Chiemelie Ezeobi, Sunday Ehigiator and Chiamaka Ozulumba, write that across the country, the once forgotten menace of kidnapping has resurged with victims ranging from children to the elderly, while some end up being killed, just as demands for ransom continue to rise
When the Ataga family woke up on Saturday, January 25, 2020, nothing prepared them for the tragedy that would befall them. They were abducted during the invasion of the dreaded kidnappers of Juji community in Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State. The kidnappers, who were said to have engaged security operatives in a serious gun battle, also killed a member of the community’s vigilante group.
Afterwards, they later broke into the Atagas’ home and whisked away Mrs. Ataga and two children. The abductors demanded N150 million ransom for their release and negotiations were still on before they killed her.
Although the amount paid as ransom was not stated by the family, the kidnappers had initially demanded for N150 million but when the family could not meet the request, they killed the matriarch and subsequently demanded N20 million for the release of her children.
It was after killing her that the bandits made a demand of N20 million ransom for the release of the children, of which an undisclosed sum was paid.
While acknowledging the return of the children, Mr. Sunday Michael, a member of the family, said they were released after payment of ransom to the bandits by their father.
It would be stating the obvious to say that the kidnappers came back. They left the trenches and started abducting their victims and demanding for ransom in return. Given the alacrity at which they swoop in and execute their well-lined out strategy, Nigerians now live in perpetual fear of the unknown and in most kidnap cases, the end goal for each of kidnap case, is usually the demand for ransom which often run into millions of naira.
For many Nigerians, that the kidnappers have held the nation hostage is not the major problem, rather the seeming helplessness of security agencies in the face of such insecurity, poses great danger.
In Adamawa State alone, 13 professors and 287 persons were kidnapped in 2019, followed by Zamfara with 281, while in Kogi and Niger States, 65 and 51 persons, respectively were kidnapped within the period. Those are documented cases. There are yet several that went under the radar as the family quietly paid the ransom and secured the release of their loved one. The figures above were given by the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, who fingered the reign of bandits in Zamfara as the cause of the high figure.
No Sacred Cows
Before, the victims were the rich or well connected. Now, the spread has touched virtually all strata and class. From the rich to the poor, the aged to youths and children. Again, no strata is left out as doctors, pastors, teachers, judges and even traders, among others, have become victims of this well-oiled thriving syndicate.
A random search on the internet popped up several kidnap cases. From Kaduna to Zamfara, Lagos to Enugu, these kidnappers have gone riot. Also, although some of the kidnappers are bandits, especially in the North, others are terrorist in the North-east. There are yet the professional kidnappers that thrive in the East and West.
Also alarming is the fact that most cases on the internet were reports of the kidnap but little was done to know the state of the victims afterwards. Where they released as promised by the police? Was ransom paid?
On April 21, 2019, The Irish Times, while quoting the British High Commission, reported that kidnappers in Nigeria had killed a British woman, Faye Mooney and a Nigerian man, and abducted three others in the northern city of Kaduna. According to the police, the woman was said to have travelled from Lagos as a tourist and was attending a party before the incident happened.
Mooney until her death was employed in Nigeria by a non-governmental organisation called Mercy Corps.
“Some suspected kidnappers armed with dangerous weapons gained entry into a recreational resort called Kajuru Castle in Kajuru Local Government Area shooting sporadically and in the process shot dead two persons, including an expatriate lady, and took away three others,” Kaduna State police spokesman said.
On April 28, 2019, gunmen kidnapped three oil workers from Canada, Scotland and Nigeria at a rig in Nigeria’s Delta region. It turned out to be the second abduction in the area in less than a week.
The attackers raided the rig owned by Niger Delta Petroleum Resources in Ogbele, Rivers State at around 8 am local time, as confirmed by said Military Spokesperson, Major Ibrahim Abubakar.
On May 21, 2019, an evangelical pastor, his daughter, and more than a dozen other churchgoers were reportedly abducted while one person was killed after a team of gunmen attacked villages in the troubled Kaduna state of Nigeria.
