February 25, 2019

Reign of highway kidnappers

FOR some time now, highway brigandage has changed from the snatching of goods and money from travellers to the abduction or kidnap (for ransom) of the travellers themselves. Kidnapping which is an old crime that was only heard of in advanced foreign countries came into Nigeria about 20 years ago when the agitations by militant groups against oil companies and the Federal Government started.

Expatriates linked to the oil industry and some workers in the upstream sector were often kidnapped for ransom. The militants resorted to this crime as their own way of getting back at those who allegedly mindlessly exploited the resources of their communities without helping to develop them or employ the indigenes.

From being a form of agitation against exploitation, kidnapping quickly became a pet crime indulged in by some misguided unemployed youths, especially in the South-South and South-East. Today, it has spread to all parts of the country, with the North now a major flashpoint. Heavily-armed criminal groups referred to as “bandits” have been plaguing many parts of the North-West, especially Zamfara, Sokoto, Katsina and the Kaduna – Abuja Expressway.

In the South, the main boiling point of highway kidnapping is the dreaded East–West Road connecting Warri/Sapele through Patani and Port Harcourt in the South-South zone. The situation has become so unbearable that indigenes of these areas are no longer confident of the ability of the Nigeria Police to protect them from highway kidnappers. They now want the Army mobilised to man checkpoints throughout the expressway.

The most shocking aspect of this crime is that the kidnappers are no longer looking for those they used to see as having “kidnap value”. They simply stop vehicles at gunpoint, drag occupants into their dens in the forests and systematically extract ransoms from each of them. Those who have nobody to pay for their freedom are brutally beaten and often killed and the women raped.

The Federal Government needs to evolve an inter-agency security master-plan to take a comprehensive new look at this threat. We strongly believe that if the kidnapping of oil workers in the Niger-Delta could be reduced to almost nil, then the criminals preying on innocent, poor and defenceless travellers can also become a thing of the past.

The security agencies must collaborate with community leaders to monitor the activities of criminals in all flashpoint areas and identify their hideouts. This way, the bad eggs can be easily fished out.

Most importantly, genuine efforts must be made to expand employment opportunities. Many young people take to crime out of desperation occasioned by long periods of idleness. Nigeria is blessed enough to give its young people something to do to live a good life.