KIDNAPPING: ‘Big business’ that took over from armed robbery

Kidnapping began some years back with the agitation in the Niger Delta region for resource control. Overtime it assumed an alarming dimension with schools becoming targets and pupils taken away for ransom. In this report, ISIOMA MADIKE, looks at this disturbing menace that has seen many Nigerians lose millions to abductors

 

Ikorodu, the aquatic neighbourhood in the ‘centre of excellence’, has been in the news lately, though for the wrong reasons. It is gradually but steadily becoming kidnappers’ den.

But, before this new dimension to criminality, armed robbers had held sway in many Nigerian localities. They were so deadly that many environs were dreaded both by residents of the areas as well as visitors to the communities.

Their activities, however, have now been relegated to the backwoods by abduction that has long taken the front seat. Kidnapping, which began with the agitation in the Niger Delta for resource control, has overtime assumed an alarming dimension beyond what anyone could have envisaged years back.

Then, it was common knowledge to kidnap expatriate oil workers in the region mainly to draw international attention to the plight of the indigenes of the zone. That was before the advent of the much talked about amnesty programme for the militants.

Later, the act became an easy way, to criminal wealth. Of recent, however, schools have become targets for abductors. This new order started with the kidnapping of female students in a Government Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State, by the Boko Haram sect where over 250 female boarding students were taken hostage in that episode.

After that, the macabre dance moved to Lagos. Since then, the gangsters had touched many schools including the Model College in Igbonla, Epe, where they took away four pupils and two teachers on October 6, 2016. Before the Epe incident, three pupils had been kidnapped at the Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary in Ikorodu, in March of the same year.

They stopped over at the Nigerian Tulip International School, in Ogun State, where three more female students and five members of staff of the college were also abducted.

There are many more unreported cases. Some of them happened when the students were on their way to or from school. In most of these instances, the police, in order to secure the release of the captives, liaised with the frazzled parents, to pay the required ransom to the criminals after negotiations.

Ever since, many families had gone through the trauma of being guests of these monsters. Until recently, national values and respect for human lives made kidnapping a stranger. Hardly were media pages devoted to reports on the act and scarcely did any court sat over such an issue.

Today, it is worrisome that hardly does a day pass without reports of kidnap of one person or a group of people. More worrying is the fact that the young, old, the rich and the not-so-rich are now targets.

Targets also cut across professions and nationalities. Some kidnapped persons have also died in their captivity, or during rescue operations. The men of the pen profession were never spared of the cankerworm.

For instance, four members of the Lagos State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists were in 2010, kidnapped in Abia by unknown gunmen who demanded a N250 million ransom.

But the kidnap that shook Nigeria was that of the wife of the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Margaret Emefiele, and six other persons along Benin-Agbor Road after gunmen chased her police detail into the bush, in 2016.A ransom of N1.5 billion was demanded in what has become the norm by her abductors, who reached out to the family.

The victim’s husband, Godwin Emefiele, has been in charge of the CBN since 2014. She became a victim in a string of abductions that had seen many public figures seized since January last year. She was, however, released without being hurt. Also, in 2010, the aged mother of a former chairman of the Nigeria Football Federation, Malam Sani Lulu, was kidnapped in Ayangba, Kogi State.

Her abductors asked for a N200 million ransom. In like manner, 82-two-year-old Prof. Mabel Kanene Okonjo, mother of then Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, were among the victims at Ogwashi-Uku, Delta State.

Titilayo, wife of a former governor of Western State, retired Brig.-Gen. Oluwole Rotimi, was equally kidnapped on December 10, 2012, by gunmen. In the same month, Nkiru Sylvanus, an actress and aide to Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha, fell into kidnappers’ hands. They demanded N100 million for her release.

Solutions to kidnapping

With the raising of this monstrous menace, many condemn the development and sought urgent solution. They suggested meaningful engagement of the citizens, especially the youth, to distract their attention from this and other social ills.

They said employment generation would go a long way to tackle the menace which some partly attribute to joblessness.The spokesman for the Catholic Arch diocese of Lagos, Monsignor Gabriel Osu, believed that poverty is the major cause of kidnapping.

He urged governments to tackle it, noting that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. “The majority of the youth, who should be engaged are not working, there is no job creation.

Only a few youths who know powerful people are securing jobs. Anybody who can read between the lines should know that whatever is happening is not strange, it follows logically,” he said.

In addition, Osu wants kidnappers to be prosecuted, and adequately punished to serve as a deterrent. Prof. Lai Olurode, sociologist and former National Commissioner of INEC, also said that the rising wave of kidnapping could be attributed to fallen value system in Nigeria.

He urged inculcation of morals into the lives of the youth, to reduce vices, including kidnapping. Olurode goes on to suggest job creation for the youth. “Youths find kidnapping as the quickest way to make money.

