THE KIDNAP SAGA
In a perverse sort of way, it has taken the kidnapping of four journalists to rouse the entire nation into full consciousness of the virtual state of anarchy in much of the South East, with Abia State now as the regional headquarters. The dramatic manner of their kidnap can only be compared with a scene in war-torn Iraq where terrorists lay ambush for their enemy targets.
Accounts indicate that the vehicle conveying the journalists from Uyo through Abia State was in motion when they were intercepted amidst a hail of gunfire. In their worst days, that was exactly how it was done in Somalia, Iraq, Palestine or Afghanistan. Today, we have managed to upstage even the inventors of terrorism.
In the Arab nations, kidnappings were popularized as a political tool in a battle for emancipation, self-determinism or religious imperialism, but here, the vice has morphed into economic terrorism. Who say we are not moving up the scale of sophistication, at least in terrorism?
Now, the Inspector-General of Police, Ogbonnaya Onovo, has relocated to South East, trying to stem the tide of what is now turning into a full-scale war pitching good and evil. 'We're moving to South-East to stamp out kidnapping,' Ben Okezie, one of Onovo's media advisers told me. 'Just pray for us.'
'That will be great,' I had replied. 'Those of us from Abia State are already refugees in our country since we can't go home anymore.'
Onovo is fighting with multiple tools. To his Igbo kinsmen, he whips up some sentiments. As the first Igbo man to become Inspector-General of Police, do they want to disgrace him and put his job on the line? To the kidnappers, he promises fire and brimstone. In the main, the kidnappers simply ignore him. In this kind of war, talk is cheap. Action is what matters. A man who resorts to kidnapping for a living has made a hard choice between life and death. Such man must have been so hardened that you do not scare him with mere threats and certainly not emotional gimmicks.
The kidnappers, after all, are no fools. They're smart criminals who also do their homework for each operation. They weigh their risk before striking. Kidnapping is thriving in the South-East simply because in the risk analysis of the criminals, the chances of success far outweigh their chances of failure. How many times have policemen aborted kidnapping scheme without the victims paying ransom? How many times have kidnappers conveying their human quarry in the boots of their vehicles been intercepted by the dozens of armed policemen who dot every kilometer of the roads in South East, collecting sundry tolls from travellers? Is it because the policemen are blind, complicit in the crime or simply prefer to look the other way when their palms are greased with filthy lucre?
Kidnapping thrives simply because the criminals behind it had concluded that every police man, every divisional police officer, every security personnel on the road is not there to stop them, but to earn a living. Each of the security apparatchiks has a price and the kidnappers are more than willing to pay the price. Kidnappers, like armed robbers, are no spirits. They are our neighbours, friends and perhaps, even relations. They don't wear badges to identify them.
They are probably reading this piece with you and discussing it. My point: they are rational beings and unless the risk outweighs the gains, nobody can stamp it out. So, when Onovo harangues his officers and men for so much security lapses that enable kidnapping to thrive, he is probably talking to the kidnappers face to face! For without the direct involvement or connivance of security men, the police in particular, how would kidnappers operate with so much impunity that has made the evil spread in such epidemic proportion? These days, people seeking police escort have to weigh their options carefully whether the policemen would not in fact, arrange their kidnap ultimately? In seeking to wipe out kidnapping, the starting point may be the police personnel themselves.
As the Bible states, judgment would start in the household of God. So is Onovo ready to set the ball rolling?
To wipe out this evil simply means to mass up so much forces against the evil, the way Americans and Israelis massed forces against terrorism, countering violence with greater violence, squeezing out opportunities for it to operate until the very life was choked out of the die-hards; and until the risk outweighs the gains. I suppose that was one of David Mark's points.
Let nobody go into the lame excuse that kidnapping is politically motivated. In the beginning when they used it to terrorise political opponents in one of the Delta states, it was probably the case. But, that was until a gentleman called Governor Chibuike Amaechi showed up in the government house of Rivers State and decided that he was not going to share the throne with militant kingpins who thrive on kidnapping for economic gains. Amechi mobilized the security forces, provided vehicles, equipment and cash to counter the hoodlums. It was a full-scale war but in the end, River State became too hot for the kidnappers to operate.
For those revisionists who claim that kidnapping exploded in the South-East states because President Yar'Adua's amnesty stopped kidnapping in the Delta states, but excluded Igbos, the truth was that the kidnappers relocated to the Eastern states when it became too risky to operate in places like Rivers State. And that was long before Yar'Adua's inchoate amnesty.
I recall that in 2008, to prove his point that the state has become safe from the menace of the kingpins, Governor Amaechi personally drove Mike Awoyinfa, Femi Adesina, Funke Egbemode and I to the evil forest which used to be the stronghold of the then on-the-run militant warlord, Ateke Tom from where he was dislodged. The point: you can make all the excuses you want, blame all the enemies you like, but you cannot make a dent on the thriving industry of kidnapping. But, with the political will, guts and the right funding, you could raise the bar against kidnappers.
To persist in harping on the excuse that some political enemies are behind kidnapping in your state is simply a puerile excuse and in my view, chasing shadows. Even if the enemies are behind it, governance means crushing the criminals with their sponsors. On this score, the state governors really have no case.
Kidnapping, however, is an economic vice. The perpetrators are in it because of what they gain from it, not to please some evil godfathers. It's not so much that some godfathers would not have loved to employ kidnapping as a tool to destabilize their political opponents. After all, the original sponsors of kidnapping in Rivers states deployed them for political terrorism of their opponents until they ended up with a Frankenstein monster that wanted to devour even their creators.