The year is almost over folks, isn’t it? It is that time of the year again in the Igbo corner of the country called Nigeria when people do their best to get their finances in order; yes for the great Christmas holiday season. The end of the year period is a time when most Igbo people from far-flung places troop back to their ancestral villages and towns to be with their loved ones, family and extended relatives. It is a time of great festivity; of marrying and giving to marriage; of insane partying, wining and dining with kith and kin; of showing off to others how one has been successful in one’s undertakings in those distant places from which one made the long journey home. Usually, Igbo people would start this yearly migration around the 20th of December and remain in their ancestral lands until the end of the first week of the New Year.
Afterwards, many people would return again to the cities where they lived and worked in for the rest of the year—after having made great resolutions for the year. Therefore, it is not surprising that to keep up with the Joneses, terrible crimes are committed around this time of the year as some people undertake desperate things to make enough money for the annual end of year jamboree in Nigeria’s southeast. This is usually the time that one hears of terrible robberies or terrible news of people participating in one money-making ritual or the other.
In recent times however, the Southeastern part of Nigeria (Igbo land) has been gripped by a bigger fear; there is an even bigger, more present and scarier problem. This is the menace of kidnappers. This is a scourge that is not limited to the seasonal end of year spike in violence—this problem seems to be an ongoing one.
“So what is this kidnapping business?” someone might be tempted to ask.
The stories are legion. You have heard many of them—as have I. You might have even read some of these horror stories or seen TV clips focused on this issue
There is general sense of insecurity and fear in Igbo land because of a number of factors some of which include the paucity of effective police deterrent to crime; an appalling lack of a sense of duty on the part of the local police; a benighted dismantling by state governments of previous vigilante groups which protected local communities from the scourge of robbers and assassins; general unease and suspicion by members of a terrorized community of other members of the community; and finally, a poor and ineffective means of coordinating efforts designed at confronting the issue by members of a targeted or traumatized community. The end result is that desperate and cruel kidnapper gangs have arisen in many parts of the Igbo southeast.
They started out by targeting the rich. For instance, a rich person or his /her relative, spouse or children could be kidnapped. The kidnappers would then call the rich person on the phone and try to negotiate the release of the kidnapped by threatening to inflict bodily harm or murder unless the rich person brings a whopping sum of money to some secret place where the swap would take place. If all goes well, the kidnapped relatives of the rich would live to see another day. If the rich person refuses to comply, then these kidnappers would escalate their actions by murdering the rich man’s kidnapped relative and kidnapping an even more important and closer relation of that rich person. This vicious spate of extra-judicial kidnapper killings could go on for a long time until the rich person eventually succumbs to pressure and goes on with the extortion scheme.
Now, I know what you may be thinking at this point. You may be asking why doesn’t the rich take a well-armed band of soldiers or policemen to the venue of a proposed swap and engage the kidnappers directly. Well, such bold actions have usually yielded little fruit—at best you may kill or capture a few men in a well-organized, well-funded kidnapping gang. Besides, when they are double-crossed in that manner, there would be an escalation of hostilities so that the issue ceases to be a routine grab-and-swap scheme. It turns into horrific vengeance-filled bloodletting as these mercenaries systematically hack down members of the double-crossers family. Sometimes, it culminates in the murder of the rich person himself!
So for a while, these horrors happened to the mega-rich; and then next they targeted successful but hardworking men and women who became moderately well-to-do by sheer dint of hard work. There are numerous stories out there that I am not even going to begin to narrate. At the time when these kidnappers were targeting the superrich, there was no shortage of people who could not be bothered and who did not consider it a societal malaise. They reasoned that the mega-rich had enough money to pay for kidnap ransoms. Yes, the usual class warfare, if you know what I mean. After all, as many people might have deduced, a lot of these politically connected super-rich who were targeted by the kidnappers, were members of the kleptocratic ruling elite. What is the loss of a few million naira to these political brigands who feed fat at the communal trough to the detriment of the common man?