They even go as far as kidnapping for N5,000; this explains how decadence has eaten deep into our societal value system,” he said. To a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Yusuf Ali, more empowerment of security agencies should be effected to enable them to adequately check the crime.

“The problem is multi-dimensional; it is easy for people to say that the cause of kidnapping is the increasing level of poverty in the society. One cannot take it away from the fact that there is also increasing level of criminality.”

Another lawyer, Keji Saliu, believes that kidnappers are not being adequately punished in Nigeria. “We must be able to make sacrifices in this country to correct what error is wrong.

There is no way you can correct whatever is wrong without making one sacrifice or the other. Kidnapping depicts the government as incapable of securing the lives and property of citizens and foreigners.

“It scares away investors and tourists, cripples the economy and gives Nigerians a bad name. Something really has to be done to stem this,” he said, adding “the police should arraign suspected kidnappers as soon as they were arrested and investigations completed to facilitate justice administration that will, in turn, discourage kidnapping. Renowned security expert, Dr. Ona Ekhomu, agrees that insecurity will drive away potential investors and invariably retard economic development.

The expert urged urgent and decisive actions against the menace to save Nigerians from living in fear and avoid retarding economic development. “No country develops without investment and no country develops when its investment and even the lives of workers are not secured,” the President of the Association of Industrial Security and Safety Operators of Nigeria (AISSON) and the Africa Representative of the International Foundation for Protection Officers (IFPO), said.

Unrest at the Ikorodu axis

Apart from kidnapping, residents of Ikorodu, a sprawling neighbourhood on the outskirts of Lagos State, are particularly not happy at what fate bequeathed on them in recent past. Since the past one year, they have been sleeping with their one eyes closed.

They have been counting both their gains and losses of living in the Ikorodu axis. The neighbourhoods had come under attack instigated by daredevil robbers many a time.

This may be the reason the locality assumed notoriety for crime and criminality, making many to believe it had become a refuge for thieves. In their many operations, the bandits carted away millions of naira, leaving in their trail, blood, sorrow and tears. Some unlucky persons were equally dispatched to early graves.

The notorious areas included Isawo, a community popular for its oil bunkering activities and home to very active cult gangs. Those in this vicinity said that gun fights between pipeline vandals and the police are frequent. Similarly, killings among rival cults groups are repeat occurrences that are no news to residents. Abule area was the biggest flashpoint in this community.

There is also the Odogunyan district, which is home to the biggest industrial estate in West Africa, comprising different manufacturing companies. Yet, Odogunyan earns a reputation for its frequent killings among rival cult gangs as they strive to dominate the area.

There were also increase in looting of shops and businesses in the community, forcing owners to lock up shops earlier than normal, while some relocated. Majidun, another community located by the waterside was, according to residents, the hub for criminal activities, especially oil bunkering.

Earlier last year, the naval security forces took over some part of the community used by this pipeline vandals, evicted the boat operators and other residents and set up security post around the area.

It is not far from Ebute-Ipakodo where many bank robberies took place. And Ijede, located in the exterior of Ikorodu, also witnessed a resurgence of criminal activities.

Report of people missing around that part of Ikorodu is said to be rampant while armed robbery activities are also frequent. The June 2, 2016, bank robbery was one of those this community would love to forget in a hurry.Imota, located on the fringes of Ikorodu, is reputed for its ritual and fetishness.

Residents will always advise strangers to this community to thread with caution so as not to become victims of ritual-inspired killings. Other dark spots that have been in the news for the wrong reasons in Ikorodu are Jaiyesimi, Ejina and Ladega.

During some of the operations, the race for dear life usually transcend age limit as both the young and old reportedly took to their heels in different directions in order not to be hit by stray bullets. In a movielike scenes, the gun-wielding men, usually dressed in military fatigue uniform, would announce their presence with volleys of gun shots.

They would make their way unhindered into the banks, shattering the electronic security doors, which ordinarily would have rejected anyone with metal object, with bullets. Ogolonto area of Ikorodu also received the unholy baptism of the armed robbers. A young man who disguised as a lady reportedly led one of the operations.

He was said to have sat down in front of one of the banks, bragging, as no policeman was able to confront him for fear of the charms around his neck. Sources at one of the banks disclosed that there were about 15 in number whose ages should not be more than 20 years.

At present, commercial activities are at their lowest ebb, with many relocating to other far-flung place for safety. Landlords, Saturday Telegraph, also discovered are putting up their houses for sale with the intention to divest in safer areas of the state.

