Any observer of events in Nigeria would have seen it coming and it was alerted in this column last week, more in sympathy with the clearly misunderstood responsibility of President Goodluck Jonathan on the disturbing question of national security. And as if to ridicule Jonathan and the state governors, the kidnappers, in a daring raid, seized the mother of Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
That was only 48 hours after the danger posed to Nigeria by the criminals was highlighted in this column. Should anybody still be in doubt on the threat posed to the political/economic stability of Nigeria by the criminals, the kidnappers a day later, captured another important victim in Ibadan, South Western Nigeria, Mrs Titilayo Rotimi, wife of an ex-military governor of the defunct Western State, retired Brigadier Oluwole Rotimi. Professor Kamene Okonjo, mother of the Finance Minister was kidnapped at Ogwashi-Uku, in Delta State.
What should be noted in the latest developments is not just the over-confidence of the kidnappers in committing their crime or the swiftness with which they expand their area of operation, but also the sudden change in their choice of victims from hitherto unknown seemingly defenceless Nigerians to prominent figures who could easily be presumed to enjoy some measure of security.
Eighty-two-year-old Kamene Okonjo, as the queen of Ogwashi-Uku, was kidnapped from her husband’s palace. The old woman is also the mother of Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who is risking everything to halt and purge looters of Nigerian wealth in the name of oil subsidy. And ordinarily, the second kidnap victim, Mrs Titilayo Rotimi, should be a beneficiary of the statutory security of her husband as a former military governor and retired brigadier-general of the Nigerian Army.
No matter how disturbing this development may be, it only re-inforces the case for Goodluck Jonathan not only for quick but also tough action against the kidnappers. Nobody, least of all Jonathan, can underestimate the damage done and danger posed by these criminals.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is more than just a federal minister. With her background as former World Bank figure in various positions of Vice-President/Managing Director, the kidnap of her mother surely reverberated in world financial/economic circles on the state of insecurity in Nigeria. The resultant impact on Nigeria’s future economic and investment prospects is open to any pessimist’s guess. If the mother of Nigeria’s key economic minister could not be safe even in the privacy of her husband’s royal palace, who is that bidding foreign investor to walk into such minefield? President Jonathan may pause for a moment.
Suppose Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala chose that dreadful weekend to visit her parents at Ogwashi-Uku and was around when the kidnappers struck, who, among the two – the Minister or her mother or in fact the two – would have been a better prized catch? Surely as Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala would have been the kidnappers’ priority with the belief that Jonathan would be blackmailed to pay billions of naira as ransom. Would Jonathan have refused? There is this other fallout of the crime of the kidnappers.
The attendant negative publicity destroys all prospects of tourism on which Jonathan’s administration through the Tourist Board wastes billions of naira on supposed promotion. For what? Inviting foreigners to tour and relax in Nigeria where government ministers, state commissioners, or their relatives as well as foreign businessmen and foreign construction experts are all vulnerable to being kidnapped by the criminals? If Jonathan and state governors are treated with contempt by kidnappers, the situation is even worse for police authorities expected to guarantee everybody’s security against the kidnappers.
When the kidnappers took away the aged mother of Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria Police hierarchy gave 24-hours ultimatum for the release of the poor old lady. Why did the police authorities not display such seriousness in all other cases of kidnapping which could have saved the lives of fatal victims – Nigerians and foreigners?
If with their daring actions, the kidnappers embarrassed the federal government and 36 state governments, it is even worse for police authorities reduced to laughing stock by the kidnappers. Despite the 24-hour ultimatum, neither the police succeeded in rescuing Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s mother, nor did the kidnappers release their captive. Instead, 96 hours after the expiration of the ultimatum, the kidnappers maintained their defiance, adding insult to injury by offering to reduce their ransom demand to two hundred million naira.
In effect, if the minister’s mother is released (and she must be released) that huge sum must have been paid. So, in this country, in the midst of the nationwide suffering, individuals or a group of family could easily part with two hundred million naira? How much is the financial worth of such a family? Even if federal government were to pay such a huge amount to a band of criminals, is this not the same government killing us instalmentally with ever increasing price of petrol in the name of deregulation of downstream sector and withdrawal of petroleum subsidy?
Another gang of kidnappers demanded the same amount of two hundred million naira as ransom for the release of Mrs. Titilayo Rotimi, wife of retired Brigadier Rotimi. As long as such huge amount or any amount for that matter is paid as ransom, kidnapping will continue to grow and expand as an industry. It is a difficult choice whether a victim’s family or the government should capitulate to blackmail and pay the ransom demanded. And that is why it is imperative for the government, specifically President Goodluck Jonathan to take firm action by legislating the enabling federal law which state governors will have no choice but implement. Towards that end, Jonathan faces a clear duty to provide death for kidnappers.
Anything less will not only encourage the kidnappers but also undermine some state governors (about five of them) who already legislated death penalty. Jonathan’s legislation should be aimed at completely pre-empting kidnapping at all in the sense that any victim of the kidnappers should be considered as possibly dead until and unless released alive. There had been cases in which after failing to or even after collecting the ransom, the criminals still proceeded to murder their victims.
Any federal law that does not stipulate the death penalty for kidnapping will therefore be a pat on the shoulder for the criminals to carry on their business as normal with huge financial haul and aim for more and higher. By the way, if some state governors have considered it necessary to legislate death penalty for kidnapping, why should President Jonathan fail to back them with overall federal legislation?
Neither should it be an excuse that death penalty has not stamped out armed robbery. What has not stopped armed robbery is the failure of state governors to execute armed robbers already condemned to death by the appropriate tribunals. When Delta State governor Emmanuel Uduaghan went public that his profession as a medical doctor compels him to save lives and not to take lives, what message was he sending to criminals, be they armed robbers or kidnappers? The governor said he would never sign death warrant of condemned criminals.
