Criminal involvement of soldiers in kidnapping

Boko Haram

WITH the government still unable to marshal a proper response, kidnapping is fast assuming an epidemic dimension in the country. The situation has been worsened by the involvement of soldiers, as was the case when Margaret, the wife of the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, was recently kidnapped. When security agents become active promoters of crime, finding a lasting solution becomes much more complicated.  But the heads of such security agencies have a duty to fish out the criminals among them so that they can face justice.

Apart from the threat from armed insurgency that the country is currently contending with in the North-East and the Niger Delta regions, there is no threat to personal security that is more pronounced than kidnapping. It is so widespread that most Nigerians are now living in palpable fear, as kidnappers could strike at any time of the day and anywhere. People are forcibly picked up at one part of the country only for them to turn up, freed by their abductors, at another – of course, after the payment of mouth-watering ransom. Some cases have ended tragically though, as was the case with Stanley Uche, a medical doctor who was killed in Aba, Abia State after a ransom of N30 million was paid.

Even schools and places of worship are not immune from the reach of the marauding criminals. Recently, a Lagos State model school at Igbonla, Epe, where two teachers, including the vice-principal, and four pupils, were forcibly taken away in an early morning raid, was a target. It was the second time heavily armed men would smash their way through into a school premises and take away students in Lagos. In an earlier raid at Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary in Ikorodu, three female students were abducted.

While targets are usually picked up after careful analyses of their net worth, kidnapping sometimes could be arbitrary. They sometimes capture a victim that was never targeted and, thereafter, interview the person before deciding on a ransom. The latter option was deployed in the case of Mike Ozekhome, a lawyer, who was kidnapped on the Benin-Auchi Road three years ago. It was after an interaction with his captors that the ransom was decided.

Prominent Nigerians such as a former presidential candidate, Olu Falae, who was kidnapped on his 77th birthday; politician, Iyabo Anisulowo; the late writer, Elechi Amadi; Peter Adomokhai, a retired Maj.-Gen. in the Nigerian Army; Kamene Okonjo, a professor and mother of the then Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, have also had their bitter experiences from their sojourn with kidnappers. Medical doctors in Ekiti State once declared an indefinite strike to protest their being frequently targeted by kidnappers.

It, however, came as a rude shock to Nigerians when two serving soldiers and another that had been dismissed were named among the nine suspects paraded for the kidnap of Emefiele’s wife. About N14.7 million, part of the ransom money paid, was found on them at the time of arrest. A suspect, Mohammed Sule, reportedly confessed that another “soldier and a gang leader” escaped with some of the loot. This tells a lot about the depth of depravity in the Nigerian Army, where, sometime ago, some soldiers were court-martialled for selling arms from the military armoury worth more than N100 million to Niger Delta militants.

The involvement of soldiers in kidnapping is an emerging trend that should worry the authorities. When Mikel Obi’s father, Michael Obi, was kidnapped and a ransom of $4 billion demanded, it was discovered that the kidnappers were also soldiers. A report quoting the then Commissioner of Police, Emmanuel Ayeni, said the kidnappers described the ransom as “chicken change to Mikel and his Chelsea club.”

What happened to that military tradition rooted in patriotism and discipline? This is a betrayal of confidence that should not be overlooked. A soldier that acts in such manner could also compromise the security of the country at a critical period. It will be interesting to know how the soldiers, said to be from a regiment in Maiduguri, Borno State, found their way to Benin-Agbor Road, where Emefiele was kidnapped, especially when soldiers in the barracks are not supposed to enjoy such latitude of movement.

There is no doubt that the main attraction has been the ransom money. Kidnapping has been fetching the criminals so much money that armed robbers are believed to be gradually abandoning the crime for kidnapping. Within a period of over a decade, kidnapping has evolved from what could be described as one of the lesser crimes in the country to a major security challenge that appears to be defying solutions.

Another reason for the rapid spread in the criminality is the lack of will to enforce the extant laws despite sometimes making a show of their enactments. Many states, including Edo, Bayelsa, Cross River and Akwa Ibom, have made it a crime punishable by death; yet, nobody is known to have been put to death on account of kidnapping, so far.  Laws should be enforced to know whether they serve as a deterrent or not. Perhaps, the only law being enforced is the demolition of houses of the kidnappers in the South-East zone.

It is good that the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, now has a Special Intelligence Monitoring Team involved in rescuing kidnapped persons. They have to be properly equipped with modern gadgets so that their activities would be intelligence-led. Besides, efforts should be made to reduce the level of small arms and light weapons in circulation in the country. It is amazing how many millions of guns move around the country and some of them find their way into wrong hands. If access to guns is made more stringent, for sure, there will be a noticeable reduction in the rate of kidnapping.