Kidnapping: Can it be Eliminated in Nigeria?

Published on 31st March 2014

No nation can claim to be prospering when crime is done at will and its law enforcement is neither equipped nor committed to minimizing the occurrences. Lawlessness in Nigeria is seen as a right. There are hardly consequences for bad behavior or conduct in the nation. When elected and appointed officials often do as they wish and use the instrument of state to propagate and perpetuate conducts unbecoming, common criminals join the ranks even if it’s in ‘underworld’ capacity.
 
Since the inception of the civilian rule in Nigeria, kidnapping, a criminal vice that was highly unheard of during the military has become an industry on its own. Accusations and allegations that those in power use this nefarious act to intimidate political enemies and instill fear so no one questions their conduct are not without some truth. But again, family members of elected and appointed officers have also been victims. The whole country or a good part of it especially the southern states; have experienced kidnappings such that there is siege mentality. For foreigners, especially those working in the oil sector, it has led to increased cost of their presence in Nigeria.

While Nigeria has the lowest oil production cost per barrel, it incidentally has the highest operating cost as a ratio of revenue to operating expense. By implication, Nigeria spends more than its counterpart oil producing countries on security as a charge on revenue, in turn lowering the net benefit to the national treasury. For those that track loose and weak security facilities in developing countries that rely on foreign technical support for kidnapping incidents, the market reacts with an increase of 2% - 5% in the cost of doing business in such countries. That added cost lowers the net benefit. Nigeria is thus always losing money. Whatever the reasons for the existence of kidnapping, it is time both the leadership and the led commit to nipping it. It signals a bad image for Nigeria and makes cost of doing business and living expensive.

Can Nigerians rally to deal with kidnapping? Yes, they can and should. Then how does the nation’s leadership go about nipping kidnapping?
 
There are several ways to deal with kidnapping, as it is a crime committed with the criminal demanding ransom in order to release the one kidnapped. Nigerians must separate kidnapping of a family member who fakes their own kidnapping to extort money from a family member. Even though such may be seen as a family matter, they should be prosecuted for falsehood which inadvertently negatively affects the moods in the community. Nevertheless, kidnapping occasioned by criminals calls for tougher approach.
 
Since ransom demand is made via a phone call, letter or in-person demand, it should be a no-brainer for committed law enforcement and alert public wanting to nail kidnappers. But are Nigeria’s law enforcement agencies trustworthy? If law enforcement allegedly colludes with criminals, no amount of sophistication and public involvement will nip the act. Criminals are not ghosts. They are persons known to the communities in which they operate and they have beneficiaries. What dents criminal enterprise is a committed public that sees how damaging such acts affect their quality of life and decide that Enough Is Enough.

In the case of Nigeria, Enough is Never Enough as unbecoming conducts are often permitted and allowed to go unchecked such that they become a tradition. But assuming there is commitment to nail kidnappers, here are some suggested approaches.

Phone Companies - every operating phone company in Nigeria must have picture identification of each subscriber with finger print, and each assigned number linked to an address of the subscriber. A tall order, as most Nigerians that live in rural areas have no identifiable address as we know it in developed nations. Be that as it may, there should be a way to tie one to a location. Every subscriber must sign an affidavit saying they are purchasing the phone for their use and not for someone else at the point of obtaining a phone. Even though this will be hard because many Nigerians have no address, but again, they do not all live on the street, it has to be required. Violation should trigger a heavy fine on the phone company or cause to lose licensure.

Nigeria Police should have the ability to trace and track any call that makes ransom demand such that through use of GPS, the area of the criminal can be zeroed in and reinforcement assigned to the area. The way it works, once a ransom demand is made, the victim’s family informs the police so they have the phone call linked to the tracer to begin tracking. But if the police is not trusted to hold information in confidence as they do their investigation, the system will not work. It is not uncommon to hear that some members of the police command are in bed with criminals.

Financial institutions with the support of the Central Bank develop certain currency features with indelible ink markers and electronic signal emitting devices that are triggered once the money is delivered or the notes become worthless. It may have a 24-48 hour timer that goes into effect after the release of the victim. Some US law enforcement have developed similar devices to help curtail bank robberies.

Community organizations such as NAS shoul develop collaborative a pact with Nigeria law enforcement to assist in Community Policing partnership to boost efforts to curtail kidnappings. This sort of partnership and or assistance should be done after training select individuals with basic understanding on how to track and trace criminal elements. The danger is that there is likelihood of infiltration and leaking of vital information. No nation is crime proof. What makes the difference is when a large segment of the population frowns at criminal elements and activities, and commits to fighting its occurrence.

Increased law enforcement budget allocation: It is no gain-saying the obvious, Nigeria Police has the lowest resources per capita of nations its size. Nigeria Police hardly have $1b in annual operating budget and even at that, very little in terms of crime fighting equipment and tools are available. Many Nigeria Police personnel do not know how to use crime maps to locate criminals. Many of its rank and file can hardly describe a crime scene to aid in identifying what happened. In developed nations, communities assist the police and law enforcement obtain added resources to contain crime. In Dallas, the city budget of nearly $3b, almost 45% of the city budget of nearly $3b goes to public safety which is police and fire and rescue departments. For a city of 1.3m people, its budget is bigger than that of Nigeria Police, a country of 160m plus people: Do the math. Public safety budget in developed nations for local governments constitute the highest single expense of their expense. While crimes do occur in US, at least one gets a sense something will be done.
State by state public safety endowment fund ought to be encouraged and duly established as additional resource to assist the police in fighting crime. While availability of money alone does not guarantee success, its lack aids in continued success of criminal elements. This is an innovative approach to fighting crime in given areas in collaboration and partnership with communities and law enforcement. As a supplement to each state’s police command, there is need for Citizens Police Council – CPC of very trustworthy residents; they must have physical presence in the state. To endow the fund, every resident of voting age separated by those who live in urban and rural areas to pay at least N500 each year for no more than 3 years. Businesses in that state pay maybe N5000, depending on their size.

Here is how it works; assuming 1m eligible residents of a state or based on percentage of the state population, say 25% are eligible. That throws off N500m and businesses contributes another N500m, for a total of N1b annually, and must only be used in that state. The community organizations manned by credible citizens whose memberships are made public with request to challenge inclusion of anyone considered unfit. CPC collaborates with the state police command on weekly basis to review crime stats and allocate resource to fight crime. All deliberations are made available to the public. The Police Commissioner must appear before the organization to make a case for allocation from the fund and match their authorized budget to the fund’s resources. This is very complicated to establish especially in a community or nation where membership in certain organization may arrogate undue powers to some. But when done, it boosts policing resources even going to entrench sense of investment with the police command.

Nigerians cannot detach themselves on matters such as public safety and improved  standard of living. When the communities commit to exposing criminal elements and do so in unbiased manner, there is no doubt crime goes down and criminals get chased. One may never have a crime-free country, but crime such as kidnapping can be fought to a successful conclusion. Any nation that takes its law enforcement roles for granted and or neglects the crimes that affects living, will never develop to one of repute. The sense of fear and siege due to crime unduly limits economic growth.
 
By Ejike E Okpa II,

The author is a Dallas resident and graduate of Dallas Police and alumni of Dallas FBI CA programs.


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