June 15, 2009

Kidnapping: A crime against humanity…What is the way out?

IN May 2001, a rash of   violent activities broke out in Rivers State, Nigeria. The origins of these activities were political – political parties and their members jostling for areas of dominance and influence.

Soon the activities took the form of activism, activism for fiscal federalism, activism for the integrity of the environment of the Niger-Delta. The events which culminated in the present stand -off between militants in the Niger-Delta and the Federal Government of Nigeria had nothing at all to do with the protests orchestrated by Isaac Adaka Boro in the 1960s and Ken Saro Wiwa in the 1990s. The personages of protest in the current drama were mainly political thugs who had lost favour with their patrons or who quickly realised the negative potency of the weapons of destruction procured for them by politicians.

To be sure, all these activities were foreshadowed  by the existence of widespread malcontent in the Niger-Delta Region over the appropriation of their mineral rights by the Yakubu Gowon administration in 1969 ostensibly to prosecute the Nigerian Civil War successfully and the retention of these rights by subsequent administrations after the cessation of that war.

The events of 2001, 2002 and 2003 and the apparent failure of the Nigerian military tethered by the politics of the day and the politicians in-situ to contain them, gave impetus to the rise of militant idealists of the Niger-Delta struggle. In 2003, a militant organisation avowed to the redress of the 1969 expediency announced its entry into the fray. This organisation, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta, MEND, was clearly driven by intellectual minds, had a different motive from the first set of criminal gangs and naturally, adopted a different modus operandi.

They may have had good intentions for the region and people of the Niger-Delta but their activities have redefined and reshaped the region for the worst permanently. One of the tools deployed by this organisation was the abduction of expatriate oil workers from oil installations, in exploration camps and on transit in boats or at helipads or on isolated track roads in the region.

Of course, they also blew up oil pipelines, violently disrupted exploration and exploitation activities and carried out violent campaigns against the offices and installations of oil and gas companies. How did the world know that MEND was responsible for these activities? They took credit in well couched, properly written press releases that confounded the Nigerian press.
Kidnaping as a trend
Among the first set of oil workers abducted by MEND were two Phillipinos and an American. Their testimonies upon being released further confounded the Nigerian public. From their own accounts, the public learnt that they were treated decorously by their captors some of whom entered into lengthy academic arguments on the subject of the appropriation of the resources of the region for communal use.

MEND had made political demands of the Federal Government of Nigeria but the government sensing perhaps that to accede in that one instance would open a floodgate of abductions, wisely refused all their demands. The failure of this strategy and the fact that the originators, MEND momentarily abandoned it soon after notwithstanding,   the more business-like and criminally inclined ‘activists’ bought into the financial potential of kidnapping for financial reward. Militant gangs in the Niger-Delta started to seize expatriate oil workers for ransom and it was no surprise that where MEND failed with the Federal Government, these gangs succeeded with oil companies resoundingly.

The success of these militant gangs attracted another group into the business – criminals not involved or interested in the Niger-Delta struggle who saw kidnapping folks as a means to wealth. If we pause to take stock of the statistics embedded in this short narrative, we shall come to the inferences that:

(a) Kidnapping in Nigeria has immediate and remote causes;(b) While militancy in the Niger-Delta popularised the concept in our polity, injustice, unemployment and criminality provided a fertile ground for its rapid spread.

Again, we can identify three kinds of kidnappers in Nigeria, to wit: the political activists who make political demands in exchange for the release of their captives, the criminal gangs in the Niger-Delta who align with and deploy the cover of militant activism to press home their immediate goals of financial reward and the criminals who have little or no knowledge of or sympathy for the Niger-Delta struggle.

(To be continued next week)