KIDNAPPING: IF WE MUST WIN THE WAR
You probably know the story all too well, the shock and awe to a nation in dire need of good governance, the excruciating pains that their abductors have brought upon their families and loved ones. As each passing day brings fresh details, yet the frantic search has not led to the release of the journalists kidnapped since July 11. One thing is however clear: money is indeed the most driving motivation by the kidnappers.
Among journalists, unpleasant happenings are considered as part of the hazards of the job. Deprivations are perhaps certain. In most newsrooms, the feeling of the last one week is that of a deep sense of pain and morbid fear to venture out on any kind of assignment. Not even the thoughts of going home early from office gives any joy of escape.
No place feels safe anymore, not just for journalists but the entire citizenry. All of this pointedly paints a compellingly unpleasant portrait of the atmosphere of insecurity that currently pervades the land. It's like we are soldiers walking on minefields. The pains don't match the joy.
The spate of kidnapping in the South East, especially in Abia State, the self-style God's own state and Imo State, the so-called Eastern heartland, typifies the present state of anomie. The truth of the matter (with no puns intended) is that some of the South Eastern states have become imprisoned by their past. For instance, while Imo is now arguably the Heartland of kidnapping, Abia state, currently the most reported state (for the wrong reasons) has undoubtedly become the haven of kidnappers. Are you surprised that Abia in particular, is now the enticing haven for kidnappers? Nothing happens by accident, not even accident itself.
The present state of affairs in Abia state that culminated in the kidnap of journalists at Umuafor Ukwu in Ngwa land, is something long foretold. If in doubt, drive through Aba, the commercial nerve centre of the state, you will be terrified by the seeds of disaster now making people hostages to kidnappers. The neighbouring Imo isn't different. It is therefore little surprise when the two states were recently listed by the World Bank sub-regional publication, Doing Business Report among the 'most unfriendly states of doing business in Nigeria.
But that is not to say that Abia and Imo are the 'axis of evil' in Nigeria. It is because the spate of kidnapping has proved to be a big, big, monster, proving immeasurably more complicated to deal with. It is because what started as a small 'crime', a means of drawing attention to perceive government neglect has blossomed into a lucrative trade, perhaps surpassing easy money made by politicians in Nigeria. Now it has become such a festering sore because those who should, by their call of duty, deal with it, are either complicit in it or are direct sponsors of kidnapping.
That's why the South East has sadly become the den of kidnappers. One of the distressingly puzzling things about these states is that virtually everyone seems to know someone who knows someone who has a tale to tell about how this criminality is perpetrated and those behind it. Still none wants to volunteer intelligence on how to get the culprits. It is because the informant may not live to relive his experience. Dead men don't tell tales. That's why getting to know the hideout where the journalists are held has taken this awful time.
Forgive me if I quote myself. But I do so only to show that for any keen follower of events in the South East, like Monrovia or Somalia, the descent into anarchy followed this similar surreal trend. In this column three weeks ago, I did mention that the ugly events in Abia which resulted in banks closing shops for some days in Aba and Umuahia, the state capital, for fear of arm robbery attacks and possible kidnap was foreboding enough. 'That cannot be comforting at all', I wrote, because business thrives on security and stability.' Similar spectacle forced banks to close shop in Okigwe, Imo state in April 21, when a numbing robbery attacks took place simultaneously in nine different banks located in the area. Nothing of such had happened before.
Banking operations in these states is now the most dreaded business to engage in. Again on this page, September 22, 2009 and March 23, 2010, I called attention that evil reports from both Abia and Imo states in terms of the fear of abduction need urgent measures. Prolific columnist, Dr Chidi Amuta, writing on the This Day back page July 1, 2010 entitled, The Abia Tragedy also painted a disturbing but compelling catalogue of the oddities in Abia.
The primary responsibility of a state is the protection of lives and property. But in the last one year, many families in Abia, and indeed, other states in the South East, have had to go through the trauma of their loved ones in the hands of kidnappers. It is not only the pain of paying hefty ransom, it is the fact that the safety of the victims cannot be guaranteed as patience is not a virtue of kidnappers.
Whose responsibility is it to protect us from the kidnappers? Some state governors have failed in providing the basic protection for our people. It is a reflection of the leadership crisis and misgovernance in this country. The police that have the primary responsibility to protect lives and property are at best, partners in this crime. IGP Onovo acknowledged that much last week. As a state correspondent for Champion Newspapers in Abia and Imo between 1992 and 1995, I had a first hand experience of how Police connived with criminals to abet crimes. For example, in November, 1992, I was investigating a case of alleged human headhunters in Isiala Ngwa. To my chagrin, the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in the area and one of the traditional rulers warned me that though the story was true, but that my life would be on the line if the story was published.
Also, as a reporter in Imo state, who blew the lid off the 'famous' Otokoto saga, it was shocking to see the revolving door of criminality. It was numbing story of how Imo state lost its innocence through the killing of 11-year old Ikechukwu Okoronkwo. The most revolting thing here was the revelation of how the then police commissioner in Imo state (name withheld) was found complicit by Justice Paul Onumajulu Judicial Inquiry, which probed the Otokoto saga in 1996.
What point am I making here? No criminality like kidnapping can be 'sustained' for long without the police providing cover for the criminals.
The truth is that if the police want to solve any crime puzzle and bring the culprits to book, they can. But, in most cases, they won't because of pecuniary interest. If, today for instance, the IGP today orders the police commissioners in the South East to fish out the kidnappers and their hideouts within one week or lose their job, I bet you they will find the kidnapper. I say so because as a member of the Imo state Media Advisory Council in 1993, I noticed with shock how one of the policemen in the council used to pass intelligence to suspected kidnappers. It was only when the Otokoto saga brought owerri to a stand still with riots that lasted for two days (September 24 - 25, 1996) that the identities of these policemen were known. Which is last week's lashing of the Imo state police commissioner, Mr. Aloysius Okorie, by the IGP Onovo that he (Okorie) has failed to curb the increasing level of criminality in the state, especially kidnapping, makes some sense.
How can a good cop be scoring himself high when the citizens under his command are living in fear every day?
This is the time for the Federal Government to act, and act quickly. It will not be enough to depose traditional rulers found complicit in the incidence of kidnapping, they should be prosecuted. Also state governors found to have aided or abetted kidnapping should be exposed and then prosecuted after leaving office.
Clearly, kidnapping has become a present danger. Its solution must be found beyond the abduction and release of the journalists.