BY IYOBOSA UWUGIAREN, LEADERSHIP NIGERIA/ALL AFRICA
Abuja — Historians and archaeologists have it that the Igbo culture - their way of life was in the beginning a culture of life (ndu bu isi) instead of death. According to them, "Life was celebrated while death was despised and feared. The only death celebrated was someone who lived long (usually above 60 years) and had grown up children."
Today, they say the opposite is the case: "Igbo efulefu"-useless, fools, political/economic criminals, are now making Igbo culture a culture of death, killing and kidnapping. True, in the last few months, kidnapping has become a big business in the region that has produced great people - living and the dead. Our Assistant Managing Editor/Chief-of-Reporters, IYOBOSA UWUGIAREN examines the strange phenomenon.
P resident Goodluck Azikiwe Ebele Jonathan is not a poignant person prone to emotion-laden speeches. The few public speeches he has made since he became president can testify to that. But when asked to comment on the state of security situation in the country -especially the increasing rate of kidnapping in the South-east part of the country recently - he was strangely emotional.
"Any responsible leader should be worried about the state of security in the country, especially in the South-east; it is very embarrassing; it is unacceptable to us and we shall do everything within our means to confront the problems", the president stated emotionally while chatting with some media executives on national television.
The President talked about the socio-economic and political implications of the crime situation saying, it was the only reason the nation lost the hosting right of the ongoing soccer World Cup to South Africa. He said from the security report at his disposal, it was obvious that the crime of kidnapping is an organised one involving many persons or groups - the security agents, the judiciary, the banking sector and some lawyers. He asked: "I hope when we start arresting them, some professional bodies will not complain?"
True, like the information available to Jonathan, kidnapping has become a big business in the South-east. The dreadful hallucination-kidnapping which was first carried out in Port-Harcourt on February 18, 2006 by a group of heavily armed militants to draw the government's attention to their demands has now graduated to a frightening fraction in different parts of the nation. Even the peacefulness, serenity and safety of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja is not out of danger. Kidnapping has now become a veritable, real tool in the hands of intelligent but criminally minded persons for making "cool money."
"It is distressing that kidnapping for ransom has become a burgeoning business in many parts of Igboland. Of recent, Anambra, Enugu, Abia and Imo States have been hotbeds of commercially-motivated kidnapping. In a bid to increase the ransom payable after the kidnap, the kidnappers now specialize in kidnapping monarchs, home video actors and actresses, traditional rulers of big towns, high profile business tycoons, politicians, children and relatives of wealthy politicians", an analyst said.
To be sure, a couple was recently kidnapped immediately after their wedding in Anambra State . His Royal Highness, Igwe Mbamalu Okeke of Abagana, Igwe J.C Nkwocha of Alor, Dr. Anayo Edemobi and sibling of Minister of Information and Communications Dora Akunyili, have all been victims of these dreadful criminals in the state.
From the capital of old Eastern Region-Enugu State , Igwe Uche Nwachime in Nkanu, was abducted and later slaughtered because his relations had refused to pay ransom on time as requested by the kidnappers. Report also had it that the proprietor of Gold Riveri Hotel Enugu was kidnapped and later released upon the payment of a N5 million ransom. In Abia State , which is fast becoming the most notorious state where kidnapping business booms, the chairman of Enyimba Football was kidnapped. Justice Awa U. Kalu was shot in a failed kidnapping bid. Some Imo State indigenes had also been kidnapped recently; they include Mr. Celestine Ngaobiwu, a member of the Imo State House of Assembly and two sons of the Speaker of the Imo House of Assembly.
Three persons were killed earlier in the year when unknown gunmen kidnapped a movie star Peter Edochie in Onitsha, the commercial nerve centre of Anambra State . According to reports, the victims were killed to facilitate Edochie's kidnappings. The actor hit the limelight as Okonkwo in the television adaptation of Chinua Achebe's book, "Things fall Apart." He was kidnapped after his bodyguards were overpowered. Few days after the Edochie incident, about six people were killed in Imo State when kidnappers reportedly invaded Orlu and Ikeduru areas of the state. Two kidnapped Indians were reportedly rescued with some of the gang members seriously injured when a team of policemen confronted the gang at Ama Nwozuzu in Ikeduru. The cases are endless.
