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You are here:Home>>Strategic Research & Analysis>>Nigeria: Should we negotiate with kidnappers too?
Tuesday, 11 December 2012 17:21

Nigeria: Should we negotiate with kidnappers too?

Written by Azuka Onwuka
Nigeria: Should we negotiate with kidnappers too? france24

Just as the economy of Northern Nigeria is in tatters because of the activities of the terror group, Boko Haram, the economy of much of South-Eastern Nigeria and South-Southern Nigeria is threatened by the continuous onslaught of kidnappers. In the South-West, kidnappers are also getting bolder. The fear of kidnappers has become the beginning of wisdom.

 

Many people have placed themselves on self-exile for fear of being kidnapped and an outrageous ransom demanded. My friend who spent some years in the United States came back last Christmas, but his family advised him not to visit his hometown Benin, Edo State for fear of kidnappers. He remained in Lagos until his departure.

 

It used to be abominable for an Anambra man to conduct the customary marriage rites of his daughter in Lagos, but today such happens regularly for fear of kidnappers. Anyone who starts the erection of a house in these kidnapper-infested areas is simply announcing to kidnappers that he is a potential “client” with an impressive ransom to pay. So, such property is better erected in the South-West (or outside Nigeria), where the menace of kidnappers is still low and Boko Haram has not infiltrated. Alternatively, such investment is postponed ad infinitum. Business owners are fleeing Igboland and the neighbouring South-South states. Ironically, Lagos and the South-West, which were seen as safe havens before, are now recording incidents of kidnapping. So if nothing serious is done, the kidnap cancer will spread to all parts of Nigeria.

 

Kidnapping is worse than armed robbery, because armed robbers look for money or items that can easily be converted to money. When robbers operate, whatever they get at the point of robbery is what they take away as booty. But kidnappers never leave a scene without a victim. If their target is not available (which is not usually the case, because they operate with insider information), they leave with another victim, whose ransom may be lower. Armed robbers toy with possessions; kidnappers toy with human beings – and paying a ransom is no guarantee that the victim will return alive. The anxiety of armed robbery lasts the number of minutes or hours the robbers operate, but the anxiety of kidnapping lasts from the moment they attack till the day they release their victim, which may be weeks or months. Both the kidnapped and his or her relatives know no peace all through the ordeal.

 

Except in few instances when a victim of an armed robbery attack loses something that belongs to another person, the victim does not run into indebtedness over a robbery attack. But kidnapping could make one run into debt in search of money for ransom which usually runs into millions of naira.

 

There have been arguments on whether the Federal Government should negotiate with Boko Haram. Some have argued – with good intentions – that such a negotiation will put an end to the terrorist activities of the terrorist sect as was achieved during the Niger Delta insurgency some years ago. After several years of blowing up oil pipelines, killing of security operatives, kidnapping more especially expatriate workers and sabotaging oil production, which adversely affected Nigeria’s production capacity, the late President Umaru Yar’Adua had instituted the amnesty programme, which was a bargain for the militants to renounce violence and receive special government attention in return. It worked marvellously.

 

But the grouse of the Niger Delta militants was clear and reasonable. It was like the grouse of the African National Congress during the apartheid era in South Africa: Stop the inhuman treatment of Black South Africans, embrace democracy, and peace will reign in South Africa. For the Niger Delta militants, the message was clear: since peaceful protest by people like Ken Saro-Wiwa had not resulted in the cessation of the exploitation of the people of the Niger Delta and the degradation of their environment, then let us try violence. But the moment it was obvious that there was a sincere effort to pay attention to the plight of that oil-producing region of the nation, the violence petered out in a matter of months. It was unarguably the high point of Yar’Adua’s two-year reign. And that he was from the Northern part of the country while the militants were from the South-South part of the country made the achievement remarkable.

 

But what does Boko Haram want? Unreasonable and impossible demands: conversion of President Goodluck Jonathan to Islam or his resignation; institution of Sharia law in Northern Nigeria; institution of Sharia law in Nigeria; payment of compensation to Boko Haram for the destruction of their property; and release of all members of Boko Haram detained, etc. If the sect had asked for the construction of certain roads in the North, establishment of certain federal projects in Northern Nigeria and the likes, it would be easy to negotiate with them. So it still beats one how a negotiation with Boko Haram is possible and reasonable, given the nature of their demands and the fact that they continue to kill ordinary Nigerians. When President Olusegun Obasanjo tried to mediate between them and the government, Boko Haram promptly killed the man who had hosted Obasanjo, thereby giving a signal that it did not want any negotiation.

 

Negotiating with Boko Haram is akin to negotiating with kidnappers. Just like Boko Haram, kidnappers do not represent any ideology, ideal or group. They only represent themselves. They pursue their narrow objectives. They inflict pain and deaths on the common people. They instil fear into the people. They are fast grounding the economy of the areas of their operations.

 

The reason kidnapping seems not to be at the top of Federal Government’s priority list is because it does not directly affect the revenue from oil. Kidnapping has spread from the South-South to the South-East and now to the South-West. (Just two days ago, the 82-year-old mother of the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Prof. Kanene Okonjo, was kidnapped in her home in Ogwashi-Uku, Delta State). Those involved have seen that kidnapping pays better than armed robbery, internet fraud, and drug trafficking all put together. If it is not tackled frontally, it will increase and spread to the North-Central and upwards. It is unacceptable for Nigerians to be made afraid to travel to their hometowns. It is unacceptable for Nigerians to be made afraid of moving around the nation because of kidnappers.

 

Since the Nigerian government is against state police, it must take full responsibility for the protection of the citizens. The fight against kidnapping must be stepped up with a special force to tackle it – a combination of the police and the military. There should also be more investment in technology to track kidnappers. The police also need more training.

 

Government should reduce the amount of corruption and ostentation among political office holders. The masses find this repulsive. These are austere times, and austere times demand a drastic cut-down in lifestyle. The taste and lifestyle of political office holders – from the President to the councillors – at the expense of citizenry are distasteful. There is no sign yet from our leaders that they have any plans to tighten their belts as they admonish the masses. Some unscrupulous Nigerians believe that engaging in criminality is their only way of getting their share of the “national cake.” That is dangerous.

 

The importance of provision of jobs has been over-flogged, but it is still imperative. It is unacceptable for 70 per cent of Nigerians to live below the poverty line. A time will never come when a hungry man will stop being an angry man. The gap between the superb rich and the poor has widened to a monstrous level.

 

The Federal Government must also find effective ways of stopping the payment of ransoms by individuals or governments when someone is kidnapped. It should be a crime to pay a ransom to kidnappers on whatever circumstances. It may not sound pragmatic to tell the relatives of a kidnap victim not to pay a ransom, but when the Federal Government shows some seriousness in that regard, payment of ransoms will stop. When kidnapping started in the Niger Delta, the various tiers of governments made kidnappers rich through the payment of ransom. That made many to see the crime as lucrative. Government has to enforce a policy of non-negotiation with kidnappers as well as punishment for anyone who pays a ransom to kidnappers.

 

The Federal Government must intervene and stop this menace. But if it believes that negotiation will solve the problem of Boko Haram, let it also include negotiation and amnesty for kidnappers, while keeping another negotiating team ready to discuss with the next set of criminals that will emerge once Boko Haram and kidnappers have been negotiated out of existence. Who knows if the next set to be granted such amnesty will be armed robbers, rapists or treasury looters?

 

Azuka Onwuka ONWUKA ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

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