have been holding meetings with the governor and we have sent out our men to comb every nook and cranny and I am sure we will get her out unhurt”.

Meanwhile, as the year winds to an end, fear has gripped many Nigerians who may want to travel home for the Christmas and New year celebrations.

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