The wide-ranging state of insecurity in the South east, security experts say, had reached a stage where practically everybody is now worried about the frightening dimension the region is headed. Presently, hardly can people sleep with both eyes closed for fear of being kidnapped. Businessmen, politicians and other wealthy persons have taken voyage as well as with their businesses for fear of being kidnapped. In the last few years, kidnapping and hostage taking have moved from the Niger Delta creeks to Ndi-igboland. The ogre has broadened and taken unfathomable derivation in the land where many able-bodied but unemployed youths proliferate. Within the South-east, Abia State is the epicentre followed by others in the region. Everybody is now concern. It is expected against obtainable verification that the rich government officials, traditional rulers, elected politicians and their immediate families are now the target of the men of evil.
There appears not to be hiding place for the rich, even though some of them have relocated their families outside the South-east geo-political zone or outside the country. Even Lagos that was once regarded as insecure state is now a heaven of choice for many.
Recently, the profit-making activities in Aba, the commercial nerve centre of Abia State, were crippled as banks were forced to close their doors against demanding customers after frequent violent attacks on banks. At a point, the evil men outsmarted all procedures adopted by the banks to avoid them.
"While insecurity disrupts socio-economic and political activities in the country, it also slows down the pace of economic growth and development. Many investors continue to flee the country", an Aba based bank manager who does not want his name mentioned, told LEADERSHIP SUNDAY.
Sadly, the news the international community has about the South east is that it is most unsafe to live and do business. To be sure, the World Bank recently rated Imo State as one of the worst states in the country to do business. "Before any foreigner contemplates of coming to Nigeria, he or she would not only be calculating the high cost of investing in the country, but also the safety of his or her life", the bank manger said.
The National Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) recently expressed regret over the serious security problems in the South east region. It said that "the security challenges had worsened the already bad and unfriendly business environment that is negatively affecting the growth of businesses and socio-economic activities in the area."
"If industries are closing shops and investors are not forthcoming because of insecurity and other attendant problems faced by businesses, then the future, particularly that of the children should agitate the minds of everybody."
Apart from NACCIMA, the police, states in the south east and other segments of the society are worried. Recently peeved by the state of insecurity- kidnapping in Anambra, the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ogbonna Onovo, announced the deployment of 16 units of anti-riot policemen to the area to complement the efforts of policemen attached to the state commands. But in spite of this, security experts and monitors say the level of insecurity in the region had heightened.
The chief police officer had partly blamed the high wave of crime in the country, especially in the South-east on materialism and loss of societal values. He noted that people were ready to do anything to get rich and be celebrated in the society. While also blaming the high rate of kidnapping and armed robbery in these areas on unemployment, he however said that most of the graduates of Nigerian universities are half-baked, but carry about certificates they could not even defend.
Perceptibly troubled by the disturbing state of insecurity in the South east in recent times, President Jonathan recently invited governors in the region to Aso Rock for a meeting. Addressing journalists after the meeting, Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State lamented that they were spending huge funds to support the police and other security agencies "but we found out that the hoodlums' firepower is more than the police. The security agencies are trying but they need more support from the Federal Government."
Obi requested for the purchase of two or more helicopters with modern communication equipment and detectors, placed in strategic locations in the south east where it could be called up in a matter of minutes to intervene in any security situation.
According to Obi, "I do not play politics with security. The security situation in the Southeast is pathetic. The militants who were displaced from the core Niger Delta regions have left their creeks, came upland to terrorise us. We must rise to the occasion. And since no state can do it alone, resources must be pooled together to confront this ugly development."
Those who should know said the fear of kidnapping is real in the South east because of lack of effective and reliable security machinery to confront the kidnappers. "Many people in the South east now live in perpetual fear of kidnappers. It has curtailed the freedom of movement of the people. For example, some prominent citizens from the South east now travel to their respective villages with full mobile police escorts. What a miserable life! If living in one's own village can now be classified as dangerous living, then life in itself is not worth living", an Abuja based lawyer, Mr. John kalu said.
The Minister of State for Information and Communication, Mr. Labaran Maku recently said that the Federal Government had taken steps to confront the situation calling on the affected communities to cooperate with security operatives to tackle the problems.
"The Federal Government through Federal Executive Council (FEC) called on all communities in the south-east and in other parts of the country where security has become an issue to cooperate with security agencies that are already undertaking the operation to fish out the criminals wherever they may be hiding and deal with the situation decisively", the minister said
He said kidnapping was disrupting normal life and commercial activities in some states and government could not stay back and watch criminals take over the entire situation.
He added, "So government is undertaking joint security operations to fish out the camps, know where those people are staying and this cannot be done by security agencies alone. The entire communities, especially state government, local government, traditional rulers and community organisations should cooperate."
"The criminals are not ghosts, they come from amongst our communities, they don't come from outside, so if the public can give cooperation and give sensitive information to security agencies, it will help security agencies."
