It has been over four months since gunmen kidnapped eight National Youth Service Corps members on a highway in Zamfara State. The corps members who were en route to Sokoto for their national assignment were abducted by heavily armed bandits, leaving their families distraught. Although some of them have recently been released piecemeal, other corpers and many other abductees remain in captivity across the country. The government and the security agencies are duty-bound to mount effective measures to rescue all kidnap victims and stamp out the growing kidnap-for-ransom “industry.”
Depressingly, kidnappers are having a field day, snatching human beings, and collecting huge ransoms. Security agents succeed in rescuing only a small fraction. Victims’ families and communities complain that in many instances, police and other law enforcement agencies make no effort beyond filing the report. Many victims spend months in brutal captivity, released only after ransom is paid. Some victims never come out alive. Others emerge physically and emotionally damaged.
In the youth corpers’ case, there were 11 victims overall. Three escaped at the point of kidnap, leaving eight, including the driver of the intercepted vehicle at the mercy of the daredevils.
The kidnappers have reached out to their families to pay N50 million for their release. Nigeria continues to exhibit symptoms of a failed state. The fact that kidnappers can abduct and keep their victims on Nigerian soil for months, and make calls for ransom using mobile devices and SIM card unhindered and undetected, show a troubling breakdown of law and order, as well as state incapacity.
Apart from insurrections and general inability to deliver and guarantee basic services, international agencies also identify a country that “is in danger of becoming completely ungovernable” and has lost control over territory, and its monopoly of the use of violence as evidence of a failed or fragile state. Bandits and terrorists are sharing authority with the state in some parts of the country, and kidnapping is a major expression of the resilience of these non-state actors.
Apart from the corpers, many female students kidnapped from university and polytechnic hostels in Sokoto, Nasarawa, Katsina, Zamfara, Kaduna, and other parts of the country are being held by kidnappers.
No citizen should have to go through what these young men and women are going through in the kidnappers’ den. Recently, parents of the youth corpers disclosed that they had raised and paid N13 million for their release. They accused the government and police of abandoning them to their fate, a claim denied by the NYSC.
The Federal Government, Nigerian Police, the military, the NYSC, the Department of State Services and all state government institutions must make the necessary efforts to rescue these youths and every other kidnap victim. There can be no acceptable excuse; the victims are held within Nigerian territory, not abroad.
NYSC spokesperson, Eddy Megwa, disclosed that four out of the eight corpers had been rescued. The others should be brought back home safely and reunited with their families. The female students still in captivity should be similarly rescued.
Among other security challenges, kidnapping has become a major criminal enterprise in Nigeria. It was rated No.2 among the top 10 countries with the highest reported incidents of kidnapping by the ‘Top Teny,’ blog, with over 1,800 persons abducted annually, after Iraq, and followed by Pakistan, India and Venezuela. ReliefWeb estimates that more than 1,680 schoolchildren have been kidnapped since the abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno State, in 2014. Over 821 students were abducted in 2021 alone, according to a report by The Cable.
More than 24 university students were kidnapped in Zamfara in September. A dozen female students were later freed after ransom payment. It is a growing, profitable industry. SBM Intelligence calculated that kidnappers collected about N653.7 million in ransom between July 2021 and June 2022 in more than 500 recorded kidnap incidents, with 3,420 persons taken, and 564 killed.
Experts cite the incompetence of the security agencies, corruption and compromise by state agents, poverty, poor governance, and lack of strong law enforcement and punishment for the growth of the nefarious business. Moreover, the Northern elite perpetually politicise insecurity, terrorism, and banditry.
The anomalous single policing structure in a federal polity also results in an overwhelmed police force that lacks the numbers, motivation, and identification with afflicted communities.
Experts have noted that long after being freed, survivors continue to suffer from the traumatising experiences of kidnapping.
Even residents of the Federal Capital Territory are not safe as there are frequent reports of kidnappings from their homes, and ransoms are paid. Recently, bandits stormed a university community in Abuja and kidnapped some academics.
To date, Leah Sharibu, kidnapped almost four years ago alongside other girls from Dapchi, Yobe State, is still with her abductors.
SBM reported that between January and March 2023, no fewer than 1,230 persons were killed, including 79 security personnel, and over 658 abductions took place across Nigeria.
An NGO, Global Rights, also noted that between July 2022 and June 2023, 3,620 people were abducted in 582 incidents across the country.
The government must live up to its responsibility of securing the lives and property of Nigerians. The security agencies must do better. There should be special security task forces in every state and the FCT dedicated to combating kidnapping and rescuing victims. State governments should establish strong security agencies and efficient neighbourhood and community, and grassroots intelligence-gathering systems to identify, monitor and locate bandits, terrorists and kidnappers.
Region-wide security agencies like the Southwest’s Amotekun Corps should be set up in all the geopolitical zones to tackle insecurity, All these should be generously funded and equipped, and their personnel trained, well-paid and motivated.
The DSS needs to be thoroughly overhauled to make it more focused, efficient, and compliant with the rule of law. President Bola Tinubu’s failure to accord priority to overhauling the national security architecture sustains a failed template that is costing Nigerians dearly. He cannot tame insecurity without reforming the current system.
The security agencies should rescue the hostages. Without further delay, all stakeholders should move quickly to actualise state policing.