According a member of the International Crisis Group, Nnamdi Obasi, “Rev. Zakariah Ido, 11 girls and five men were abducted from an Evangelical Church Winning All congregation in the village of Dankande in the Birnin Gwari Local Government Area in the early hours of Sunday morning.”
He tweeted that sources claimed that as many as 20 gunmen were responsible for the attack, adding that the armed men surrounded the church and began shooting. The gunmen asked everyone at the church to surrender their phones and demanded to know who the pastor was. After threatening the choristers they showed them the pastor’s home where they went to and took him, his daughter with 15 others.
According to the states police spokesperson, Ajayi Okasanmi, the men were taken by a gang of six armed men in a raid on a bar in Gbale village in the Edu area of Kwara state on Saturday. Fortunately, the four kidnapped victims were later freed unharmed in a joint military and police operation.
The abduction came more than a week after 10 Turkish nationals were abducted from their ship by armed men off the coast of Nigeria on July 15.
The aid workers, were said to have been abducted near the town of Damasak in northeast Nigeria, were on their way to provide aid to some IDP’s. One driver was killed in the incident but afterwards, all the six aid workers as seen in the viral video where they pleaded for help, were killed following the failure of the government to meet up with the ransom demanded by the Boko Haram sect, who later claimed responsibility.
The DPO was kidnapped while on his way to Asaba for official assignment by gunmen who shot sporadically before whisking him away. It was later alleged that the state police command headquarters in Asaba freed him after N3million ransom had already been paid.
took away two staff of the college and six female students to an unknown destination.
On October 8, 2019, kidnappers struck Abuja and made away with nine persons in the Kuje area of the city. Among the abducted were four officers of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC).
There were also five civilians, along with a 12 year-old boy also abducted by the gunmen. One of the four kidnapped NSCDC officers was identified as Ayeni Oluwatosin. The kidnapping happened in Pegi community, a resettlement area in Kuje Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Witnesses said the kidnappers dressed in military camouflage and struck around 8:00pm. On that same day, one person was killed while four others were abducted in Anguwan Barau, Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State.
A university professor and chaplain, Felix Illesanmi, was abducted in November in Yola. He was released a few days later after he was abandoned by his abductors.
On December 17, 2019, a Redeemed Church pastor, Pastor Kayode Shogbesan was abducted on his way home from teaching at Modibbo Adama University of Technology. According to reports, the gunmen kidnapped the pastor in Yola and called his family to notify them.
On January 8, 2020, four seminarians, between the ages of 18 and 23, were abducted from their seminary in Kaduna, northwestern Nigeria.
The gunmen were said to have disguised in military camouflage, broke through the fence surrounding the seminarians’ living quarters and began shooting sporadically. They stole laptops and phones before kidnapping the four young men.
The kidnappers were said to have later made contact with family members of the seminarians on January 11, but never pronounced any amount of money as ransom. Unfortunately the abductors later released the three remaining seminarians after killing 18 years old Michael Nnadi.
The Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) in the state, SP Abdu Jinjiri revealed that the victim, Hajiya Zahra’u Haruna, was kidnapped by three gunmen on Saturday about 4 a.m. at Dangyatum village.
On January 25, 2020, the Ataga’s were kidnapped and on February 1, the wife of the Kaduna-based doctor, Philip Ataga was found dead barely seven days after she was kidnapped alongside her two kids.
On Tuesday, January 28, the 90-year-old mother of Chairman of Nigerian Aviation Handling Company Plc (nahco aviance), Mrs. Alice Fadeni, was kidnapped from her residence at Okeriota area of Ode Aye in Okitipupa Local Government Area of Ondo State by about seven gunmen. The gunmen had stormed the residence of the 90-year-old woman and drove her away in a Toyota Sienna van to an unknown destination. She was however released on February 8, 2020.
Most recently, on Friday February 7, 2020, one person was confirmed dead in an attempt to kidnap the Provost of Taraba College of Education Zing, Dr. Mike Dio-Jen, at his residence in Jalingo. The incident occurred in the early hours of Friday, at the Green Beach area of Kona ward, in Jalingo.
