By Ochereome Nnanna
I WASÂ in Abiriba, my hometown a couple of weekends ago for a handful of burials. The number one story in town was the macabre exploits of kidnappers.
The most pathetic of the stories making the rounds was the abduction of the mother of Chief Dike Udensi (Dubic), an industrialist and founder of what is today known as Springbank, and one of her granddaughters who had come visiting with her. According to sources, they were snatched over two months ago.
Even after a hefty amount of millions of naira was paid for their release, nothing has been learnt about their whereabouts.
Some of the little demons who allegedly participated in the crime are in Police net. Some have reportedly confessed to participating, both in the crime and sharing of the proceeds but none has been able to disclose the whereabouts of a woman much loved in the community as a result of her kindness, openness and humility that is not easy to find among people surrounded by wealth.
What might be their fate at present is left to the imagination. It is instructive to note that the culprits suspected to have perpetrated this crime are Abiriba boys, who have been part of the gangs that for years have terrorised the community with active support from some misguided elders who armed and financed them.
A friend who has been kidnapped twice by the same Obingwa-based gang narrated how he pleaded with his captors to let him go as he had not recovered from the hefty ransom he had to part with merely a couple of months before.
They eventually took pity on him and let him go. Kidnapping has become the favourite crime in the South East and South-South, with Rivers, Abia, Anambra, Akwa Ibom and Edo states as the red flag states. Armed robbers are now migrating to kidnapping because it is obviously seen as more lucrative and safer for the criminals.
This is the political off-season. Therefore, the political thugs who have been abandoned by their employers after winning elections are now keeping themselves â€œgainfully employedâ€ by snatching innocent people and the relations of those seen, rightly or wrongly, to be wealthy.
Just a day before I sat down to write this article, I got a call that a son of another big name in my community had been abducted from the Abia State University. It may interest you to know that his father (name withheld for his safety) was snaffled from his country home when he came for the usual weekend functions about two years ago. He reportedly parted with about five million naira before they let him loose.
The epidemic of kidnapping is spreading, like the virus that it is, to other parts of the country.
Something that used to be associated with the Niger Delta militants and their criminal copycats has now seized the nation by the throat, and the law enforcement agents do not seem able to rise to the occasion, probably because many members of our state security agencies are collaborators with the criminals.
What one may regard as positive fallout of this highly traumatising experience is that it has forced people to cut down their excesses. When you flaunt your wealth by announcing your donations (or pledges you might have no intention to fulfil) publicly, you are inviting the boys over, because they are part of the crowd clapping for you.
People now forbid masters of ceremonies to announce their arrival at events and when the usual dance of the celebrants comes on stream, those who value their safety now refrain from going out to display their often ill-gotten wealth by â€œsprayingâ€. People now quietly go behind, with their donations neatly packed in envelopes to show their solidarity.
People are now parking away their jeeps, especially the beasts called Hummer in Port Harcourt, Benin, Aba and Onitsha (Anambra in general). For years, pastors and other religious leaders preached against ostentatious living but their words fell on deaf ears.
They admonished us to be humble and to show charity, especially towards our less-privileged neighbours. We refused to listen.
We were only interested in our own comforts and in securing the best education and lifestyle for our children and family members. We went into public office to line our pockets and forgot that the money we were spending belonged not to us but the people.
We stole as much as we could and used a tiny fraction of it to hire unemployed, neglected young people to become our thugs and to steal elections. As soon as we â€œwonâ€ and assumed power, we returned our thugs to the unemployment market. We shut our mobile phones on them and barred them from our gates.
They know the pittance we give them is but a tiny fraction of the money we stole from public coffers.
And now, these youths have decided to turn the guns we bought for them to terrorise our political enemies on us.
The goldfish no longer has a hiding place. Not any more. We created the monster which we named Frankenstein to destroy our enemies. It has now turned around to hunt us.
The only problem is that little do these criminals know (nor care) about the fact that not all who appear to be well-to-do are truly so, nor that not everyone is what they think they are.
While we enact death penalties and put various programmes in place to contain the scourge, we must meet this problem at its root: create a humane society that has something for everyone, no matter lowly placed.