KIDNAPPING AS THE NEW BOKO HARAM

Niran Adedokun

Just like leaders of this country watched Boko Haram grow from a non-violent organisation aimed at purifying Islam in northern Nigeria into a full-blown non-discriminatory terrorist organisation, they are paying lip service to the growing horror that kidnapping is becoming on the Abuja-Kaduna Expressway, northern Nigeria and other parts of the country.

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On Monday, chairman of Universal Basic Education Commission, Dr Mohammad Abubakar and his daughter were attacked and abducted along the Kaduna-Abuja Highway. Their driver had a worse luck as he was shot dead in the attack.  A report in the Tuesday edition of The PUNCH indicated that hundreds of motorists who had fled into the bush to get out of the reach of the kidnappers were yet unaccounted for at the time of going to press.

The report based on the first-hand testimony of a correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria who narrowly escaped said that the attack which took place around Katari in the Kagarko Local Government Area of Kaduna State saw hundreds of motorists travelling on both lanes of the expressway stranded for more than four hours as the road was blocked by cars hastily abandoned by their owners.

Thank goodness Abubakar got released alongside his daughter after 24 hours in captivity but his poor driver did not live to tell the story. The same is the experience of hundreds of others who have fallen into the hands of these criminals in the past few months that abduction on this highway has become a near daily experience.

But that Abubakar’s release was secured by the effectiveness of law enforcement as the police would want us to believe is really in doubt. Speculations were rife that the family paid a N13m ransom before they were let go. Not even the Force Public Relations Officer, Mr Frank Mba, who announced the release, could, according to media reports, totally assure Nigerians that no ransom was paid to secure the release of father and daughter as he was only quoted as saying he knew nothing about it. But then, the issue of ransom payment and police feigning ignorance of such transactions is something that Nigerians are used to by now.

One of the other things that the fine officer, Mba, said that begs for attention is his dismissal of claims that numerous others were kidnapped on the Kaduna Highway on Monday. Although The PUNCH report, referenced earlier, quoted the account of a news reporter who was on the spot, there is no point in attempting to contradict the police spokesperson who may indeed have his fact correct.  However, there is no doubt that the Kaduna expressway has become a favourite spot for these kidnappers and that the situation, despite all the operations that has been launched in the northern part of the country has gone on unchecked.

In the first week of April, Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State’s convoy was reported to have stumbled on a blockage by kidnappers on the road. According to his spokesperson, Samuel Aruwan, the governor who was on his way to Abuja arrived sighting dozens of vehicles parked by citizens on the road and stopped. His enquiry indicated that kidnappers had taken over the road. He then ordered his security details to dislodge them.

There have also been unconfirmed accounts from people who claimed to have been victims of the insecurity on this highway. Some of these stories have claimed that an outrageous number of gun-wielding men in army camouflage, storm the expressway, forcing drivers to a stop after raining a volley of bullets on all visible car tyres. One of such stories published on Thisislagos.ng  claims that: “No one escaped, they had seen us run and pursued us until we were all caught and rounded up. We were then marched in a single file into the bush. As we headed into the bush, they had us arranged in formation, one victim, one kidnapper and so on while the rest of the kidnappers formed two lines beside our single file. There was no escape as they repeatedly warned us that we would be shot if we tried to escape…”

The story claimed further that victims were made to trek for 12 hours and that “as we went along, we saw their armed vigilantes. Yes, the kidnappers had vigilantes to catch and kill runaway victims. They told us their vigilantes were well-armed and since it was an open field, any runaway victim would be shot dead. When we got to what was our destination, it was a huge village, community of different ‘platoons’ of kidnappers who also had their own victims. So, it was like a village business, hundreds of kidnappers, living side by side several hundreds more with each owning victims they raided off the roads. When we were eventually settled in an open place, the other ‘platoon’ of kidnappers came to ‘inspect us’, like we were spoils of war, loot they had come to admire…”

So even if Mba was right that there were no multiple abductions on Monday, there are clear indications that it is a regular occurrence that has taken the peace out of the lives of users of the very important road.

But kidnappings in the north are not restricted to this spot alone. As the acting Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, indicated at the quarterly Northern Traditional Rulers’ Council meeting in Kaduna on Tuesday, 546 of the total of 685 reported cases of abductions in Nigeria came from the North.  Unfortunately, the IG was not quoted to have given an update on what the special “Operation Puff Adder,” which he launched three weeks ago has so far achieved.

But that in itself is not surprising. How much can military and police operation achieve in the face of increasing lack of education and poverty that have become a way of life in Nigeria. This is more so in the northern part of the country where Governor Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State two years ago, attributed an outbreak  of Cerebrospinal Meningitis on the sinful activities of Nigerians.

And notwithstanding the uproar and quantum of advice that he got following this faux pas, Yari has not done anything particularly significant to improve the standard of living of his people. His state has consistently come under the attack of bandits, a result of which it is said to have the highest national kidnap rate in the country.

So rather than restrict efforts at tackling all sorts of crime in Nigeria to the rolling out of armoured tanks and arresting prostitutes, government at all levels must make concerted efforts to get more children into school, provide employment for the youths and generally take care of the welfare of citizens.

One of the most ludicrous comments offered by a public servant lately was by Assistant Commissioner of Police, Abayomi Shogunle, while justifying the arrest of loads of women who were alleged to be prostitutes in Abuja this week.  After reminding Nigerians that prostitution is an offence under the laws of Nigeria, he went ahead to inform about how it runs against the ethos of the two dominant religions and how it influenced the spread of HIV and STD and provides a lifeline for criminals.

It is not clear whether people like Shogunle understand that prostitution has been legalised in The Netherlands for almost 20 years. And that between 2013 and date, this country of a little over 17 million people has closed at least 25 prisons because it does not have criminals to occupy them. The country indeed imported prisoners from Norway in 2015 just to keep its prison officials engaged and take the pressure of the other European country.

While one is not justifying the perpetration of any crime including vices like prostitution, Nigeria must be more creative in its fight against crime and face the reality that no amount of force would discourage untutored minds and hungry stomachs from inflicting harm on an uncaring society .

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