ALL IS NOT WELL WITH THIS ENDING
It is bad enough to lose your freedom but it is even worse to be in captivity with the possibility of death from a moment's madness of some criminals licenciously terrrorising innocent ones in a country ordinarily given to guarantee law and order. On the surface, therefore, all seems well with the release of four kidnapped Nigerian journalists. They are now free, safe and back with their respective families. For this, we are very happy. The trauma they experienced for the week-long uncertain moment of their captivity can only be imagined.
The journalists led by the Lagos State Chairman of Nigeria Union of Journalists, (NUJ), Wahab Oba, lost their freedom to criminals for a week throughout which everybody was gasping for breath on what might be the eventual fate of the victims. As youngsters, we noticed the elders patching up a setback or a helpless situation with the escapist self-consolation that all is well that ends well. The only problem in the case of the journalists released by the kidnappers, especially without harm, is that all is not necessarily well. The first disturbing aspect is the manner in which virtually who is who in Nigeria condemned the kidnappers. Surely, that helped tremendously to ensure the release of the journalists. But in the process, the impression was wrongly created that that was the first or only time Nigeria was experiencing the terror of kidnapping.
Trust Nigerians. Anybody seeking attention jumped on the bandwagon. State governors, ministers, the clergy on both sides, businessmen etc. There is therefore, this sense of guilt the all-round focus on and condemnation of the kidnappers were only because journalists were the victims. In fact, the kidnappers were reported (by their journalists captives on their release) to have been alarmed by the magnitude of the sustained everyday reports. Angle of the media coverage was even provoking. As the questions were asked in the Press by their colleagues (a) Why should journalists championing the cause of society be kidnapped? (b) Journalists number among the poor in the society and where are they expected to come about the heavy ransom demanded by the kidnappers? Etc.
What were such questions supposed to mean? That as long as they are not journalists, other Nigerian residents - fellow citizens and foreigners could be legitimately targeted by kidnappers? Kidnapping in Nigeria commenced in recent years and the menace seemed ignored or at least underestimated by the government and the media.
The media might not have glorified kidnapping as a crime as foreigners were initially the victims, especially with millions of naira extorted as ransom. Equally, the brutal murders of some unlucky foreigners as victims of the kidnappers were not pursued to logical conclusion as necessary by the media.
The media should have been concerned with the follow-up on (a) The prospects of kidnapping mounting as a growth industry (b) what were the inevitable implications for Nigeria's image abroad? (c) What counter-measures were the security agencies, especially the police, planning to contain or neutralize the criminals? (d) Who were these gangsters and/or their god-fathers? (e) Was ransom being paid at all by the victims to regain their freedom (f) If so, how much and who were paying such ransom?
Instead, the media seemed to be glorifying and offering stupid alibi for the kidnappers. Every new case was jumped at with undue emphasis on the amount being demanded by the kidnappers as ransom.
Even on occasions in the past when kidnappers either accidentally or deliberately murdered their victims, how strongly were the criminals condemned by the media? Did government react instantly to prevent such murders as the government (quite rightly) did in the case of the journalists? On what occasion of a kidnap case in the past did an Inspector-General of Police personally take charge of operations leading to the release of the captives? In short, all of us, including journalists, were not so much bothered about the growing menace of kidnapping.
If we had bothered, not only would the criminal activities of the gangsters have been curbed, journalists would have escaped the misfortune of being kidnapped.
The release of the journalists without the slightest harm is appreciated. That is all. Otherwise, the menace of kidnapping must be crushed, whatever the cost. Wahab Oba, Lagos NUJ chief and other kidnapped colleagues, on their release, have not helped in that direction by claiming that kidnappers are in business because they are unemployed. Is that not an implied justification for continued kidnapping in Nigeria?
Which family in Nigeria is without some unemployed youths? Are unemployed youths peculiar to Nigeria? Are there not unemployed youths in Ghana, the latest role model for Nigerian elite? In a mis-conceived idea of sympathy, we rationalize kidnapping and thereby inadvertently encourage the criminal act as a growth industry.