Well, the menace has come full circle. What used to be few and scattered incidences of kidnapping has turned, by some strange ordinance, into some sort of business venture. Scores of petty kidnapping rings have mushroomed all over the Southeast! And this time, these kidnappers are not just after big game. Apparently, not content with just extorting money from the uber-rich, or from relatively well-to-do but extremely hardworking and industrious citizens, these kidnappers are now kidnapping regular middle class and poor people and extorting smaller sums of money from people who cannot even afford to spare anything! That is the true scope of the menace that is bewildering the Southeast.
What must be done to ameliorate the scourge of these vicious kidnapping incidents? This must be the million dollar question.
It seems as if some state governments are beginning to address the issue. Of course, I am referring to the Joint Military Task Force set up in Abia state at the height of the kidnapper crisis in Aba, a major city in the state. They successfully killed a local kidnapping kingpin by the name Osisikankwu. I expect the news and celebration of his death to embolden the people and the police as they go after these hoodlums. I also expect the shockwaves of this notorious criminal’s death to further cripple and paralyze the ambitions of would-be kidnappers. We should continue to support efforts by well-meaning people to stamp out the menace of kidnappings and other heinous crimes in the region.
At any rate, I have to confess my bewilderment at this revelation from Vanguard:
Vanguard recalls that in an exclusive interview the late kidnap kingpin granted the paper last month, Osisikankwu gave reasons why he took up arms against his own people and the government.
Explaining why he decided to form a gang that terrorized the people, Osisikankwu said: “We became militants because of the failure of government to live up to its responsibilities towards us. Many of us are graduates. Some are university drop-outs, who could not continue for want of fund or sponsors. There are secondary school leavers without a future in school or jobs. Many are skilled workers from all walks of life, who are partially on the job or were forced out by lack of fund to buy tools and start their business. Others are apprentices and persons wrongfully and unlawfully put out of job without means to litigate on the injustices meted against them, and a lot more who suffered sub-human treatment, degradation, torture, victimization and unjust imprisonment in the hands of Abia State Government, and its agencies from the traditional village setting up to Government House, Umuahia. There are some of us who chose militancy because of the rape of their wives and sisters, ritual killing of innocent persons in the guise of security by mainly the Bakassi Boys, used by the state administration as a security outfit. I must also talk about the corrupt segment of the Nigeria Police unleashed on Abia people. They extort money at check points, police stations and even in people’s homes, thus impoverishing the citizens.”
How daft! It is either this criminal was deluded or he thinks he can fool the people by some emotional rhetoric aimed at highlighting the plight of the common man. Here is an arrested criminal responsible for terrorizing Abia state and its environs with his 3,000 fellow kidnappers. And he dares to pass off the blame and outrage for his cruel machinations against the peace-loving citizens of Abia state by blaming everything but himself! Do you see how he cleverly echoes the frustrations that struggling and law-abiding citizens legitimately lay at the foot of the state and local government? What was he expecting with that reply—for the terrorized people of Abia state to ignore how miserable they have been by the constant fear of kidnappers? Or, for them to weep at his story and subsequently forgive him for making the choice to terrorize their lives? Or, for Abians to ignore his horrible deeds and then turn around to blame the government for creating an environment in Abia state where some Osisikankwu fails to realize his dream? Or, for Abians to regard him a hero who is making the ‘best’ of the bad cards he was dealt in life? Or maybe join his band of kidnappers?
Na wa oo. I no fit understand dis one. E be like say even criminals for Naija don yarn wuruwuru talk like politicians. Small time naw, una go catch a robber, ask am why hin dey rob people and the anuohia go open mouth and drop one kain “10 point development Agenda for the Nation by the year 2020”.
O dikwa egwu!
P.S-Do you have any particular kidnapping stories to share? Do you have any stories of robberies that you want to share? Feel free to do so in the comment box.