The kidnapping business in Nigeria

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The kidnapping business in Nigeria started almost one and half decades ago and people tended to dismiss it as a business peculiar to the southeastern part of the country  not knowing it would soon become a national pastime .The coming of the malady to Lagos soon got the attention of the press in the celebrated trial of one Chukwudumeme or Chuwudubem  Onwumadike alias Evans who  conspired to kidnap one Donatus Duru on February 14th 2017 at Ilupeju Lagos and then freed him after collecting a ransom of  223;000 Euros which is about N112,000000 (one hundred and twelve million Naira) which is a huge amount in any currency. This was one of several cases of kidnapping and murders he organized from his operation centre in one of the suburbs of Lagos. The trial has gone on since then until a rumored report that he was sentenced to death by a Lagos high court on August the 18th of 2020 which has turned to be fake news . The important thing to note is that the man has led a gang of kidnappers and murderers since 2013 operating from the Southeastern part of the country until he shifted his base to Lagos. The notoriety of this case and the way series of five Defence counsels have dragged on the case with one adjournment after another and fruitless argument of a no case submission have led people to feel there will be no adequate punishment for the crimes the man was charged with and people have consequently become inured to the phenomenon of kidnapping. This has now spread to the entire southern part of the country perhaps because kidnappers were emboldened by the rather tepid reaction by the judiciary and officers of the law to the seriousness of the crime of kidnapping. The huge amount people were being forced to pay to secure the lives or freedom of loved ones proved a magnet of attraction for young and unemployed people who formed gangs or acted solo in the business of kidnapping. Even some students got involved. We handled a case in my previous university before I finally retired when a boy friend told his girlfriend to hide in an hotel and got someone to phone us that our student had been kidnapped. The parents were immediately alerted and our institution’s management was running from one police post to another. Eventually the parents of the girl parted with five million naira demanded  by the “ kidnappers “ It was when the money was dropped at the appointed place that the boy was caught and he immediately said it was a joint enterprise between him and his girlfriend . The father of the girl felt humiliated by his own child and we simply expelled the girl involved. What shocked me was how quiet and well behaved the girl had been before she fell in love! I am telling this lived experience to show the perversity and prevalence of the malady and crime of kidnapping.

What became a crime that was initially domiciled in the Southern part of the country has now metastasized into a national disease now mainly carried out by gangs of dispossessed Fulani Nomads roaming the rural space of both the north and the southern parts of the country. Some of these Fulani, on losing their cows to rustlers or their grazing grounds to the ever expanding urban settlements, take to brigandage. Initially this was happening in Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna states but has now spread to all parts of the north and some parts of the south where cow rustling has become a phenomenon. Others have of course joined in what seems a lucrative business. We have had several instances where people are kidnapped and millions are demanded from relatives but after serious negotiations the demand is reduced and once the money is paid the victim is released after suffering several sleepless days in the kidnappers’ den usually in the bush. This was the case with a professor of medicine of Obafemi University whose car was intercepted shortly after Asejire dam on his way to Ife from Lagos where he had gone to present a paper in a conference. Chief Olu Falae former Secretary to the Federal government had the unenviable experience of being kidnapped by Fulani nomads on his farm and spirited to a bush on the Owo- Benin road and was not released until appropriate ransom was apparently paid. The most dangerous aspect of the kidnapping phenomenon is its possible ethnic exploitation. This was the case in Katsina, Kaduna and Zamfara where kidnappings became manifestations of ethnic hatred apart from its economic dimension between Hausa and Fulani. In the South Yoruba and Igbo and others see kidnapping especially by Fulani nomads as part of the warped political structure of the country where some people seem to be treated as sacred cows when they commit crimes. They come to this conclusion because Fulani criminals seem to go unpunished. In some cases there are allegations of police refusing to take criminal complaints against them as seriously as the cases demand. The result of this is the accentuation of ethnic differences which have led to violence in a few instances.

The forests both in the north and the south have become refuge for criminals and the Fulani who over the centuries have known their ways through these forests in grazing their cows and moving them from the north to the south use this knowledge to their advantage in criminal activities. This is why as soon as people are kidnapped they are immediately spirited to the forests which serve as prisons for their unfortunate victims .The forests generally are ungoverned spaces unlike in colonial and immediate colonial times when forest guards maintained some presence in them and gave at least the impression of government’s presence unlike now when they seem to be no man’s land and nature abhors a vacuum. It now seems these forests have become sometimes the redoubt of criminals whether the brigands terrorizing Nigeria or the Boko haram terrorists who have declared war on Nigeria.

Recently a Science boarding school of 800 pupils was invaded in Kankara in Katsina state by motorcycles riding terrorists. Some of the students apparently fled on hearing gun shots in the night but about three hundred and thirty three students were led to captivity in Zamfara forest several kilometers away from Kankara. Boko haram claimed they were responsible for it, but it is more likely to be the handiwork of pastoral Fulani who are locked in economic struggles with Hausa farmers and who have visited violence on each other over the last decade without a viable solution found to the cause of friction which centres around grazing land and destruction of farm lands and attendant mutual violence and rustling of cows belonging to the Fulani . The  assumption of most observers is that the operation in Kankara falls into the same pattern of violence and kidnapping arising from economic deprivation and the ready money that could be made from kidnapping. It is not clear if any money was paid to the criminals who invaded the Science School in Kankara but my guess is that money changed hands before the children were released. I believe the villagers who must have seen hundreds of children trekking and sandwiched between their captors on motor cycles knew what was happening and just decided to keep quiet out of fear and that it was not of their business. The transactional nature of this particular kidnapping is very revealing. The moment ransom was paid the victims were released compared with the Boko haram kidnapping where victims were usually kept for years particularly if they were girls and women.

The solution to all this is that punishment has never been sure and swift to punish kidnappers including those who committed murder in the process of kidnapping. Kidnapping must not be seen as a paying profession. When they are caught they should be made to lose whatever money or property that can be traced to them and their accomplices and when murder is committed the kidnappers have to be sentenced to death.

The question of securing the farms of peasants and the cows of Fulani must be looked into. It is when Fulani cows are taken from them by rustlers that they take to brigandage. The same happens to peasants who lose their lands and take to kidnapping for economic sustenance.

The question of grazing land which the pastoral Fulani have taken their cows to feed and which is being lost to the urban spread needs to be solved. Perhaps a total review of the way cows are bred needs to be done. Instead of the open grazing, ranching provides an alternative. Secondly government should invest in the improvements of the Fulani herds to increase meat yield and consequent revenue for the Fulani herdsmen.

Nigeria needs to tighten the borders and impose some kind of nationality demands for the wandering Fulani who do not seem to respect national territorial borders and are essentially oblivious of the requirements of national law. This May have to be done within the context of ECOWAS and our neighbors in Chad and  the Cameroons and even The Central African Republic ( CAR) where Fulanis go and come from without paying much attention to national borders and laws . Whatever we do we must effectively occupy our space because effective occupation is the first rule of national sovereignty.

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