Little wonder kidnapping and armed robbery are rampant in that part of the country? Any aspiring state governor should have conceded the imperative of his prior responsibility as the enforcer of not only existing laws like death for armed robbery but also possible new federal laws like death for kidnapping, which even some state governors have legislated.
There is a clear disaster ahead unless Nigerian government takes stern action on the rising cases of kidnapping. How about this speculative report on a Lagos-based radio station that a kidnappers association had been formed at the university town of Nsukka in Enugu State? Is that not a challenge aimed at Goodluck Jonathan’s presidency? It is not in any way funny as it may seem.
Will Jonathan wait till a key minister or foreign ambassador is kidnapped? With some luck, contact will be made with the kidnappers and the higher the status of their victim, the more the ransom to be demanded. The ransom will be paid and Nigerians and the outside world will be told that no money was paid.
The kidnapping will continue. When Nigeria police authorities issued ultimatum (to its officers or the kidnappers?) within which Finance Minister Okonjo-Iweala’s mother should be released, was that because contact had been established with the kidnappers or because the criminals are of good nature to simply release their victim? The analysis made in this column last week on the limit of President Jonathan’s responsibility for security in the country is still valid but only as long as he provides a sort of communal legislative framework for Nigeria, which state governors have to enforce. Otherwise, Jonathan should be ready for any unforeseen consequences of kidnappers let loose.
For our teacher, Professor Yoloye
Last week, President Goodluck Jonathan decorated a distinguished but very humble Nigerian, Professor Emmanuel Ayotunde Yoloye, with the National Merit Award. It is the measure of this man’s humility that throughout his career as an academic, he was hardly known or heard outside his chosen career.
Professor Yoloye’s National Merit Award is typically Nigerian – leaving first things or deserving ones last. Otherwise, Professor Yoloye should have earned the award more than ten years ago. A man of deeply religious upbringing (son of a reverend), devoted academic and strict disciplinarian even as he smiles, Professor (then plain Mr.) Yoloye as one of our favourite (emphasis on favourite) teachers at CMS Grammar School, then at Odunlami Street, Lagos, between 1956 and 1957. Any pupil at CMS Grammar School, Lagos, or later undergraduate at University College, Ibadan, privileged to be handled by Professor Yoloye will attest to his (Yoloye’s) academic brilliance and teaching excellence. Very versatile, Mr. Yoloye, as he was then, taught us Chemistry and English language. It was quite remarkable how a natural scientist competently handled one of the languages.
With dry lips and boldly rimmed glasses, ever neatly but modestly dressed, Mr. Yoloye (later a Professor) had this peculiar style of tolerating no nonsense without necessarily being crude or ruthless. Yet, he would make you look stupid even inside yourself. Just make sure you neither missed his lesson nor failed to submit your assignment on time. If you taught at CMS Grammar School, Lagos, at that time without being conferred with a nickname (usually unpleasant) by the boys, you must be special.
That was our man, Mr. Yoloye, who taught us for more than a year before proceeding to the university. With good comportment, measured movement and utterances, Mr. Yoloye remained endeared to us such that he was our favourite teacher anxiously awaited for any of his lessons.
He induced the best in us to be very good essay-writers. To obtain five and above in any of the subjects taught by Mr. Yoloye was to be on the sure way of passing the final school certificate examination especially with the strict regulation of failing in English language rendering a candidate’s entire performance total failure. Mr. Yoloye earned the distinction of our only teacher without a nickname. Despite the volume of his daily duties as a teacher, he contributed weekly short story to the defunct Sunday Times. His topics were usually based on some of our pranks on some teachers, of which we never knew he was aware.
His by-line on the short-stories was intermittently either Y. Tunde or Tunde Y. But Mr. Yoloye was dealing with restless and inquisitive boys – Kehinde Okusanya, retired FRCN Director of Music, the late Femi Fatoba actor, poet and Theatre Arts teacher, University of Ibadan, the late Kayode Ayodele (Kajaricco), Rasaki Abiodun Davies (retd. Navy Commodore) Kole Abayomi, retired Director-General, Nigerian Law School, Duro Onabule former editor, defunct National Concord, Sola Odunfa, retired BBC Africa Correspondent, Seye Ogunjuwon, the late Demola, the late Oshin, Dele Sodimu, Dele Taiwo, a retired Navy Commander, the late Bode Fagbile, Ayodapo Williams, Babatunde Buko, the late Segun Finnih etc.
We made sure we outed Mr Yoloye as the author of the short stories in the Sunday Times by surreptitiously openly discussing the topics usually towards the end of classes when his only reaction was his famous measured smile. Mr. Yoloye would neither confirm nor deny authorship of the short stories even when you specified a particular title like, “When Kojo gets tough.”
With Mr. Yoloye, there was no messing about. His wife later joined the teaching staff for Mathematics at the same CMS Grammar School and we extended to her our fondness for the husband. Instead, of addressing her as Mrs. Yoloye, we preferred Mama Jimi. How we found about? She did not bother. Instead, she disarmed us with her motherly or at least sisterly response, always concerned if any of us took ill as she would recommend one kind of treatment or another. A third member of the Yoloye clan (now deceased younger brother of Professor Yoloye) also joined our teaching staff to simplify biology inside out. Surely, it runs in the family. Professor Yoloye is in his eighties while our pet baby, Jimi Yoloye of those days must be on the upper side of fifties. Postscript: All references to Mr. Yoloye in this appreciation are to those days he taught us at CMS Grammar School at least 55 years ago.