Do we realize the international dimension? Kidnapping is an act of terrorism. Quite rightly, that is the rating by civilized and effective governments in Europe and United States and unless we stamp out these criminal bandits, it is a question of time for Nigeria to be labeled a terrorist state not necessarily because we operate terrorism as a policy, but because of Nigerian government's inability to effectively neutralize kidnap as a crime.
The first duty of a government - local government, state government and Federal Government - is to guarantee security of the average citizen, including foreigners in our midst. Issuing visa to foreigners is evidence of permit to visit. We therefore, have a duty to ensure the safety of such visitors just as Nigerians in foreign countries are entitled to their security by the host countries.
The kidnappers demanded hundreds of millions of naira for the release of the journalists and that threw all of us into understandable desperation, best appreciated by the victims and their families. But where could the Nigeria Union of Journalists or families of the captives come up with such a huge amount? Then suddenly, the same NUJ offered to pay twenty-five million naira described as 'only.' If not only, how much was NUJ prepared to pay without encouraging the kidnappers to continue their business? Any action taken to regain the journalists their freedom is, however, well accepted moreso, as, in the end, NUJ said no ransom was eventually paid.
Now, even one of the victims, Lagos NUJ boss, Oba, was embarrassed by his members, who widely reported him to have declared three million naira as their loss to the kidnappers, thereby giving the criminals to even counter that they, in fact, took just over one million naira from the kidnapped journalists.
If Lagos State Chairman of NUJ could be so misreported, we can imagine non-journalists innocent public figures similarly mis-reported very often.
Defending how NUJ came about huge amount of over one million naira in their possession when kidnapped, Chairman Oba sourced it to the honour of a pledge by Akwa Ibom State Governor Godswill Akpabio to cover the costs of an NUJ seminar or workshop already held. Why must a state governor sponsor a workshop organized by the NUJ? What was so important about the workshop and if the jamboree was so important, did self-respect not demand that Lagos NUJ should have borne its expenses? How many such seminars, workshops, conferences or lectures are organized by a national or state chairman in his tenure? How many state governors sponsor such gatherings?
National and state branches should stop the idea of paying courtesy calls (whatever the meaning) on state governors. Cheap and self-demeaning.
Police now claim to declare war on kidnappers. Only after journalists were the victims of kidnappers? So, all along, there was no war on kidnappers? The test will come when kidnappers strike again. But the truth is that in widely reporting the belated police declaration of war on kidnappers, media generally and unintelligently fell for cheap exploitation by the police to shore up its badly tarnished image in these criminal activities. Akwa Ibom Governor Akpabio seized the opportunity of the release of the kidnapped journalists to demand death penalty for kidnappers. Akpabio's demand is justified except that he should start in his state.
Any kidnap case in Akwa Ibom will be prosecuted between the state government and the accused.
What is more, any state government can prescribe death penalty for kidnapping and go all the way to carry out any sentence imposed by a law court. In some states in America, death penalty is already abolished while other states like Texas retain the death penalty and only a month ago, executed a convict.
Furthermore, our problem in Nigeria is not so much the laws, but the failure of federal and state governments to enforce existing laws. Instead, they rush to the gallery. When kidnapping became widespread in the east this year, Ebonyi State and one other state in the Niger Delta (Rivers or Bayelsa) rushed through laws stipulating the death penalty for kidnapping.
As if to test the will of Ebonyi State government, kidnappers struck and took away a commissioner. Fortunately, three suspects were arrested. Since then, what happened? Nothing. Over to you, Ebonyi State Governor Martin Elechi and Inspector-General of Police Ogbonnaya Onovo. Back to Nigerian media and professional deficiency of not following up situations to total conclusion. They should regard the Ebonyi case as an example. What is happening to three suspects? Unless, of course, Governor Elechi in the past sponsored a seminar or workshop for the NUJ.