Viewpoint: Is kidnapping easy money?

Nigerian police - hired to protect a civilian from being kidnapped - standing guard outside a church Kidnapping has become a very lucrative business

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Sola Odunfa wonders why everyone in Nigeria doesn't turn to kidnapping as crime has become a very lucrative business.

Last night, sleep took a long time coming.

Start Quote

Is there any honest person in any level of government in Nigeria?”

End Quote Sola Odunfa

I did not go to bed with hunger pangs in my stomach, neither did I have any outstanding matters to settle with my creditors.

My thoughts merely wandered to the condition of four of my colleagues who were spending their fifth night in the custody of kidnappers somewhere in south-eastern Nigeria, and it occurred to me that I could also be victim.

What would be my mental and physical condition if I was kidnapped by criminals for ransom?

Yes, it could be me!

No, couldn't be!

But, yes it could!

I have no money or any immediately convertible assets which kidnappers may find attractive, neither did those four news reporters who were abducted on the interstate highway in Abia state.

Four Nigerian journalists L-R: Adolphus Okonkwo, Sylva Okereke, Wahab Oba and Sola Oyeyipo talk to reporters after they were released from captivity in Nigeria's south-eastern oil region [18 July 2010] The journalists were eventually released on Sunday - without a ransom being paid

I have no employers who may bail me out. True, those journalists had employers but anyone who showed enough interest would have known that most Nigerian newspaper houses were not solvent enough to pay staff salaries regularly, much less cough out ransoms to kidnappers.

Happily ever after

The armed criminals who took the four journalists - and their driver - demanded a ransom of 250m naira ($1.7m; £1.1m).

The Nigeria Union of Journalists was alarmed. Those victims were returning from a national executive council meeting of the union.

The Inspector-General of Police relocated from police headquarters in Abuja to the south-east to lead the rescue effort.

In the meantime the victim's wives and children kept a sorrowful vigil far away in their homes.

On Thursday, the kidnappers were reported to have reduced the ransom to 30m naira ($200,000; £130,000).

Start Quote

When politicians go into government they look like the he-goat, but when they reach mid-term they are like the show horse in the emir's palace”

End Quote Sola Odunfa

One newspaper reported later that a top union official had appealed to the government to help pay the ransom.

On my bed last night I wondered if it was that easy to make money in Nigeria - kidnap one or more easy victims, keep them in a safe hideout and demand a huge amount, thereafter appeals are made to the government to save the life of an honest citizen and the president - or state governor - will order payment of the ransom from the treasury.

The criminals live happily ever after!

I don't know and haven't heard of any country where the government pays ransom to its domestic criminals.

With this growing trend shouldn't we all turn into kidnappers?

At least we can arrange to abduct our friends and share the booty from the public purse.

Then we will all know that there is no reason for anybody to seek or engage in honest work because our governments at the three levels have made crime a very lucrative business.

Hmmm.

I kept thinking.

The show horse

The excruciating agony of the victims and their relatives. The stone heart of the society. The total irresponsibility of the government. The failed state. The state of mind of us for whom the kidnapper or armed robber will come tomorrow.

Does anyone think or care about us?

Is there any honest person in any level of government in Nigeria?

A Shell oil inlet manifold stands at Kegbara-Dere, in the famous Nigerian oil-producing Ogoniland Nigeria does not earn its oil money - nature put it where it is

I cannot answer that.

All I know is that when politicians go into government they look like the he-goat which has just finished a cross-country trek to the city market, but when they reach mid-term they are like the show horse in the emir's palace.

So who is to discourage the other from going into crime?

After all the country does not earn its oil money - nature puts the oil where it is, the white man finds and brings it out, and Nigeria gets paid just for stretching out its hands.

All four journalists and their driver were released unharmed on Sunday. Police say no ransom was paid.

Thanks for your comments. Please read a selection below:

we nigerians have built the very bomb that is exploding in our eye, when men like ken saro wiwa where protesting diplomaticaly about the danger this corrupt oil firms where causeing. we crossed our legs, sat at home and watched on tv and still in the mist of all this we forget that it's this oil firm that are given birth to this problems.

onyeka chibuife, abuja, nigeria

What do you expect from a country where there is no opportunity and hope for the youth, the bad situation of Nigeria goverance made the youth to scatter all over poor African countries to seek for a living and those at home that do not know where to go, must find means to survive, the blame should go to the present government, the situation was not like this in the early 70s to 90s.

Ajaero Uche Roland, Ivory Coast

Great piece Sola and interesting perspective to it all. Sure Kidnapping brings easy money hence it becoming like a business in parts of the country. Like i recently did on a blog [see below] - we all might as well begin to work out our individual hostage values ahead of our kidnap as it is obvious that our police and other security operatives are just not sure on how to approach this vice.

Sylva, Abuja, Nigeria

What is your Hostage Value? Posted in KOWA Blog on July 19, 2010 by Sylva Nze Ifedigbo

Most kidnapping activities are carried out by big time gangsters in full support of some Traditional Rulers, some top ranking police officers and some members of the learned men (lawyers). The most unfortunate thing is that it took government the kidnapping of some journalist to intervene. Over hundred Nigerians have fallen victim to the activities of these hoodlums without any action from the government. Business activities in Aba, Abia State was brought to a standstill for 2 weeks when banks refused to attend to customers because of the security situation. Must our policy makers wait for so long before attention is given to deserving issues? Thank God that these journalist were kidnapped. It has brought reprieve to the people of Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Cross Rivers, Imo, and other sister States. We suffered for over five months without help. The federal authorities paid no attention to efforts made by the Abia State Governor to combat the crime. The police authorities should embark on a mass transfer, sack and prosecution of police personnel.

