Kidnapping has become a daily feature in Nigeria’s insecurity menu. Very disturbing. From the eerie abduction of Chibok school girls under former President Goodluck Jonathan until now, kidnapping and kidnapers have successfully installed their devious trade in our psyche. Families now plan their road trips and holidays with kidnappers in mind. They consider roads to take, and routes never to be plied. They even consider type of schools never to send their kids. Location of schools, states where their wards would perform the mandatory national youth service now top the consideration chart. This surely speaks to the growing stature of kidnapping and the gritty audacity of the kidnappers.

Everybody, bar none, is afraid of the kidnapper. Top and tough military personnel take huge precautions against the kidnappers. The Police and others in the national security apparatchik dread them. Bloody civilians like us turn to jelly each time the topic is discussed. The fear of becoming a victim of kidnapping is even scarier than the prospect of falling into the hands of kidnappers.

Whichever way you look at it, one sign of a failed or failing society is paralysis of law and order; a complete breakdown of the conventional and enthronement of the bizarre. The Nigerian socio-economic ecosystem has witnessed such anarchical order in recent years. It is the elevation of a special variant of crime to one huge industry. Kidnapping is now an industry, a thriving sector in the national economy. It’s a cruel act of turning captives to cash. In local parlance, they call it ‘obtaining’. And damn, we have looked helpless in the face of this new trade.

Just as the nation got stewed in the juice of cheap money from crude oil and abandoned her legendary illustriousness in agriculture, mining, forestry, latex and cotton production, cocoa, groundnuts and cashew nuts, palm produce, among others and slid into the lazy mode; Nigerians are beginning to see huge potential in kidnapping as the new crude oil. Being able to form a ring of abductors is akin to owning an oil well or even flaunting a lucrative oil bloc licence.

We can no longer pretend about this; it does not make sense to keep quiet either. Kidnappers are the new big boys in town. And it seems a profitable venture. In the beginning we were afraid of robbers who broke into homes in ungodly hours of night and robbed their victims; we were afraid of robbers on the highway; of pickpockets in brimming commercial buses; we dreaded in-traffic crooks who point a gun at you, dispossess you of your belongings in nanoseconds and bolt. Not anymore! These days, our new dread, our collective torment is the kidnapper. They are taking away our fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, and worst of it all, children, to dingy places in surreal forests and shanties and asking us to pay money in millions in lieu of their lives. And we’ve been paying. The more we pay, the more they abduct. It’s frightening how we got here. They have kidnapped all manner of persons: the poor, the not-so-poor and the rich and the not-so-rich. They kidnapped lawmakers, wife of Central Bank Governor (that’s a big fish); hundreds of school children in one fell swoop, ex-ministers, bankers, journalists, politicians, businessmen et al. They even kidnapped former President Jonathan’s relatives; ex-Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala’s mother. And to show their brutish boldness, they kidnapped President Muhammadu Buhari’s community leader, the Magajin Garin Daura, Musa Umar, from his palace in 2019. You see what I mean? They fear nobody.

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In the crime’s formative days, kidnappers were mainly a bunch of misguided militants in the creeks of the Niger Delta. They targeted expatriate oil workers popularly called ‘Oyibo’. It was their own way of venting their rage against oil majors whom they accused of living in obscene prosperity at the expense of their environment and people. Kidnapping was at that time limited only to the creeks where the oil wells and facilities were located. While all this happened, the nation, as always, pretended that the problem would wear away, that the fad would soon fade into oblivion like the tropical sun at dusk. It never did. Rather, it grew diametrically to the East, North and West.

Now, the kidnappers are everywhere; stalking the byways and highways with swashbuckling hubris; unchallenged, unfazed. Worse yet, the kidnapper is not just the ammunition-wired militant in the creeks, the Fulani gunmen and the yesteryears robbers. Their growing army of recruits from Abia, Imo, Anambra to Lagos and Ondo State have formed a deadly alliance with their peers up north to complete the deadly ensemble of new millionaires in the booming kidnap trade. To add to the basket of fright, the latest crown in our jewel of criminality, the terrorists, have joined the prosperous trade of abduction. The manner they abducted Chibok school girls and countless other men and women in the North East and used same to negotiate deals with the Nigerian government gives a deeper insight into the mind of the average kidnapper: Money is the lure of the trade. Recent statistics on the frequency of abductions and volume of ransom paid out by Nigerians to their abductors shows that Nigeria may have surpassed the combined revenue raked in by abductors in Yemen, North Africa and Somali put together.

Kidnapping has become so commonplace that people are kidnapped for as low as N10,000 or recharge card as ransom. Children even arrange their own kidnap to extort money from parents. A pastor was once reported to have ‘faked’ a kidnap and claimed he used the money raised by the church for a capital project as ransom. Smart crook!

But it is a shame that kidnappers appear ahead of the nation’s security apparatchik. The police and the DSS particularly need to improve on their intelligence gathering mechanism. As kidnapping is gaining ascendancy, operatives of the nation’s security agencies must deliberately and consciously infiltrate the ranks of the abductors. Covert operations and surveillance should be intensified. Kidnappers are not ghosts. Most of these acts ought to be nipped before they were hatched.

One factor that has sustained kidnapping is the secrecy with which the police have treated those arrested and even victims of the crimes. Victims are advised by the police not to disclose how much ransom they paid to buy their freedom. They are even told not to admit that they ever paid ransom. This is where the judiciary should be alert and responsive. Cases of kidnap deserve accelerated hearing as deterrence to the perpetrators and those hoping to enlist in the trade. How much of intelligence has the police gleaned from previous arrests?

The challenge is to make kidnapping less attractive and far less lucrative than it now appears, otherwise it has become the new oil. Government officials jumping over themselves to assert that no ransom was paid to secure release of kidnap victims is a beautiful lie that nobody believes. Stop wasting your energy to say no ransom was paid. Instead, use same energy to arrest and prosecute the kidnappers. That’s what Nigerians want. And that’s the most effective way to mitigate kidnapping.