History of kidnapping in Nigeria

The genesis of the Niger Delta struggle may have started from Oloibori in Bayelsa State where oil was struck in commercial quantities in 1956. Expectedly, this discovery ought to elevate the living conditions of the area and the state as a whole as was the case in many communities of the world that are homes to similar ‘gold’. But, that has not been the case, as poverty remained the people’s lot.

It led instead to degradation of agricultural lands and fishing waters. Affected people become impoverished. In many cases, they are confronted with the dilemma of either migrating to become part of the urban poor or to remain in their villages to grapple with the low yielding lands and poor sources of water. This is the sad reality of the proverbial people in want in the land of plenty.

Despite the fact that the Niger Delta region provides almost 90 per cent of the nation’s resources via oil, 75 per cent of its people, said to be in rural areas, are without pipe borne water, electricity, roads and health centres.

The whole region is, undeniably, devastated by oil exploitation, waters polluted by almost daily oil spillage and the air poisoned by ceaseless gas flares. This, many believe, led to the people boiling in anger.

It has also been linked to the root causes of what has today become known as the Niger Delta struggle. Indeed the agitation for a fairer distribution of oil revenues cannot be said to be new.

As far back as February 1966, a former police officer, Jasper Adaka Boro, led a rebellion on behalf of the region. Boro was said to have recruited 40 men into an organisation known as the Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF). He gave his men training in the use of firearms and explosives in the creeks and bushes. On February 23, 1966, the men attacked a police station in Yenagoa, raided the armoury and kidnapped some officers at the station.

They also blew up oil pipelines, engaged the police in a gunfight and declared the Niger Delta an independent republic. The revolt was suppressed and Boro and his men were sentenced to death, though, the verdict was not carried out.

Since then, the contemporary situation in the Niger Delta region has been worrisome and pathetic.

However, the region has, without doubt, been riddled with development crisis consequent upon environmental changes, land degradation, destruction of aqua culture, conflict, poverty, growing segment of disenchanted populace, and the consequence of youth restiveness and militia upsurge.u c h bodies as the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Ijaw Youth Congress (IYC), Egbesu Youth, and the NDVF, are all seen to typify the region’s responses to environmental filth, political marginalisation, and economic underdevelopment.

Ogoniland is a part of the Niger Delta basin. Economically viable petroleum was discovered in the area in 1957, just one year after the discovery of Nigeria’s first commercial petroleum deposit in Oloibori, with Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron Corporation setting up shop to further explore the oil.

The Ogoni, a minority ethnic group of about half a million people, and other ethnic groups in the region combined to allege that the government, during this time, began forcing them to abandon their land to oil companies without consultation, and offering negligible compensation.

This is further supported by a 1979 constitutional addition which afforded the federal government full ownership and rights to all Nigerian territory. The government, after that, decided that all compensation for land would “be based on the value of the crops on the land at the time of its acquisition, not on the value of the land itself.” This afforded it the opportunity, according to the people, to distribute the land to oil companies as it deemed fit.

However, the government’s empty promises of benefits for the Niger Delta people fell through. And the Ogoni grew increasingly dissatisfied. Their environmental, social, and economic apparatus rapidly deteriorated also. The resultant tension led to the formation of MOSOP in 1992.

The group, spearheaded by playwright and author, Ken Saro-Wiwa, became the major campaigning organ isation representing the Ogoni people in their struggle for ethnic and environmental rights. Its primary targets, and at times adversaries, have been the Nigerian government and the oil companies.

Also, the December 1998 “All Ijaw Youths Conference” crystallised the Ijaw struggle for petroleum resource control with the formation of IYC and the issuing of the Kaiama Declaration. In it, long-held Ijaw concerns about the loss of control of their homeland and their lives to the oil companies were joined with a commitment to direct action. They also pledged “to struggle peacefully for freedom, self-determination and ecological justice.”

This was followed by the formation of the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF) led by Mujahid Dokubo-Asari and the Niger Delta Vigilante (NDV) led by Ateke Tom. Both are primarily made up of Ijaws.

The NDPVF was founded by Asari, a former president of the IYC, in 2003 after he “retreated into the bush” to form the group with the explicit goal of acquiring control of regional petroleum resources.

The two groups dwarf a plethora of smaller militias supposedly numbering more than 100. All of the groups are constituted mostly by disaffected young men from Warri, Port Harcourt, and their sub-urban areas.

Although the smaller groups are autonomous from within, they nonetheless, formed alliances with and were largely controlled from above by either Asari and his NDPVF or Tom’s NDV who provided military support and instruction.

Later the MEND and many others led by the dreaded Tompolo and Boy- Loaf joined the fray. And immediately, these militant groups, especially the MEND, resorted to taking foreign employees of oil companies’ hostage.

They hijacked ships, kidnapped sailors, and killed oil workers, though, most were released unharmed. These, according to them, were to draw international attention to the pathetic plight of people in the region.

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