Ugochukwu Nwosu, Uyo, Nigeria

I am not convinced that the kidnappers in Nigeria are acting alone without the help of the security forces. I say this because, I have not heard nor read of any arrests or prosecutions relating to this crime. The government must come and strongly punish those responsible to discourage others from trying. What is happening is not different from what the pirates off the Somalia coast are doing, and most people would attribute that to lack of functioning government to enforce law and order. Kidnapping has been used in many places by organized crime syndicates and even gang units to generate income. I pray that the Nigerian Goverment would clamp down and eradicate this vice. It is a very ugly stain on the country's image as a modern society!

Wodkoch Kurabal Lakoich Abe, Humble, USA

I think the show is turning around now. If the kidnapped cannot tell a coherent story of their ordeals with the kidnappers, then there is something missing. It means that this act can be organised by a clique and get the people/govt to pay something which is shared later.

chike, nicosia, cyprus

i think it is perfectly fine for people without money in nigeria to resort to kidnapping. fulfilling self interest is the way to go about it at a time when the majority is poor so that money can be transferred from the rich to the poor. when all the atheists donot believe in life after death they have a simple slogan "enjoy life as much as you can, it wont come again!"

john, london

As a result of bad governance in Nigeria, the issue of kidnapping has become persistent. However, it's not advisable that people should take advantage of this ugly development to commit crime because that will amount to worsening the situation. All that Nigeria need is good governance to do what governance is known for. Only then we can effectively address those contemporary issues confronting us.

Agava Halim, Minna, NIGERIA

Thank you very much brother Sola Odunfa as regards to your lucrative write up now, anyway i totally agree with your full stories and what are we actually doing with our huge oil money? When will crime come to an end in Nigeria, rather latest technological crime is coming out every day by day, like before it was Robbery of the Banks and granduated to 419 and after there to kidnapping oil workers (White Men) now kidnapping of our fellow Nigerian brothers, this fellow kidnappers doesn't care if the person who they are kidnapping is of a rich class or from the poorest Nigerian citizen that can not afford just common garri to drink, and his been kidnap and the kidnappers expect him to bring huge sum of money before he can be freed, where do this kidnappers expect such person to get such amount of money from?

charles jossy, Germany

Nigeria is subject to a lot of corruption, and evidentally there's doubt over there are any honest people left in government. Is it any wonder then that one of the, if not the biggest source of internet crime and scams comes from the people of Nigeria, even to the point of having a name for the scams, "The 419 scam" named after Nigerial criminal legislation. The government set a fine example to its citizens.

David, Bracknell, UK

There are no kidnappers in nigeria except the criminals in power bent on creating terror in the land. Staging a show of kidnapping and demanding ransome to fuel their pockets against 2011 elections. This is a brazen display of politics without conscience. May the judgement of some be upon them.

Leo owodiong-idemeko, Lagos, Nigeria

As the president said recently, and the observation of the IG, on involvement of insiders & notable big names - when people are kidnapped people fly from lagos & abuja to negotiate for the criminals, the south east GOVS admitting inability to tackle the menace. Even the hoodlooms threatning to make abia state ungovernable. The security is still equal to the task.

favour nwandu, ota, ogun state, nigeria

My brother, i wonder just as you do whether this country called Nigeria, will ever get it right and move on like other nations on the part of probity and progress. Are we operating any system at all? or is it just the case of a few seizing control of state power and using it to feather their nest? When can things start getting right in Nigeria and what type of economic system are we operating. Is it capitalism or what? And if capitalism, Does capitalism encourage states or nations defrauding its own citizens to better the life of a few. It pays to be honest no matter what. We all cannot turn to crime to achieve any purpose no matter how laudable. I have simply lost faith in human government and put all my hope in God and i encourage you to do the same. Many thanks for your analytic and incisive journalism.

Barr. Anicheb Stephen, Nigeria

There is no doubt that Nigeria is a failed state..rapacious corruption is endemic...Ironically the only thing holding the country together is the insatiable appetite of the elite for more corruption....It's a shame.

Gyawu Mahama, Peachtree City, USA

I agree with Sola about the rampant thievery among the Nigerian politicical elites. As long as politicians continue to enrich themselves with the national wealth without taking care of the needs of the man on mainstreet, criminality will continue and consume that country. Newswatch recently reported that every 3 months, each senator takes home over 40 million naira but these same politicians have not approved the 15,000 naira national minimum wage. What do they expect young unemployed graduates to do? Ibrahim Babangida once pointed out that military coups were hatched on the pages of newspapers, because as the media exposes massive corruption within the political class and the politicians only laugh about it, the blood flowing in the veins of Nigerian Khaki boys will begin to boil commensurately. Soon, definitely, there will be another military coup in Nigeria and the citizenry will flood the steets to welcome the military men with open arms, after tiring from the desease of corruption in what Fela called "demonstration of crazy". I look forward to that day and pray that it comes sooner rather than later, for the sake of the Nigerian on main street.

JOHN WILLIAMS, Newcastle

What do you expect in a country that deliberately stopped graduate employment for more than 25 years. Instituted Quota system as policy of doing Government business, preferring mediocrity to excellence. And glorifying junk leaders who lead by looting Government treasury. To have survived this far, only the Almighty GOD Know how.

Okoye Joels, Anka Town, Zanfara, Nigeria

The point of this article eludes me. If it is simply to demonstrate more frustration at the situation within Nigeria then I share that sentiment. It is time for Nigeria to turn to the United Nations for help. A failed state must not be war-torn before such help is warranted. Failure to deal with the dire situation in Nigeria will result in the spreading of the crime and corruption that have eaten away at the moral core of Nigerian society. The stability of Nigeria is crucial to the stability of west Africa, and the progress of the continet as a whole.

Anthony, Toronto, Canada

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