Yesterday, after several volunteer groups made frantic efforts online to raise the ransom demand by Bandits to free the young ladies who were abducted from their homes in Sagwari Layout in Abuja, the former Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof Isa Pantami, made a timely intervention. He announced that he had raised N50 million from a friend and the same had been forwarded to the family to settle the bandits.
The fact that this transaction was made public upset many observers who argued that the former minister’s actions would further encourage kidnappings and, in this instance, may even trigger a surge in the amount demanded by the bandits. They were right. Just this morning, and as predicted by many analysts, the bandits who had initially demanded N60 million for each of their victims are now demanding N100 million according to a report by Vanguard newspaper.
Although Pantami defended his actions stating that “I’m personally not in support of paying ransom to criminals. However, since it becomes clear we lost our daughter Nabeeha yesterday, and the five remaining daughters have been threatened, I spoke with a friend who offered to pay the remaining N50 million immediately.”
How he failed to recognize his intervention would only embolden the criminals to raise their demands is most concerning. It is also a window into how National Security matters have been treated at the highest level of government. Little wonder the problems have not only persisted but scaled.
This brings three critical issues to the surface. If payments of ransom result in more kidnapping, should the state criminalize the payments of such ransom? If the state decides to outlaw ransom payments, has it developed the capacity and capabilities to prevent kidnappings and when they do happen, apprehend the culprits, and rescue victims? And what role can technology play in curbing ransom payments?
According to a report by SBM Intelligence, over $18 million has been paid in ransom between 2011 and 2020 alone. That number is projected to be much higher before the turn of the next decade. And if there is enough incentive and reward for kidnappings the criminal enterprise will continue growing. Therefore, discouraging kidnapping cannot begin at the point ransoms are being demanded, it must begin from the point of abduction.
The state should make the kidnap of citizens an extremely difficult endeavor and in the rare instances that they succeed, there must be a state policy to track down the criminals within 48 hours.
In the last two years, over 7000 people have been kidnapped and about 564 others killed in violence associated with abductions. To successfully prevent these kidnappings, the state must invest heavily in improving the capacity of security personnel to respond swiftly and effectively. Security agencies must develop new means of gathering intelligence, adopt technology, and increase inter-agency collaboration.
But more importantly, the Commander in Chief, along with the various Chief security officers of their respective states, must muster the political will and urgency to give all it takes to eliminate kidnappings. Without a fanatical approach to eradicate kidnappings and banditry, the Nigerian state will continue to lose ground to the enemy. The question then to ask Mr President is; how much more blood needs to be spilt for you to exercise your authority?