An eye witness who spoke under anonymity told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), that the kidnappers who came in their numbers, fired several gunshots at the gate of the provost’s house and forced their way in. They however met stiff resistance by security operatives guarding the provost’s house and this led to the death of the gate man while the kidnappers fled the area through a nearby river
Also on February 7, 2020, a major national daily (not THISDAY) reported that some gunmen alleged to be kidnappers during the week kidnapped a law school student and other passengers along Kabba-Obajana road in Kogi State. The Kogi State Police Command Public Relations Office, DSP William Ayah confirmed the report, but said they don’t have the actual number of people kidnapped.
It was gathered that Motunrayo Rafiu, who recently graduated from Olabisi Onabanjo University Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, was on her way to resume at the Abuja campus of the Nigerian Law School when she was kidnapped. She left her home in Ogun State on Tuesday morning and was kidnapped along Kabba-Obajana road in Kogi State.
It is pertinent to note that these kidnappers do not just strike for the fun of it. No. They have embraced the business because it has become a juicy cash cow that keeps yielding fruit. This according to experts should be blamed on the desperation of families to secure the release of their loved ones, which has emboldened the kidnappers who know they can always coerce the cooperation of victims’ families to keep the security agents off their trail.
A police officer who spoke on anonymity said: “As a law enforcement agency guided by rule of law and professional ethics we do not under any circumstance encourage the payment of ransom to kidnappers or other criminals as it is tantamount to rewarding crime and motivating other criminals to follow that path.
“History has shown that even where ransom is proven to have been paid the life or safe return of a kidnap victim may not be guaranteed. Whatever the family do as regards payment of ransom is usually outside the knowledge and consent of the police and at this point we wish to advice that in future families who fall victims of such acts should rather work closely with the police component of the rescue initiative so that we can achieve the primary purpose of rescuing the victim alive instead of wittingly or unwittingly giving the impression of encouraging criminal activity by rewarding criminals with payment of ransom.”
Personal Locator Beacons
To ameliorate the increasing spate of kidnapping in Nigeria, security experts have advocated for the Personal Locator Beacons (PLB). The way it works, one has to trigger it when they are kidnapped so their locations will show.
The beacon is usually registered in the name of the owner and when triggered, their data comes to the system, and the rescue team are alerted. The PLB can also be bu ilt into wrist watches as a disguise.
The snag however is the cost. As useful as the PLB is, one could cost between 300 to 700 dollars, and as such only about 300 PLBs are in circulation in Nigeria and that is too small a number compared to what is applicable worldwide.
Death Penalty as Panacea
Although the law has a spelt out punishment for kidnappers, many are however of the opinion that death penalty should be adopted. Also, although there is already a subsisting law that prescribes death penalty for kidnapping, it has seemingly not deterred the kidnappers from carrying out their nefarious activities.
It was the then Senate President, David Mark, that advocated for death penalty for kidnappers, adding that it was merely the application of “Hammurabi’s ancient Mesopotamian law of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”.
In September 2017, Senate passed a bill which outlaws abduction, wrongful restraint or confinement for ransom. The Senate also approved death sentence for whoever engages in the act and a 30 years jail term for anybody that colludes with an abductor. The bill sponsored by Isa Misau, APC-Bauchi, was passed into law after a consideration of the report by Senate committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters and was aimed at giving wider powers to the IG of Police to ensure adequate policing.
Although Nigerians have unanimously condemned kidnapping, many are however of the opinion that the root causes of kidnapping- poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, ostentatious display of wealth and greed, must be addressed.
Therefore, they noted that first, government must ensure the dividends of democracy reach the common man. Also, the police must be proactive in its constitutional role of protecting citizens by ensuring that they are up to par operationally and intelligence-wise.
Also, given that security is everyone’s business, community leaders, residents and youths should support the police with information. This is because the one of the solutions to the seeming inexorable menace of kidnapping is understanding that the police alone cannot redeem the situation effectively without the collective backing of the entire community and the people.