WE call on the Senate to drop the Bill which seeks to criminalise the payment of ransoms by victims of kidnapping or their relations. This piece of legislation does not add much value in efforts to curb the crime.

The Senate has already passed an amendment of the Terrorism (Prevention) Act, 2013 which prohibits ransom payment to kidnappers. According to the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Bamidele Opeyemi (APC, Ekiti Central), the Bill responds to the low rating of Nigeria by the Financial Act Task Force, FATF, the universal watchdog on terrorism financing and money laundering.

A recent Mutual Evaluation Report of Nigeria’s Anti-Money Laundering, AML, and Counter-Financing of Terrorism, CFT, by ECOWAS’s Inter-Governmental Action Group Against Money Laundering in West Africa, GIABA, in league with FATF, rated Nigeria’s AML/CFT regime below par.

It also will be recalled that in October 2009, FATF had rated Nigeria’s AML/CFT compliance low.

The following year, Nigeria made an undertaking towards improving its rating. This led to the promulgation of the Terrorism (Prevention) Act in 2013 which helped in getting FATF to remove Nigeria from the list of non-compliant countries.

This was obviously the logic that encouraged the Senate to amend the Terrorism Act to criminalise ransom payment. If this amendment becomes law, Nigerians who pay ransoms to kidnappers risk spending 15 years in jail.  We vehemently disagree with the President of the Senate who claimed thus: “This is one piece of legislation that can turn around not only the security issues of Nigeria but even the economy of the country”.

This amendment Bill will be a bad law. It will tie the hands of the relations of victims from helping themselves to free their loved ones in kidnappers’ dens after government fails in its constitutional duty of safeguarding the people. It will amount to adding salt to injury. It does not contain any seed of justice.

While we agree that payment of ransoms helps to fortify criminals and terrorists who abduct people as a means of making money and holding the government to ransom, we insist that it is the primary duty of government to prevent kidnapping through proactive intelligence, policing and law enforcement. It is also its responsibility to manage these incidents when they occur to ensure the safe rescue of the victims.

But in Nigeria, government has increasingly resorted to abandoning law and order duties altogether. Thousands of kidnapped men, women and children are languishing at the mercy of criminals and terrorists while officials are spending public funds and jostling to buy nomination forms.

Government cannot abdicate its responsibility and make self-help a crime. We fully hold the government responsible for the protection of citizens and their safe rescue (by whatever means) when kidnapped.

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