Kidnapping: Can it be Eliminated in the Case of Nigeria?

In earlier views I expressed on the subject of security and its relationship to economic development, I opined that no nation can claim to be prospering when crime is done at will and its law enforcement not equipped or commit to minimizing the occurrences. Lawlessness in Nigeria is seen as a right of those that want to do what they want as there is hardly consequences for bad behavior or conduct in the nation; all being equal and considered. When elected and appointed officials often do as they wish and use the instrument of state to propagate and perpetuate conducts unbecoming, common criminals join the ranks even if it’s in ‘underworld’ capacity. 

Since the inception of present civilian rule in Nigeria hinging time frame from 1999: Kidnapping, a criminal vice that was highly unheard of during the military has become an industry on its own. Accusations and allegations that those in power use this nefarious act to intimidate political enemies and instill fear so no one questions their conducts, may not go without some truth. But again, family members of elected and appointed officers have also being victims. The whole country or a good part of it especially the southern states, have experienced kidnappings such that there is siege mentality. For foreigners, especially those working in the oil sector, it has led to increased cost of their presence in Nigeria. While Nigeria has the lowest cost per barrel as per oil production, it incidentally has the highest operating cost as a ratio of revenue to operating expense. The implication, Nigeria spends more than its counterpart oil producing countries on security as a charge on revenue, in turn lowering net benefit to the national treasury. For those that track loose and weak security facilities in developing countries that rely on foreign technical support, for every one kidnapping incident there a reaction of 2% - 5% increase in the cost of doing business in that country. That added cost lowers the net benefit, in other hand, Nigeria is always losing money.

Whatever are the reasons for the existence of kidnapping, it is time both the leadership and the led commit to nipping it. It signals bad image for Nigeria and makes cost of doing business and living expensive. The question, can Nigeria rally to deal with kidnapping? Yes, they can and should. Then how does the nation leadership go about nipping kidnapping?

There are several ways to deal with kidnapping, as it is a crime committed with the criminal demanding ransom in order to release one kidnapped. Nigerians must separate kidnapping of a family member who fakes their own kidnapping to extort money from a family member. That is a family matter, and however they end up with it, is there own cup of tea. However, kidnapping occasioned by criminals calls for tougher approach.

Since ransom demand is made via phone call or letter or in-person demand, it is a no-brainer that committed law enforcement and alert public can nail kidnappers. But the question again goes back to Nigeria law enforcement agencies. Are they trustworthy on their job? If the accusations and allegations points to a law enforcement that colludes with criminals, no amount of sophistication and public involvement will nip the act. Criminals in any form are not ghosts. They are persons known to the communities they operate and they have beneficiaries. What dents criminal enterprise is committed public that sees how damaging such acts affects their quality of life and decide Enough Is Enough. In the case of Nigeria, Enough is Never Enoughas conducts are often permitted and allowed to go unchecked such they become a tradition. But assuming there is commitment to nail kidnappers, here are some suggested approaches.

1. Phone Companies, every operating phone company in Nigeria must have picture identification of each subscriber and finger print, and each number assigned linked to a particular address or village. Every subscriber must sign an affidavit saying they are purchasing the phone for their use and not for someone else, all these done at the point of obtaining a phone. Even though this will be hard because many Nigerians have no address but again, they do not all live on the street, it has to be required. Violation should trigger heavy fine on the phone company or cause to lose licensure.

2. Nigeria Police to have tracer capacity to track any call that makes ransom demand such that through use of GPS, the area of the criminal can be zeroed in and reinforcement assigned to the area. The way it works, once a ransom demand is made, the victim family informs the police so they have the phone called linked to the tracer to begin tracking.

3. Financial institutions with the aid of Central Bank to develop certain features with indelible ink markers and currency electronic devices emitting signals once the money is delivered. It may have a 24-48 hour timer that goes off after the release of the victim. Some US law enforcement have developed similar device to help curtail bank robberies.

4. Community organizations such as NAS to develop collaborative pact with Nigeria law enforcement to assist in Community Policing partnership to boost efforts to curtail kidnappings. This sort of partnership and or assistance to be done after training of selected individuals who obtained basic understanding how to track and trace criminal elements. The danger, is that there are likelihood of infiltration and leaking of vital information. No nation is crime proof. What makes a difference is when a large population frowns at criminal elements and activities and commits to fight its occurrence. If in Nigeria, there is no trust with the police, policing is weakened and criminals get free pass.

5. Increased budget allocation for law enforcement: It is no gain saying the obvious, Nigeria Police has the lowest resources per capita of nations its size. Nigeria police hardly have $1b in annual operating budget and even at that, very little in terms of crime fighting equipment and tools are available. Many Nigeria Police personnel do not know how to use crime maps to locate criminals and many of its rank and file, can hardly describe a crime scene to aid in identifying what happened. In developed nations, communities assist the police and law enforcement obtain added resources to contain crime. In Dallas, the city budget of nearly $3b, almost 45% of that goes to public safety which is police and fire and rescue departments. For a city of 1.3m people, its budget is bigger than that of Nigeria police, a country of 160 people; do the math. Public safety budget in developed nations for local governments constitute the highest single expense of their budget. While crimes do occur in US, at least one gets a sense something will be done.

6. State by state public safety endowment fund to be encouraged and duly established as additional resource to assist the police in fighting crime. While availability of money alone does not guarantee success, its lack aids in continued success of criminal elements. This is an innovative approach to fighting crime in given areas in collaboration and partnership with communities and law enforcement. As a supplement to each state’s police command, there is need forCitizens Police Council – CPC of very trustworthy residents; they must have physical presence in the state. To endow the fund in each state, every resident of voting age separated by those who live in urban and rural areas to pay at least N500 each year for no more than 3 years. Businesses in that state pay maybe N5000, depending on their size. Here is how it works; assuming 1m eligible residents of a state or based on percentage of the state population, say 25% as eligible. That throws off N500m and businesses contributes another N500m, for a total of N1b annually, and must only be used in that state. The community organizations manned by credible citizens whose memberships are made public with request to challenge inclusion of anyone considered unfit. CPC  collaborates with the state police command on weekly basis to review crime stats and allocate resource to fight crime. All deliberations made available to the public. The Police Commissioner must appear before the organization to make a case for allocation from the fund and match their authorized budget to the fund’s resources. This is very complicated to establish especially in a community or nation where membership in certain organization may arrogate undue powers to some. But when done, it boosts policing resources even going to entrench sense of investment with the police command.

Nigerians cannot afford to have detached sense on matters such as public safety, something that affects their standard of living and unduly curtails enjoyment of life. When the communities commit to exposing criminal elements and do so in unbiased manner, there is no doubt crime goes down and criminals get chased. One may never have a crime-free country, but certain crimes such as kidnapping can be fought to successful conclusion. Any nation that takes its law enforcement roles for granted and or neglects the crimes that affects living, will never develop to one of repute. Sense of fear and siege due to crime unduly limits economic growth.

Ejike E Okpa II, is a Dallas resident and graduate of Dallas Police and alumni of Dallas FBI CA programs, with combined hours totaling more than 60 hours. I participate in many leadership programs dealing with law enforcement and their role in a community. In 2000, I wrote a community policing initiative that was presented to then Nigeria Inspector General of Police Tafa Balogun.