Pondering the worth of the average Nigerian’s life
I remember hearing stories of people being kidnapped as far back as the ’80s. I heard stories about people whose family members had been kidnapped with some returning home and others, never to be seen again. There were also tales of “gbomo gbomo”, people who kidnapped children. As children, we were warned sternly to play at home where an adult could keep an eye on us and we had to let everyone know if we were going anywhere and exactly where we were going. These acts of kidnapping were not so rampant as to cause an uproar then because they were probably few and far between.
With the 2000s came an increase in kidnapping. If I remember correctly, it became popular in the Niger-Delta region where rogue boys would waylay oil company workers, often expatriates, and take them into the creeks until a ransom was paid. The motive was largely for financial gain. It gradually spread into other commercial areas, even Lagos was not spared.
The first person I knew who was kidnapped was a former colleague. He was accosted as he drove out of his estate on his way to work very early one morning. He remained with his captors for almost a week before he was released after a ransom was paid. There were many other incidents like this especially with people being victims of “one chance”: boarding public buses that ended up being manned by kidnappers. In many cases, it was for ransom, in other cases, some people were never seen again, seemingly having lost their lives. This was what happened to a friend’s elderly father in Benin. Till tomorrow, they don’t know what happened to the man.
There have been so many well-reported incidents of kidnapping over the years, not just of ordinary citizens but also of well-known Nigerians or their family members. I recall the kidnapping of Mikel Obi’s father and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s father, both of whom thankfully regained their freedom. More recently, the Abuja train kidnapping incident, involving various citizens, sadly with some lives lost. There’s also the kidnapping of a retired General of the Nigerian Army, Gen Richard Duru, which occurred in Owerri in September 2023. To date, he remains, hopefully, in captivity as no reports have been received about him.
In the last few weeks, we have heard news of kidnappers operating within the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). I first saw a post on X (formerly Twitter) about kidnappers gaining access to Sagwari Estate Layout and abducting about 10 people including six sisters. Further reports revealed that they had killed at least two of the victims, as a warning to their relatives, and raised their ransom demand from N60 million/ person to N100 million/ person. Already, various crowdfunding campaigns are ongoing to raise the ransom money, will this become our new reality?
How do the people in captivity feel? What is going through their minds? What kind of experiences have they been put through? How are they holding up every day until they are released? Those who have been kidnapped and released will have that incident forever etched in their memory. Would they be able to go through life as they knew it before? Staying in the same places they have been used to? Will counselling or therapy help any of them? I can only pray. What about their families? Where do they find the strength to remain positive through it all? Those whose family members were kidnapped and killed will never recover from the loss. No one would want to wish this on their enemy.
And in all of this, the response from the government, and security agents has been poor. If they are doing anything, we really don’t know as they are not carrying the citizens along.
How did kidnapping become so lucrative and widespread in the country? No matter how much anyone attempts to downplay the seriousness of the issue, we all know that it has gone beyond “be careful”. Where will these kidnappers strike next? Who will be the next victims? Only God knows because it seems as though our security forces have absolutely no clue.
I read a news report stating that the Minister of Defence, Muhammadu Badaru, has urged Nigerians to stop the illegal payment of ransom to kidnappers and bandits. I wasn’t sure whether to be shocked, laugh, or even cry. How do you urge people not to pay ransom for their loved ones when they have not seen any form of support from security officials? What hope do they lean on to encourage them that their loved ones will eventually be released? We have heard reports of kidnappers killing people as a warning to families of other kidnapped victims, would anyone rationalise non-payment of ransom because security officials have said no payments should be made? Wouldn’t people need to see some evidence that security officials are working hard at freeing kidnapped victims before heeding the call not to pay ransom? I have not been in those shoes and I pray never to be but I can imagine that anyone in that position would first think of doing all they can to secure the release of their loved ones.
This makes me wonder how the kidnappers contact family and friends to request ransom. Do they do it over the phone? Can these calls not be tracked? What about the ransom money? Can it be traced? Where and how is it being spent? If a kidnapper collects N10 million, that is not small money. Surely, they will spend some of it celebrating their “success”. Are there no informants who can report suspicious behaviour to security forces? Do the kidnappers have superior intelligence compared with our security officials? Is there a possibility that security officials may be complicit? I shudder at the thought. I don’t even want to imagine it.
We need the government to start treating the lives of Nigerians with all of the seriousness it deserves. I usually try not to compare us with Western countries but I cannot help but imagine what a country like the United States would do. A country that has gone as far as sending its operatives into other countries to rescue its citizens will definitely not take kidnapping within its borders lightly.
There is a federal law criminalising kidnapping. I know that a few states have also either considered introducing similar laws or begun the process of criminalising kidnapping. We need to start seeing serious action from security officials and governments based on these actions. It is not enough for top security officials to make pronouncements about kidnappers, we need to start seeing them answer for their wrongdoing. They must bear the consequences of their actions to the full extent of the law.
As citizens, we must also become more vigilant and begin to take our security into our own hands. Some have begun to advocate for citizens to bear arms for personal protection but I am not quite sure we are there as a people. This could probably just make things much worse. What we should focus on is preventive activity such as reporting strange activity when we see it, watching out for one another, and securing our lives and property to the best we can.
We are in perilous times and we all need to have our guards up as we navigate this dangerous world we currently live in. Let us all strive to be security-conscious as we look out for one another. This is the way I see things today.