By Tayo Ogunbiyi
Prior to its reaching an escalating height, kidnapping did not rank among the most ardent security concerns or crimes in the country. But then, all that seems to have changed as it has not only become a high ranking crime in the country but a lucrative one for that matter.
According to a Freedom House report, Nigeria recorded one of the highest rates of kidnapping in the world in 2013. Similarly, the US Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013 indicates that kidnapping and related violence were “serious” problems in Nigeria.
Initially, kidnapping was ‘invented’ in the creeks of the Niger Delta by militants as a way of calling the attention of government and multi-national companies who are involved in the oil industry to their environmental and infrastructure challenges. Later on, kidnapping was to transform from a social crusading art to a well oiled commercial enterprise. Today, without a doubt, the crime has become a top money-spinning industry being used to acquire wealth by crooked criminals who kidnap for ransom across the nation.
Recent arrest of billionaire kidnapper kingpin, Chukwudebem Onwuamadike, alias Evans, in Lagos clearly shows that kidnapping has become a huge source of livelihood for some who desire to live big through criminal means. Before his arrest, Evans lived like an emperor courtesy the booties from his heinous crime. He lived in a delightful mansion in the highbrow Magodo GRA, Lagos. He had some of the most fascinating automobiles in his garage while also having unhindered access to choice drinks. Evans reportedly wears a wristwatch valued at 170,000 dollars and he is also a proud owner of two mobile phones valued at 600 dollars each. He has properties in Lagos as well as neigbouring Ghana.
Being a kidnapping big dude, Evans had in his possession a wide range of ammunition with which he carried out his dastardly act. For instance, upon his arrest, four AK47 rifles, other kinds of assault rifles and 50 magazines were reportedly found in his house. Money was not an issue for Evans as his well oiled kidnapping venture was bringing in loads of cash in various currencies. According to police source, Evans had collected billions of Naira as ransom from his victims including expatriates, business moguls and public officials. The self styled kidnapping genius preferred to collects his ransom in dollars or other alluring foreign currencies.
But then, how did kidnapping suddenly rise to become a top rated crime in the country? The rise of kidnapping to prominence in our country could be linked to the steady disintegration of moral values in our society. Since the early 90s especially, moral value in the country has nose-dived to an all time high. Today, crooks and individuals with warped moral code are being celebrated across the country. Only God knows how many ‘Evans’ that currently serve as elected or appointed political officers in the country!
What we need to redress the situation is a complete re-orientation that cuts across all spectrums of the society. A process that is all encompassing in the sense of a fusion between the physical and the spiritual. As a prelude to setting this process on course, we need to change our value system as a people. We need to re-appraise our undue obsession to materialism and wealth accumulation. It is such mania that is partly responsible for the rot in our socio-political system. How come men of questionable characters and unproven integrity are calling the shot in nearly every sector?
The answer is simple. Money has become our god. Sadly, religious centers are not excluded from this craze! Neither are traditional institutions. Today, respected monarchs, who occupy sacred ancestral thrones, dole out chieftaincy titles to the highest bidders .These days, we have chiefs, who are actually thieves, dining and wining with kings. Nowadays, people place curses on their relations for upholding integrity and honesty while holding public offices.
Until we re-order our priority as a people, we will continue to get it wrong. In the days of our founding fathers, men of ideas and principles were widely respected and honoured. Our national heroes such as Herbert Macaulay, Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Tafawa Balewa, Ahmadu Bello, and Aminu Kano among others did not rise to national prominence as a result of the fatness of their bank accounts. Rather, they won the hearts of men of their generation because of the strength and depth of their ideas and principles as well as their total commitment to those ideals which they hold in high esteem. Ken Saro Wiwa put his life on the line not for pecuniary gains or benefits. No! He died because of his commitment to the emancipation of his people.
One vital key to strengthening our value system is good governance. Governance is about providing sacrificial services to the people. Some analysts have posited that Nigerians are partly crazy about undue wealth acquisition because of the failure of successive governments to sincerely tackle their social-economic needs. Imagine a Nigeria where public infrastructure works and where everyone irrespective of social status, can afford a decent living.
It is the conviction of not a few critics that it is the inability of governments, over time, to meet these basic needs that is responsible, in part, for the craze for wealth at all cost among Nigerians. For instance, everyone wants to provide for himself and his family the basic needs of life which ordinarily should be put in place by government. This is the reason why the nation has become a jungle where everyone devises all sorts of survival strategies. After all, the end, as they say, justifies the means.
This is the time to put in place a culture that rewards honesty, integrity and discipline. This is the time for everyone to have a re-think. It doesn’t matter where we are, we can get to where we ought to be if only we are determined to build a new nation. We can do it. We have the potentials. We have the resources. All we need is a strong resolve to get it right. God bless Nigeria!
Ogunbiyi is of the Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos