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In Nigeria, the rich also cry

Eromo Egbejule
By Eromo Egbejule
West Africa Editor of The Africa Report

Posted on Friday, 3 May 2019 14:00

Chibok community chairman Tsambido Hosea Abana during a sit-out in Abuja. The Chibok girls are the most visible example of a kidnapping wave. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Nigerians great and small are living through a kidnapping pandemic.

Two weeks ago, I took the train from Kaduna to Abuja for a reporting assignment. I turned up over an hour early at the Rigasa terminal after being warned that tickets could be completely sold out.

Still I had to join a very long queue that looked like child’s play when we got to Abuja, where ticket racketing and hoarding schemes have become the norm. Despite train tickets being almost double the price of interstate vehicles and both journeys being approximately the same time, no one wants to go by road.

The reason is simple.

The Kaduna-Abuja Expressway is one of the most dangerous in the country, thanks to kidnappers who now lurk in the bushes day or night.

Not even the wealthy in their chauffeured SUVS ensconced within security convoys want to travel by road.

To put it plainly, the entire Northwest region is currently the most unsafe place in the country outside northeast Nigeria where Boko Haram still routinely attacks.

The fear of being abducted is now the beginning of wisdom.

Outside the region, there has also been a resurgence of kidnapping elsewhere as criminal elements are emboldened by the exploits of their comrades in the North West.

Deadly statistics

According to the acting Inspector-General of Police, Alhaji Mohammed Adamu, at least 685 persons were kidnapped across the country in the first quarter of 2019 alone. This is in all likelihood, just a conservative estimate.

Consequently, millions of naira in ransom have been exchanged over the last few months, with each transaction further stimulating the kidnap-for-cash industry.

While the rich have been able to squeeze out monies needed to secure their release, the poor have kept faith in charms and ethnic militia who are gradually joining the bandits to make quick bucks.

To add salt to the injury, the government of Zamfara is officially recruiting over a thousand charmers to keep citizens safe. That an elected official deems it necessary to recruit shamans and spend taxpayers’ money borders on ridiculous if not insane.

So what is Nigeria doing keep its citizens safe?

President Muhammadu Buhari – currently overseas for a private trip – has proved exceedingly nonchalant about the situation.

Earlier this week, the district head of his hometown Daura in Katsina State and father-in-law to his aide-de-camp, was captured by unknown gunmen. Perhaps that will finally push him to act decisively seeing as few things change in Nigeria until a big man or his relative becomes a victim.

Little has changed since separate convoys of Kaduna State governor Nasir El-Rufai and popular policeman Abba Kyari both dramatically charged into the bushes surrounding the road like cargo-cult Jack Bauers, claiming to be in pursuit of the criminals’ and their hideouts.

On some levels, the government is moving: but it still took injury to the powerful to drive action: “MTN was fined $2.2bn as Nigeria was unable to trace owners of SIM cards used by kidnappers of former finance minister Olu Falae, who was freed after his family paid a ransom”.

And beyond the noise, there are more questions than answers. For instance,

  • What are governors doing with the monthly millions (billions perhaps?) they get as security votes?
  • Why are the governors paying large sums as ransoms and amnesty to gangsters who then reinvest in newer, more sophisticated weaponry?
  • While the current constitutional structure does not permit for state and communal policing, how well equipped and regulated are the local vigilante and neighbourhood watch services they are setting up?
  • Is the federal government properly financing the intelligence unit so security outfits can share information in real-time?

It is imperative that a state of emergency be declared first on Zamfara and Katsina States ahead of a proper overhaul of Nigeria’s security apparatus.

The ineffectual security chiefs who like most of Mr. Buhari’s cabinet in his first tenure have been ornaments possessing neither shine nor lustre, need to go ahead of the president’s second (democratic) coming.

If Nigerians have to provide their own electricity, water, healthcare, transport and security on a year-to-year basis despite paying taxes in a country that parades itself as socialist, of what importance are the elected officials at every tier of government to them?

Would it not be better the country were divided into small lots, with each household having its own governor to administer to their wants and needs?

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