THE REAL KIDNAPPERS

Jon Chikadibie Okafo

Nigerians are living in dangerous times, there is a very bleak and gloomy atmosphere hanging in the air. Fear of a great magnitude is stalking the land, hapless citizens of this potentially great nation are just drifting along, hungry, angry, and scared. This situation is not a figment of anybody's imagination; it is real, very tangible and extremely persistent-welcome to Nigeria, the famed "Giant of Africa".

Lately, the key issue that is a part of the issues plaguing Nigeria is that of kidnapping. Our young men and women [yes! women] have found the ignoble practice of kidnapping their fellow traumatized citizens as a means to an end- all over the nation especially in the Southern part, Nigerian citizens are daily being seized by their fellow citizens for a ransom! Cases of kidnapping have become so rampant that no day or week passes without there being reported cases of kidnapping. Anambra State of Nigeria seems to be the most fertile and conducive place for this thriving business. Apart from the Niger Delta region of Nigeria where it appeared kidnapping was employed as a tool for fighting the neglect of that region by the Nigerian state, Anambra has recorded the highest and most brutal cases of kidnapping! Again, this is a fact, and not a product of anybody's imagination.

Incidentally, as an individual I am in total disagreement with the suggestion that those that snatch our kids, brothers and sisters, and our aged parents for ransom are the real kidnappers. True, they cause us misery, yes, they cause us so much pain and anguish, certainly, and they scare and rob us of our hard-earned money. For me, they are all spineless victims of kidnappings like every other hapless Nigerian citizen whom the nation has failed. Who then are the real kidnappers?

When the president of Nigeria travels abroad to receive Medicare in a foreign hospital, I tremble in fear, my heart quakes! This represents a complete acceptance that our government has failed to provide an efficient healthcare system to cater for we the people. When Nigerian hospitals are left to rot, when the only viable enterprise in our healthcare system is a booming mortuary, when the ordinary citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are left with no option other than to patronize dodgy pastors, imams and quack native doctors, I weep in frustration and is enveloped by a feeling of utter resentment when president Umaru Musa Yar'Adua flies into Saudi Arabia, Germany or anywhere to be attended to by foreign doctors. Is it really Rocket Science for our government to put in place a proper healthcare system that would effectively and efficiently take care of the healthcare needs of every Nigerian, poor or rich? Where is that talk about leadership by example? So, when the president of my country and other party big wigs has access to foreign Medicare and my people are left with the option of praying to several gods, drinking dodgy olive oils and dirty concoctions for good health, being subjected to fasting and praying, I feel kidnapped! In this case not by the frustrated hoodlums that hide in the bush and creeks, but by the government that promised to provide a just society of all.

When Henry Brooks Adams pronounced that "a teacher affects eternity…he can never tell were his influence stops", I am sure he was not referring to Nigerian teachers. Nigerian teachers are a bunch of neglected and frustrated lot. Gone are the days when teachers were held in high esteem in Nigeria. Today, they have been turned into a group synonymous with strikes! The ASUU, their counterparts in the Polytechnics and Colleges of Education, the NUT have been subjected to the most horrific experiences in our dear country. As I write this piece, almost all Nigerian government funded universities are shut down as a result of the industrial action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities [ASUU], the umbrella body of Nigerian university teachers. It seems the government is not fazed by the ugliness of the situation. Thousands of university students are forced to stay at home; idle because the Federal Government has refused to sign an agreement it entered into with ASUU in the past- an agreement for better funding of the education sector. The students are the worse off for this; any discerning mind can guess what most of these students are up to. And we say that they are the leaders of tomorrow? Are the government and all the policy makers unperturbed by this shameful situation because they have sent their wards to schools in America, Europe, South Africa, Ghana, Sudan [ yes! Sudan, the current CBN Governor was schooled there!] ? To accept this appears quite hard for me because a former University lecturer in the person of Dr. Sam Egwu is the current Education Minister! In this regard, when the government of Nigeria treats issues concerning education as shabbily as is the situation, I feel kidnapped! Again, not by the few rascals snatching fellow traumatized citizens, but by the government that is failing we the people with so much carelessness!

