By MOSES AMADI
Kidnapping is a victim crime or a crime of violence that affects the physical nature of a captured population, their lives or even leads to their death. This represents a sharp contrast from non-victim crimes such as prostitution, corruption, among others.
It is stating the obvious that Nigeria is faced with an epidemic of kidnapping for ransom or mass abduction in different parts of the country more especially in the northwest. People are abducted and released at the pleasure of the kidnappers.
Every day, the story of kidnapping and banditry is the same. They operate with impunity, which they have displayed in several ways, giving a sense of lawlessness in the country.
Already, some local governments have been taken over by them. Some forests which hitherto were occupied by rangers have been captured and turned to ungoverned territories from where they perpetrate their crimes.
In a recent interview, Senator Shehu Sani declared that there are only two local governments that are safe in Kaduna state in spite of the fact that the state has the highest number of security formations in the country. Reports show that more than 949 people have been kidnapped this year in the state, with more than 774 kidnapped, and 222 people killed this year in three months. Nationwide, statistics show that over 3,000 people have been kidnapped this year in Nigeria.
Latest reports indicate that kidnappers are demanding ransom in cash and kind. There was a recent report about a local baker who suddenly started receiving huge orders from kidnappers and it turned out that his supplies were used to feed those who were held hostage by kidnappers.
This was a case of a penny depositor suddenly becoming a dollar or pound depositor which should have raised a red flag to the financial services sector and intelligent agencies to take up the fight against mass abduction.
Motorcycles have audaciously been requested by kidnappers and they got those motorcycles. They boasted that they have professionals who could detect trackers (if any) secreted in the motorcycles. They have gone to a level where they are also applying technology to counter security gadgets of security agencies. That re-emphasises the industrial scale nature of mass abduction. In other words, when you have an industry, you have a number of professionals that contribute to the value chain.
Kidnappers have also been asking for rice and other food items as ransom. What this shows is that kidnappers are perhaps ahead of their game. They know that if they go to the market and make bulk or mass purchases, they may give away their identity. As a result, they compel the parents of the victims or abductees to buy the food items and bring to them, with a threat to starve their kids to death if their demands are not met,.
Kidnapping business has persisted partly because of the huge ransoms paid to kidnappers and the cooperation of some members of the public and security agencies. There have been established cases of complicity of the security agencies, for instance, in Taraba and Zamfara states, where it was reported that some military personnel were involved in aiding and abetting banditry and kidnapping. It’s a very complex matter that has been termed ‘official kidnapping.’ It means those in authority are involved in the delivery and sharing of ransom. Perhaps that is why the discussions some governors had with kidnappers to stop their nefarious activities, have not yielded result.
At the moment, there is trust deficit between the members of the public and government on one hand, and members of the public and security agencies on the other. Recall that the question of bad eggs colluding with criminals has been with us for decades. Armed robbery now looks like a child’s play. But when armed robbery was hot in the country, there were instances of security officers who were caught in collusion with armed robbers and a few of them were tied to the stakes and they paid the ultimate price.
Lack of trust is the reason why security agencies are yet to mine sufficient information from victims in order to provide a pathway for dealing with this issue. It is even more complicated to note that some state governments are against payment of ransom. This makes it difficult to debrief rescued victims. If somebody is kidnapped and the authorities intervene and resolve it successfully, the victim feels they owe a debt of gratitude to the government. They will willingly say everything they know and help the authorities to possibly prevent the next kidnap. Such information should be studied to get strategic intelligence so as to learn the patterns, signs and capabilities of kidnap gangs.
But when victims are left to their own fate, they may feel betrayed and reluctant to divulge useful information. That is the situation with the Bethel Baptist School incident and some other kidnap cases. The parents are calling people all over the world to pray for their kids that were kidnapped in Nigeria. It hurts to see that we don’t care about the damage done to our country’s reputation in the comity of nations.
Most of the kidnappings are reported to the police but they don’t have sufficient facilities to track kidnappers. DPOs are supposed to be tracking, but they rely on the anti-kidnapping unit in their command headquarters. Police formations are spread in every local government area but they lack the tools to work with.
Arising from the Jaji Conference that took place recently, government said they would use new tactics to deal with bandits. But it is evident that whatever new tactics the government is deploying, the security situation has not improved.
Security has to be prioritized, as the primary purpose of government is the welfare and security of citizens. But the reality is that kidnapping has become a daily occurrence in Nigeria, and so, the aspect of preventive mechanism to ensure that kidnapping does not take place, does not arise.
