Nigeria’s kidnappers thrive on government failure

By Akinola Akintayo

Posted on Wednesday, 4 November 2009 10:52

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Kidnapping is rivalling armed robbery as a crime of choice for Nigerian gangsters. The growth and diversity of criminal enterprise in Nigeria in recent months has highlighted the government’s failure to meet its basic obligations to its people, argues Akinola Akintayo, human rights expert and constituional lawyer at the University of Lagos.

Recent months in Nigeria have seen an increase in the numbers of people kidnapped for ransom. One gang attempted to kidnap Nigeria’s education minister in September. The main targets for the kidnappers demanding ransoms are the rich and their families. The victims are held until their relations pay a hefty ransom. Kidnappings is rivalling armed robbery as a crime of choice for Nigerian gangsters.

Pete Edochie, a popular actor who was kidnapped and released in August 2009, told journalists that the kidnappers had said they were not interested in harming anybody but in obtaining their own piece of the ‘national cake’. He said the kidnappers had treated him well but had complained that political office holders had suddenly become multi-millionaires with property all over the place shortly after assumption of public office.

Kidnapping and the reasons given for it call into question the wealth redistribution and poverty alleviation mechanisms of the Nigerian government.

Under international regulations, Nigeria’s government is obliged to uphold essential socio-economic rights which will sustain a dignified standards of living. The framework includes, among others, the provisions of various International Labour Organisation Conventions, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and UN conventions on the rights of women and children. The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights is also important. The ICESCR is a classic example of a rights-based approach to international law: it is elaborate, detailed and applies to all categories of persons equally.

According to Article 2 of the ICESCR, state parties to the covenant are obliged to take steps to the maximum of its available resources with a view to achieving progressively the full realisation of rights. Two kinds of obligations are assumed: the obligations of conduct and the obligations of result. The latter mandates states to move as expeditiously as possible to ensure the full use of the maximum available resources toward the realisation of the rights guaranteed in the Covenant.

State parties’ minimum core obligations refer to the obligations to satisfy the minimum essential levels of each of the rights guaranteed: that is, making essential foodstuffs accessible to everybody, provision of basic shelter and housing, provision of basic forms of education, provision of essential primary health care and social security, among others.

The facts on ground reveal that, contrary to Nigeria’s international obligations, no concrete steps have been taken by the government to ameliorate extreme poverty in Nigeria almost two decades after the ratification of the ICESCR. For Nigeria’s teeming poor, statements and policies on poverty reduction appear to have been mere rhetoric.

Economic, social and cultural rights are beyond the reach of most poor people in the country. The health care system is in shambles; there is widespread and chronic unemployment; education is priced out of the reach of the ordinary man, many people make do with accommodation under bridges in Nigeria or live in slums; many have to make do with a meal a day.

The Nigerian government is not complying with her obligations to protect its citizens from poverty and disease. It is not ensuring that economic, social and cultural rights are being enjoyed in Nigeria without discrimination: the astounding and unjustified gap between the earnings of political office holders and the citizenry constitutes unfair and irrational discrimination.

I am not a supporter of criminals. Neither do I believe that kidnappers are justified in what they do. Yet, the high levels of poverty and suffering are largely responsible for the high levels of crime and social disaffection. While the more daring dissidents in the Niger Delta took up arms to demand their own share of the national cake, those in other parts of the country are taking up arms against the elite and holding them up for ransom.

Government has to address these serious socio-economic challenges. Otherwise, we all should brace up for worse times ahead. It is not the proliferation of security agencies that will reduce the crime rate and guarantee peace in Nigeria. The history of the Niger Delta has forcefully brought that home to us. Peace and security lies in meeting the legitimate expectation and yearnings of ordinary Nigerians.

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