By Dennis Amachree
Kidnapping can be traced all the way back to the pre-colonial West Coast of Africa, where local chiefs order the abduction of neighbouring tribes, or criminal elements within their community into slavery or human trafficking.
By 2006, when I was working in the oil and gas industry in Nigeria’s Niger Delta, I came into direct contact with militants, whom I had negotiate with, to release kidnapped expatriates.
Today, it is entwined in political unrest, economic instability, and social inequalities. An unstable political environment, with military coups and a 30-months civil war, enhanced the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.
With economic instability, the hoard of jobless university graduates, are readily drawn to available small arms and unto crime. This environment created a breeding ground for lawlessness and criminal activities.
Widespread poverty, unemployment, and economic disparities have driven some individuals to engage in kidnapping as a means of income.
The wealth gap in Nigeria is significant, with a small proportion of the population controlling a large portion of the wealth, making wealthy individuals and their families targets for kidnappers seeking hefty ransom.
Convergence of factors
One factor that frustrates peace loving citizens and security professionals is the weak law enforcement and judicial system.
The ineffectiveness of law enforcement agencies and a slow judicial system make it difficult to deter, prevent, and punish kidnapping.
The dearth of arrests and prosecution of kidnappers indirectly encourages would-be kidnappers to go into the “trade.”
Kidnapping has become ridiculously common that sometimes children of rich parents have been arrested for arranging their own kidnap in order to extort huge money as ransom from their families.
Kidnapping has become endemic across Nigeria due to a convergence of several factors each exacerbating the situation. One of such factors is corruption.
With high levels of poverty and unemployment, especially among the youths, kidnapping has become a lucrative criminal enterprise.
Checks and balances
The prospect of large ransoms is a strong motivation, especially in a country where economic opportunities are limited for a significant portion of the population.
The widespread availability of small arms and light weapons in Nigeria, partly due to porous borders and conflict in neighboring regions, has made it easier for criminal groups to carry out kidnappings.
Groups like Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria, various militant groups in the oil-producing Niger-Delta region, and currently, the bands of bandits in the northwest, use kidnapping as a means of funding their activities or advancing their political aims.
The bandits in the north west have also discovered the presence of solid minerals in the area and reportedly use kidnapped victims as slave labor.
The breakdown of traditional social structures and community networks that once served as a form of social control have weakened in many parts of Nigeria. This breakdown has resulted in a loss of community-based checks and balances against crime.
The influence of chiefs, in the south and emirs in the north has waned. High-profile kidnappings that yielded substantial ransom payments encourage other criminal elements to engage in similar activities, believing it to be an effective means of obtaining wealth.
Ongoing conflicts and violence in various parts of the north, increases the number of internally displaced people. These displaced populations are often more vulnerable to kidnapping and other forms of exploitation.
Boko Haram has been known to recruit from camps sheltering internally displaced people. Outside the rural communities, rapid urbanisation and population growth have led to sprawling urban centers where monitoring and policing are more challenging, providing more opportunities for kidnappers to operate.
These factors, both individually and collectively, contribute to the endemic nature of kidnapping in Nigeria. Addressing this issue requires a multifaceted approach, including strengthening law enforcement.
This will culminate in adequate intelligence and surveillance. However, the lack of sophisticated intelligence-gathering and surveillance capabilities makes it challenging for security forces to track and apprehend kidnappers effectively.
Reducing kidnapping in Nigeria to the barest minimum requires a multifaceted approach involving government action, community involvement, economic development, and international cooperation.
Political promises have been made over the years to restructure the Nigeria Police Force with some security professionals suggesting the establishment of State and Community Policing systems. However, it seems there is no “political will” to achieve this.
Encouraging community participation in security matters is a positive initiative, as crime, committed within the community, can easily be detected. Similarly, the public can be educated on preventive measures.
When the capacity of the police and security agencies is enhanced to combat kidnapping, there will be significant improvement in the fight against the scourge.
This will include better training, increased manpower, improved surveillance and intelligence gathering, leveraged by new modern technology. On the part of government, a lot can be done.
The “political will” should include a resolve to tackle corruption within the security and judicial sectors to ensure that efforts to combat kidnapping are not undermined.
It is also the responsibility of government to implement social welfare programs to support the disadvantaged and reduce the socio-economic disparities that can lead to criminal behaviour.
There should also be provision of support services for victims and their families, which can also encourage cooperation with law enforcement agencies.
We cannot address the root causes of crime by creating employment opportunities, especially for youths.
Economic empowerment can reduce the attractiveness of kidnapping as a source of income. However, this policy can be strengthened by enacting and enforcing stricter laws and penalties for kidnapping and related crimes.
The mentality of the youth that kidnapping actually pays, has to be erased. I have always advocated the establishment of specialized units, like a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team, dedicated to dealing with kidnapping cases, equipped with the necessary skills and resources.
Lastly, international cooperation with neighbouring countries and international agencies to combat cross-border kidnapping and organised crime is key in dealing with the endemic threat of kidnapping.
The phenomenon of kidnapping in Nigeria is a multifaceted issue, deeply rooted in the country's historical, socio-political, and economic context.
It reflects broader challenges that Nigeria faces as a developing country with a complex social fabric.
Implementing these strategies in a coordinated and sustained manner can significantly reduce the incidence of kidnapping in Nigeria.
It requires commitment and cooperation from all sectors of society, including government, law enforcement, communities, and international partners.
The author, Dennis Amachree, is a retired director of Nigeria's Department of State Security Services and a security consultant.
Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT Afrika.
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