Travelling by road across Nigeria is definitely not a sojourn for the lily-livered! Roads strung across the country especially in the Southern part represent one of the worst cases of government negligence. Daily in Nigeria, reported and most-times unreported cases of road accidents abound. Of course, every year, we are assaulted with huge amounts of money allegedly budgeted for the construction of new roads and the maintenance of existing ones; government statistics portray this scenario whereas we the people are left gasping for air because in reality, such roads exist only in utopia! Most of us have lost loved ones in road mishaps in Nigeria, our tokumbo cars are being battered daily, and our government officials fly above us in helicopters bought with our money. Thus, most of them are immune to the dangers of plying Nigerian roads. A case in example is the rickety bridge across the River Niger. This bridge is collapsing due to the enormity of vehicular burden it bears, and the much screamed promise of a second bridge still remains a pipe dream. We have been promised time without number that works would commence on this project, but up till now, the same case persists-nothing is being done! I would not wait for this bridge to collapse and claim many victims before I make haste to announce that I have been kidnapped by the government. The fear of being involved in some nasty road accident in Nigeria is real; board any interstate vehicle and you will be amazed at the torrent of fervent prayers being offered to "the Holy Spirit" to cover the roads, the driver, and every passenger in the bus with the "blood of Jesus"! The roads are bad, the buses are rickety and the passengers are scared of being kidnapped by the situation! Thus, the fear of being kidnapped by the rampaging kidnappers pales into insignificance when compared to the fear of being hijacked by our government's ineptitude!

In developed countries of the world, citizens look up to the Police the way our people look up to God. This is because the police are the body responsible for a safe and secured environment in every society-including checkmating the activities of hoodlums, kidnappers inclusive. Incidentally, the Nigerian Police Force remains a body that is daily being ridiculed; they are poorly paid, equipped and lacks the slightest iota of motivation. My police friends have always argued that every society gets the quality of police it pays for-I tend to agree with this logic. When it has been established that police bigwigs divert funds meant for staff welfare into personal pockets, when funds meant for equipping the police end up in private bank accounts and ceilings, when contracts for the provision of basic policing tools and kits are poorly executed and mismanaged, you end up with a police force made up of men and women that are unpatriotic and aloof to the callings of their chosen profession. Hence, our police men are notorious for venting their anger and frustrations on poor and defenceless fellow citizens; killing and maiming them, shamelessly extorting money from drivers, complainants and the accused, the list of the evil and unprofessional sharp practices being perpetrated by our police men is really long! And we the people sometimes take out our frustrations on the poor police officers who are also victims of the same system as we-what is the government doing to give us a responsive and competent police force that would live up to their professional callings? So, as long as the government is failing to do this, I nay we the people are all victims of kidnapping.

I have been kidnapped by my country's government on so many fronts and it is really pricking my soul. When the then president Olusegun Obasanjo swore on his "honour" that there was going to be uninterrupted power supply in Nigeria, my joy knew no bounds. But years after, I am forced to believe that Mr. Obasanjo was being comic and mischievous when he made that pronouncement. I am sure we will all agree that the power supply under the kleptomaniac, Sani Abacha was better than what we have now. The PHCN is a national disgrace; Nigeria is now a country run on power generating sets of all hues and shades imported from China, our people are daily being forced to store petrol in their living quarters with all the risks there from. In our cities both big and small, the rumbles of generators have been accepted as being associated with living, the fumes from most of these rickety generating sets is sickening. This is happening in a country where we have a ministry of power! What power are they talking about here? We are all victims of kidnappings in Nigeria, our governments have been treating us as captured charlatans and methinks that that was why the PDP chairman, Mr. Vincent Ogbulafor could brag that his party intends to hold on to power for the next fifty or so years! Do we the people really count in Nigeria?

So, when next Professor Dora Akunyili takes the microphone to shout about her pet project "Rebranding Nigeria" or bore us with the provisions of Yar'Adua's 7-point agenda, she should please be mindful of the real situations on ground. It is not only the rebellious guys that kidnap our people and demand for ransom, the government as we have it today in Nigeria is also guilty of the same crime. However, I know what the ordinary kidnappers want- money. But who can tell me what the several governments we have in Nigeria want from we the people as ransom? Am I expected to be docile? To sidon look? To keep on suffering and smiling? To tell foreigners that my country is heaven on earth when the truth of the matter is so glaring? To avoid being labelled "an unpatriotic and disgruntled element" by not shouting tufiakwa to various government ineptitude? Who are these people in government? Where did they come from? The stench of the moral evil emanating from our government quarters is threatening to choke us all, unless we rise up to the occasion and shout a collective NO to them. Until then, I know who the real kidnappers are, do you?

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