Governor Theodore Orji of Abia State was so overwhelmed with the security situation in his state that he recently granted amnesty to kidnappers and armed robbers who made life in the state terrifying and dreadful. He made the announcement when a delegation of the various groups of kidnappers visited him at the Government House, Umuahia. They were led by the Commandant of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps in the state, Nathaniel Ubong. Mr. Orji told his guests that his government was committed to the success of the programme. The governor said he was surprised that Abia State was not one of the states covered by the presidential amnesty for Niger Delta militants and that he had protested the exclusion to the Minister in charge of the amnesty programme of the Federal Government, who assured him that the programme would be repeated to accommodate Abia State. The governor, who said the Minister's assurance encouraged him to make the offer so that Abia will also benefit, said kidnapping had made Abia State more notorious than the states where it first started. "The disadvantages of kidnapping are massive, because it has driven away contractors and investors from the state and Aba in particular, making development difficult," Mr Orji said. He urged the repentant kidnappers to go and inform others to lay down their arms as the amnesty programme is real.
The governor added, "All the arms you have packed somewhere bring them out for the world to see so that the Federal Government will accept you into the amnesty programme."
"You cannot harbour grievance against your fatherland, it is only in the atmosphere of peace that development can take place."
Mr Ubong, the NSCDC Commandant, was quoted as telling Orji that the kidnappers approached him three times for the peace meeting but he did not think they were serious. "They finally came with a lawyer, who convinced me that they were ready to leave the bush and embrace the offer," he was reported as saying.
Spokesperson of the kidnappers, Stephen John, a native of Ukwa West LGA, said his gang resorted to kidnapping to protest their being excluded from the Federal Government's amnesty offer saying, "As oil producing communities, Owazza and Obokwe in Ukwa West LGA were neglected without hospitals, schools, good roads and other infrastructure."
Chimete Kingsley Onwudara, the groups' lawyer said the delegations were made up of representatives of the kidnappers and the communities who had come to ensure that government was serious with the offer. "In the next week, all the kidnappers will be out with their weapons, making Abia peaceful once again," he said.
Before then, in huge efforts to tackle the situation frontally, some states in the South east have enacted laws with a capital offence punishable by death while two other states: Rivers and Edo imposed life imprisonment on persons convicted for the offence of kidnapping. Other states, apart from Imo that passed into law "Prohibition of Hostage Taking and Related Offences Law" with death penalty as punishment for offenders are Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra and Enugu . More states are warming up to join the list.
But can the death penalty stop people from being kidnapped? And how will Nigeria look in the eye of the world legalising what others the world over are proscribing?
Mr. Aster Van Kregfen, Amnesty International's Representative Researcher in Nigeria, said that retention of capital punishment had failed to reduce armed robbery or murder in Nigeria despite the execution of more than 2,600 prisoners since 1970. "Experience has shown that the threat of death penalty is not an effective answer to violent crime. It can actually exacerbate violence in a society", he said.
He said that killing every kidnapper not only flies in the face of global and national trends, but also a violation of Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a United Nations treaty.
Kregfen viewed kidnapping, as "a terrible crime that causes anguish to both the victims and their families".
His solution: "The way to be though on violent crime like kidnapping is to strengthen the police's ability to detect potential crimes before they occur and prevent them. The Federal Government needs to strengthen police training and resources to increase police investigation capacity and effectiveness."
UN views right to life as an inalienable right. This position as adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in1948 sees death penalty as a violation of this essential right. Besides, the world body has always argued that not only did death penalty dehumanise society; it has never been known as an efficient way to stop crime. The worldwide trend is to abolish death penalty for all categories of crime or at least retain it for exceptional crimes committed in exceptional circumstances. African countries such as Algeria , Mozambique , South Africa , Namibia , Tunisia , Angola and Senegal are among over 90 countries in the world that have abolished death penalty for any crime.
Kidnapping is not new in the world. In fact, security experts say Phoenix, Arizona has become the kidnapping capital of America, with more incidents than any other city in the world outside of Mexico City with over 370 cases last year alone.
In fact, kidnappings and other crimes connected to the Mexican drug cartels are quickly spreading across the border, from Texas to California. The majority of the victims are either illegal aliens or connected to the drug trade. Recently, an ABC News' investigation uncovered horrific cases of chopped-off hands, legs and heads when a victim's family doesn't pay up fast enough. But can President Jonathan fix the problems in the South-east as he promised. Ndi-Igbo, the peace-loving people of the south east, are eagerly and earnestly waiting for Jonathan.