By Hakeem Baba-Ahmad
A disease that would kill a dog first takes away its sense of smell—Lesotho Proverbs
THE kidnapping, last Sunday, of the mother of the Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, from her home will shock even those who have been desensitized by the endemic nature of this crime.
The audacity of this incident will suggest more than an attempt to extract bigger pay-off. It represents a serious attempt to humiliate the administration of President Jonathan, and further expose its structural weaknesses.
The nation will be even more disturbed by the claim by Campaign for Democracy (CD) that kidnapping is now such a big industry in the southeast that abductors make an average of N750million in a month.
The organization claims that an average of five persons are kidnapped every month in each state of the southeast zone.
For each kidnapped person, anywhere between N20m and N30m is paid. It says there is a massive exodus of industrialists and other businessmen and women from the region due to activities of kidnappers.
Major cities such asAba,Onitsha, Owerri, Awka, Umuahia,Enuguand Abakaliki where the wealthiest people live are reportedly under virtual siege from kidnappers. C.D complain that governors of the region have been unable to curtail this spreading evil.
Perhaps the sad kidnapping of an 82 year old mother of a serving Minister may help re-focus attention on this creeping evil that appears to have won all its battles against the entire security, law and order infrastructure of the nation, as well as the efforts of all communities in the southeast and south-south.
Developing from isolated abductions of foreigners in towns and cities by so-called militants in the Niger Delta who were exchanged for large sums from oil companies, kidnappings became big business and almost crippled oil and gas activities in the oil-producing areas of the region.
Along with violent attacks on installations and sabotage of pipelines, kidnapping of particularly expatriates became serious threats which drastically reduced the output of Nigerian oil exports.
Like all crimes, kidnapping found other outlets because its sociological foundations were poorly understood; and the state’s responses are not prepared or designed to deal with it.
The hasty conclusion of the amnesty programme in a manner that suggested that rehabilitating criminals eliminates crimes is largely responsible for the survival and spread of kidnapping as a serious business.
The relative ease of picking targets, availability of small arms and large numbers of people previously exposed to the huge amounts which can be made from this crime have turned it into a veritable industry.
When the cover over criminality in the Niger Delta was removed by the amnesty programme, the skills and the paraphernalia survived, and began to target new victims.
But this was only a boost, since the practice of kidnap for ransom had been with the communities in the southeast from quite a while, and had replaced the crime of choice, armed robbery, in the volume of returns and relative safety of the criminal.
Crimes of kidnapping spread because the criminals succeeded, and the state failed to nail them.
The huge amounts involved matched the monumental failure of the communities to expose kidnappers and the police to trace and free kidnappers and prosecute victims.
The success of the kidnapper brought more success, to a point where it made much more sense to settle with the kidnapper than to rely on state agencies to free victims unhurt.
More and more people took their own precautions, and the social structure became fragmented because wealth and fame became victims, while ordinary folks thought they were safe.
Police became more involved in protecting potential victims and politically powerful people, while routine policing, intelligence gathering and crime prevention were virtually abandoned.
Eventually, everyone in the region became a victim, and an economy which depended largely on the freedom of enterpreneurs to be both visible and mobile began to shrink. When the rich and famous were beyond immediate reach, the small fry were available, in a community where everyone has value.
The endemic nature of kidnapping in the southeast and many parts of the south-south, as well as its potential to spread to other parts of the nation should now alarm this administration.
The raging insurgency of the Jamaatu Ahlil Sunnah Lid’dawati Wal Jihad (a.k.a. Boko Haram) is already a major challenge to the nation’s military. Kidnapping and crude theft and oil-related crimes are now threatening to match this insurgency in terms of their ability to erode the state’s capacity to secure the nation and protect citizens.
It does not need experts to remind the nation that theNigeriapolice is so seriously challenged that it is barely able to perform the basic functions of crime prevention and preservation of law and order.
Raging and expanding threats to security of lives and property and a nation founded on laws and the imperatives of order challenge theNigeriapolice daily.
Social values crumble by the day, and leaders of communities lose capacities to regulate behavior of members or set standards of conduct that can be enforced because they lack the credibility to do so.
Leaders of all types break rules and laws of the land, and the impunity with which they do this is so obvious that citizens who still believe in respecting laws of the land are derided by others.
Nigerians from the very young to the elderly hear of mind-boggling corruption in offices and corridors of power by people who swore to live honestly and lead by enforcing laws.
Every institution of state has been corrupted by the vilest forms of greed and routine abuse from the highest to the lowest citizens in it; and there is no value that is so sacrosanct that people wouldn’t rush to violate.
Even honest and hardworking citizens think their leaders are only interested in looting treasuries, and if they have chances of do the same, they will. Others in crime or those who hover between criminality and hopelessness feel no qualms over kidnapping or robbing other citizens, in a social context which places premium on getting away with it all.
Generating community and social resistance against crimes such as kidnapping are virtually impossible in a situation where those who have responsibility to engineer the resistance live behind high walls and lines of policemen.
While praying for the early and safe release of this elderly woman that has joined the legion of those unfortunate Nigerians who attract attention by their names or fame or wealth, it is important to remind the administration that it will have to radically revisit its posture and strategy towards dealing with crime, including massive corruption.
If Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s mother is released immediately, unharmed and without a hefty ransome paid, most Nigerians will heave a sigh of relief. But this will put government in a spot as well: many Nigerians will say government acts only when a prominent person close to it is a victim.
The mother of the Minister of Finance, a professor who gave her entire life in the service of her community and nation is in the hands of people who intend to trade her for money, or other rewards.
They must not get away with this crime. The administration needs to boost its security capabilities to bring kidnapping and other crimes such as armed robbery, crude theft and the Boko Haram insurgency to an end. Under the present circumstances, this is a tall order to achieve in a short time. But that is what we have leaders for.
It will be most unfortunate if this elderly citizen is rescued soon, as she should be, and the impression is created that it is only because her daughter is a Minister in President Jonathan’s government.