It is good to know about the recent approval of extra budgetary allocation of over N4 billion for the Nigerian Intelligence Agency to purchase tracking equipment. This is coming at a time when industry watchers are saying that huge allocations to tackle insecurity do not correspond with expected outcomes in terms of solving security problems. On the other hand, we are hearing that the police major tracking equipment has broken down, as subscription has not been paid since 2015. It is scandalous that Nigeria has only one tracking equipment managed by just one company.
For purposes of public finance, it shouldn’t take a supplementary budget in 2021 to provide for the purchase of such equipment. It is supposed to be a must have, to be in stock, in custody and in use at all material times so that it becomes part of our line budget. Worse still, it is not just about budgeting but the possibility of getting the money out and adequately deploying it when it is needed without the hurdles of procurement process. If eventually released, it is hoped that this money would be deployed to real time quality technology equipment that will help to arrest the situation.
Security experts have revealed that there are locator devices manufactured in Nigeria by some obscure government agencies that can geo-locate the exact position of the bad guys. There are some experienced police officers who are good in tracking but are not given the opportunity to show what they have. There are available drones with cheap prices from South Africa and elsewhere that can boost tracking of ransom paid to kidnappers.
Ransoms, whether in cash or in kind, are trackable. Tracking has become handy, as it aids investigation. This has to do with procurement of ICT facilities that can help in policing and monitoring movements of the hoodlums.
The issue is not simply to track and retrieve those ransoms that have been paid, but to follow up so that activities, especially kidnapping, which are criminal in nature are dealt with according to law.
President Muhammadu Buhari has said that bandits and kidnappers would be spoken to in the language they would understand; that the war would be taken to them. What remains to be seen is the effect of such pronouncement.
Negotiation is better when one is in a position of strength or advantage. Both kinetic and non-kinetic techniques should be adopted in bringing solution to this security challenge. The kinetic technique should be given primacy, as it enables the security forces to attack and weaken the criminals. This involves getting intelligence, using drones, among others, to locate kidnappers. The most impact is achieved by carrying out simultaneous attacks in identified locations. If not, the criminals will move to areas that are safer and continue operating from those places. With the battle taken to them, they will be in disarray. That’s when we will have a better platform for negotiation to settle the issue of kidnapping in Nigeria.
It is learnt that some of the criminals are extra-territorial. In other words, they come from neighbouring countries such as Cameroon and especially the Republic of Niger, whose border with Nigeria spans more than 1000km. The Nigerian borders must be fortified to stop the criminals from having free entry in, and exit from Nigeria. That will make tracking easier.
Experts say there is a lot of movement of cash out of Nigeria by kidnappers. The manner in which extra-territorial kidnappers take their currency across the borders should be cause for concern. Physical cash is moved in the bush through the border with agents of the kidnappers, who transport the cash alongside their barons and other enablers. The people in the bush are foot soldiers. It’s an industry. There is a value chain. It’s a highly organized crime which needs to be taken down.
The current effort by the CBN and the justice department in trying to rein in some corrupt bureau de change operators should be intensified. Bureau de change operators along locations where kidnappers change their currency should be watched closely to check collusion by way of changing Cefa currency used in West Africa (which is different from the Cefa in the central part of Africa) and other currencies for kidnappers. The kidnappers equally change their currency to dollars.
There must be realistic linkages between the financial services sector and law enforcement. If there are unusual large deposits, there must be follow-up. In the US, if a huge sum is deposited in the bank, immediately the client will be asked to fill out what is called Suspicious Activity Report (SAR). Sometimes, if the bank officials are suspicious about the money, they may refuse to collect that deposit. If that deposit goes into the bank and it’s not reported, the bank risks heavy sanctions. In other words, there is a formal mechanism in place for reporting. The bank itself has a security department that conducts those investigations.
When people are held to account, they will do the proper thing by being alive to their responsibilities. Security agencies should look inwards and weed out the bad eggs. Police authorities have confirmed that there have been cases where Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) colluded with criminals. Some decades ago, the police put a system in place to check the means of livelihood and lifestyles of their personnel. That helped to arrest, put on trial, dismiss and even charge erring police personnel to court.
The sledge hammer approach deployed to crack down secessionists is not the same effort engaged to deal with bandits and kidnappers. Leaders of criminal activities are known and must be arrested, and brought to book. All that is required is a joint exercise or inter-agency cooperation to put the kidnappers at a disadvantage position so as to achieve an impactful crackdown.
How to go about all of these so that we develop a profile of this horrendous epidemic, should form the major focus for the government and security personnel.