Senate’s propose bill: 15 years for anyone who pays ransom to kidnappers

NEWS DIGEST – The first time I heard the issue of paying ransom in northern Nigeria was in 2018 when a certain twin sisters were abducted by an armed group in Dauran village of Zamfara State.  Their abductors demanded a ransom of N150 million naira, their demands generated attention and concern in most of the communities of the state and some neighboring states especially in the mosques where imams were requesting the congregations to contribute money for their release. They were later freed after the payment of N15 million naira.

The above narration is one of the many stories of the agony and trauma people are facing in paying ransom, their frequent demand of ransoms pushed many people into serious bankruptcy, poverty and destruction of businesses in cities and rural communities. Apart from an excessive levy they enforce on many farmers in local communities of Katsina, Zamfara, Niger and Sokoto states, one must pay a huge amount of money for him to have access to his farmland. I can recall my engagement with some local farmers in Zamfara, they revealed to me that armed groups warned them several times not to go near their farmlands even if they paid the levy, for them, no farming for this year.

Recently, the Senate considered a bill that seeks to prohibit the payment and receipt of ransom for the release of any person kidnapped, imprisoned or wrongfully confined. The bill is said to have been cited under Terrorism Prevention Act which scaled the second reading. If the bill becomes successfully passed into law, the offenders will remain in prison for 15 years.

Paying ransom to kidnappers is absolutely bad but the humanity in us will not allow leaving our loved ones in the hands of these criminals. Even the sponsors of the bill will not watch a kidnapper kill or molest his wife, mother, daughter or relatives. The untold stories and hardship of any captive in the hand of the kidnappers is beyond their imagination.

Nigerians are paying ransom because they have seemingly lost interest in security operatives whom they sometimes see as collaborators and informants to the kidnappers and other armed groups engaged in the business. As I am writing this piece, a sitting judge of Sharia court in Katsina was abducted in broad daylight during court proceedings. The security agencies blamed the judge for going to that community.

However, paying ransom is motivating many to join the business since it involves millions of naira but the failure of the government to arrest the issue of insecurity is the worst. Government opened eyes for the kidnappers and other armed groups when they first abducted Chibok and Dapchi girls in Borno and Yobe states respectively where an undisclosed amount of money and other gifts were handsomely released to the abductors for the freedom of the school girls. Last year, over 300 secondary school boys of Government Science in Kankara were abducted by armed criminals, and it was said the state government paid the group over 30 million naira as ransom. Likewise similar incidents happened in Niger, Kaduna, and most recently in Zamfara state, this caused tension and distrust among the Nigerians because people opined that the government is sponsoring insecurity indirectly.

Serious government will not negotiate with armed groups in the name of ransom for kidnapping for ransom because it is a criminal offence against the fundamental human right of the citizen that requires proactive and prompt security operatives to curb. We have seen this seriousness in American government when one of its citizens was abducted along the border community of Nigeria and Niger Republic, they silently sent some few soldiers and rescued him without paying a penny.

As for me, it’s too early for them to come up with this law without putting the necessary things in place, majority of the state governors couldn’t figure out the exact genesis and what motivated people to engage in the lucrative business of kidnapping either as the field actors or the informants. Without clearly digging out the root cause, there is nothing that will work to stop them.

Security experts and analysts warned Nigerian authorities on the issue of abandoned ungovernable spaces especially in the core north part of the country, many people are living in these areas without any influence or presence of government. They are providing basic necessities for themselves; the government is only going there to station polling boxes.

Economic hardship, unemployment and climate change pushed many young people especially from the northern part of the country to join either kidnapping gangs or criminal armed groups available in the region. Many local farmers lost their farmlands due desert encroachment; herders have limited spaces to rear their animals and an explosive population with no strategic plan to accommodate them.

Government must come up with economic policies that will provide opportunities to the teeming population, good governance remains the most important key to everything including engaging the vulnerable youths on productive concern against engaging in any criminal related activities.

Idris Mohammed writes from Funtua

He tweets @Edrees4P