By Rotimi Fasan
THE Igbonla kidnap saga came to a rather abrupt end on Friday July 28 after the abducted school boys were released at a creek in Ondo State. The six boys spent 64 days in captivity. The travail of the school boys, all of Lagos State Model College, Igbonla in Epe, began on 25th May, 2017 after ten of them were abducted right in the premises of their school by criminals who would now like to be seen as belonging among militants of the Niger-Delta.
While their counterparts in the Niger-Delta were granted amnesty in addition to many perks aimed at weaning them off a life of criminality, the ‘militants’ in Ondo State, the supposed abductors of the school boys, have so far been excluded from enjoying the perks given their compatriots in Bayelsa, Rivers and Delta among other Niger-Delta States. The failure of government to include militants in Ondo State in the amnesty programme would explain their resort to the criminal abduction of school children for ransom in different parts of Lagos State. This was the explanation of one of the abductors of the school boys as provided by a police source.
This is, however, far from being a true account of what led to the abduction of the school boys. This is not simply because of the fact that Lagos State, the location of the latest as well as previous abductions of school children, is far from the Niger-Delta. There is no logical link between the abduction of school children (of all possible targets) and the agitations in the Niger-Delta. While there have been in the Niger-Delta cases of children abducted from their parents vehicles on their way to school, school children were never the primary target of abductions in the Niger-Delta.
The current business of abducting school children in return for huge sums of money, as Nigerians have witnessed in Lagos in the last few months, should be seen as just another variation in the many acts of criminalities that have made life ever more insecure and precarious across Nigeria. These include such violent acts as are perpetrated by so-called herdsmen such as those that abducted Chief Olu Falae or those who have turned the Lokoja-Abuja highway into a den of armed robbers and abductors.
Crime has assumed trans-border dimensions in Nigeria and the criminals involved in this operate in well-oiled networks located across different parts of the country. School children are by far easy targets of attack than attacks against banks or oil installations, bunkering or the operation of illegal refineries. Before this focus on children, the kidnappers had focused on wealthy business persons or state officials and their families. More recently the focus was on traditional rulers many of whom, Nigerians are beginning to realise, are common criminals like their ilk in important positions, the ‘big’ men and women in government.
Where they are not themselves godfathers of ritual murderers and kidnappers some of these traditional rulers are beginning to fake their own abduction as was the case recently in Lagos. Kidnappers have been raking hundreds of millions of naira and dollars at the expense of these highly placed Nigerians, so much that some of the kidnappers like ‘Evans’ have become billionaires. Perhaps, these criminals view kidnapping as a way of partaking in the wealth of the supposedly rich among us. Unfortunately, some of their targets are struggling Nigerians who have no easy means of securing their freedom.
It is therefore a lot of nonsense hearing the Igbonla kidnappers pretending to be militants. They are bloodsucking criminals, ‘businessmen’ whose principles are driven by purely monetary considerations. This was made clear from the way they selected and ‘debriefed’ the ten school boys they initially abducted before reducing their number to six. They made effort to know those among them whose parents could afford to pay the ransom they would demand.
It must have been very lucrative business for them given the way they kept increasing the ransom, stretching the resources as well as resolve of the parents, relations and friends of the boys, after each previous demand had been met. From available reports, close to 40 million naira must have been paid before the boys were released. The security agencies can deny all they want but Nigerians very well know huge sums of money were paid even within a couple of hours before the release of the boys in Ondo State. This was in spite of the high profile assurances by the authorities that security agents had been deployed to ensure the safe return of the boys within days of their abduction, and promises that no ransom would be paid.
From the school authorities at Igbonla, to the Commissioner of Police, Lagos State, Fatai Owoseni, and the Lagos State Government, up to the presidency, nothing anyone said could prevent or reduce the abduction of the school boys for more than two months! This is a scandalous affair that proclaims how we are scantily protected in this country security-wise. You don’t need to be part of Boko-Haram and be operating from the edge of the Sahara desert or inside Sambisa forest to confound and wrongfoot our security arrangements.
You can do it right in a relatively compact area like the creeks of Ondo State through to the Niger-Delta. But the question still remains how a few criminals operating in tents erected in the creeks of some two to three states could successfully beat and hold at bay, for 64 days, all the security agents deployed across five states or more to rescue a few school boys.
A further question to ask now is what is being done to ensure nothing of this sort ever happens again. The Lagos State government has decided to shut down all ‘summer’ schools during the holiday period in order to work out a worthy security arrangement for schools in the State. This measure reassures nobody for as long as our waterways and many parts of the country remain unprotected. The trauma these boys have been through should be seen as further evidence of the violent onslaught against the youth of this country.
From the Chibok girls to the Ikorodu School girls that were abducted and now the Igbonla boys, Nigeria continually runs the risk of mortgaging the future of the youth and of the country itself. Now criminals have turned our schools into kidnap havens and both our girls and boys are being taken through the hell of violent attacks while the perpetrators go straight into the night to enjoy the proceeds of their crime, would it be strange if in future abducted school boys or girls choose to live with their abductors as foot soldiers? Criminality has never seemed so rewarding than now. Who needs to be law-abiding?