By NBF News

The sheer bravado and foolhardiness of the kidnappers is a tribute to the kind of financial returns that are now available in this unholy enterprise. It is only a business that promises huge returns which attracts the best hands, the best brains and the very wealthy to invest in it. Kidnapping has therefore attracted all kinds of characters who are eager to make fast cash in the illicit trade.

From the latest reports I have read, armed robbers, fraudsters and small-time crooks have since dumped their different trades and have moved on to the more lucrative business of kidnapping. I understand people of means have also moved-in with some investments. Underground bunkers have been built in various isolated locations (complete with toilets, kitchen and stewards) to keep their victims alive whilst negotiations are going on. Communication gadgets have been bought for gang members, weapons have been secured, getaway routes have been mapped out etc - the empire of kidnapping is expanding by leaps and bounds and new recruits are secured every day.

Our outrage as a people must not only be directed at the kidnappers. In a society where resources are scarce through the misrule of those in government, people must be prone to commit crime to make money. Our outrage must also extend to government and its security apparatus for either complicity, negligence or incompetence in combating the growing scourge. Just like bunkering, armed robbery and smuggling attracted the bad eggs in our law enforcement agencies over the years to collaborate with the felons, it is only a fool that would dismiss the clear fact that some members of our law enforcement agencies are now part of the ring of kidnappers.

It is incomprehensible that policemen mount road blocks to collect 'tolls' every few meters on our roads in the whole of the south-south and south-east, yet they cannot apprehend a single gang of kidnappers who are making away with their victims.

Consequently, the making of the kidnapper in our midst is an admixture of deliberate collusion by security agencies, the extreme avarice of the kidnapper, and government's neglect of the welfare of our youths which eventually conditions some young minds to carry out such dastardly acts. We shall be losing sight of an essential element in the making of a kidnapper, if we do not pay attention to the conditions to which our young ones are exposed. In The Guardian of Monday, June 10, 1996, I wrote the following in analysing the mental make-up of an assassin which, really, a kidnapper is since he is ready to kill if he is not paid:

'Though money is obviously the motivation of the hired assassin (kidnapper), it cannot be the condition that prepares his mind for the job, for it is beyond dispute that no one will kill another fellow for all the money in this world, if he is not just a killer, if his mind, his soul, his whole body is not tuned to that frequency, for that kind of job certainly deserves a special frequency of the entire executor. There are many who are wallowing in abject poverty who will not accept a million naira to kill (or kidnap) another fellow.

Needless to say that the hired assassin (kidnapper) must be one that regards life as a worthless venture, having himself lived a worthless life, for there is no one that has painstakingly built a life - put seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years into growing, schooling, studying, working, building a home, doing business, making friends, eating well, sleeping well and worshipping God or some gods - I say no one who has put everything into life and got some dividends out of it will just walk up to another and shoot him or her through the head - just like that. The hired assassin (kidnapper) is not even capable of such rational thought, for if the hired assassin (kidnapper) were to look into the eyes of the victim, see life in those eyes and imagine just what it must have cost his victim to build that life, then the hired assassin (kidnapper) will recoil……'

'The hired assassin (kidnapper) thus, being an intrinsically abnormal person, must have lived an abnormal life, for our mental and psychological make-up is a reflection of our total experience in life. If it is not money, then it is this total experience that conditions the mind of the hired assassin (kidnapper) for the job. The little regard the hired assassin (kidnapper) has for life must of necessity be extended to the possible contempt with which he regards society at large, for the hired assassin (kidnapper) will not kill if he feels and understands the feelings of empathy, the revulsion, the pathos and all that, that his gory acts will stir in the society.

If the act of the hired assassin (kidnapper) is not just an uncontrolled reaction to a stimulus or a rational orientation to an absolute value, like in propagating a cause, then the mental make-up of the hired assassin (kidnapper) must consist in conscious experiences to which he had been exposed from birth or for a long time, for the behaviour of a being depends on experiences to which he is largely exposed and an admixture of in-born traits. The experiences around a growing child are stimuli to the child to respond in a particular way. The child therefore grows up to react to the entire stimuli provided and most especially, to the particular surrounding in which he or she grows. The particular surrounding offers the most potent influence.

The hired assassin (kidnapper) not as a person, but as a killer, must therefore be the product of some surrounding, which, in turn, is a product of our society, either because the society condones, overlooks or neglects that surrounding. If we must combat and overcome the hired assassin (kidnapper), the society must identify and take more than a passing interest in those surroundings that shape the minds of our young ones, and might possibly turn them into monsters one day. The society must, for example, begin to take more than a passing interest in those young ones who sleep under the bridges with their destitute parents who are forced to take refuge there due to lack of money to pay their rent or the destruction of their 'illegal' structures by some Task Force. They reside in these squalors without food, without clothing and without social security from the government. Those young ones will grow up one day and turn angrily against society.

The society must begin to make more than a passing interest in the welfare of our young ones who are allowed to roam the streets for months without going to school because of incessant industrial actions by teachers. When the mind of the child becomes idle, a 'to let' sign instantly appears for the devil.

The society must begin to take more than a passing interest in the plight of millions of young ones trapped in garages, parks and on the streets as area boys whose parents cannot afford to send them to school because education has become commercial.

The hired assassin (kidnapper) is a product of society and like every product, its producer can check its production and distribution.'

The half-hearted funding of the police and other security agencies is also a cause for deep concern. What would it cost, for instance, to have helicopters positioned in strategic areas throughout the east so that a few minutes after a kidnap, the kidnappers can be trailed by a helicopter and life can be made very difficult for them? But government would rather prefer to spend N10billion (now reduced to N6billion) for some jamboree called '50th anniversary' when such an amount can go a long way in providing such helicopters.

It is also high time that all mobile phones in the country are switched off and re-registered so that each phone can have a name and a face attached to it and any stolen phone must be instantly reported to the nearest police station. Let it be an offence under our laws for any GSM dealer to sell a SIM card without collecting the passport, name and other identities of the buyer. Of course, die hard criminals will try and circumvent these laws, but at least it will make life difficult for them.

I listened to a suggestion last week by one of my colleagues that all the police formations in the east should be disbanded and replaced with entirely new officers. This is an attractive suggestion but the flaw in it is that to combat kidnapping, you need officers who know the terrain very well. You cannot expect a total stranger to pursue a person in his neighbourhood. While I agree that the bad eggs who collaborate with the kidnappers must be fished out and flushed out, this can be done without dismantling the entire police force in the east. Just like you have corrupt officers in the east, so also you have in the north and the west and it will be only a matter of time before the new corrupt officers also 'settle down' with the kidnappers.

The solution, I think, is to make all the Area Commanders and Divisional Police Officers take full responsibility for any kidnap that happens within their areas of command. This will be in form of strict liability, that is, whether they are at fault or not, they should be tried, imprisoned and dismissed for any such incident in their areas of command. There is nothing better that will make them sit-up than this strict approach to the issue. Also, any Area Commander or Divisional Police Officer in charge of an area where kidnappers are caught or their hideouts are unearthed should also face the same music.

We should not make the mistake to treat the issue of kidnapping with levity. Various cases of murder may soon begin to arise out of this scourge. The earlier we nip it in the bud the better.