Kidnapping for ransom was hitherto an unknown criminal phenomenon in Nigeria before 1984, when in a gangland style of the mafioso, some Nigerian agents combined with Israeli secret service personnel (or so it was alleged), made an audacious bid to abduct the former Nigerian minister of Transport in the overthrown democratic regime of President Shagari.
The attempted kidnap was botched at Gatwick Airport by the British Metropolitan police where ex-minister Alhaji Umaru Dikko had been crated, ready for repatriation to Nigeria, and the kidnap operatives arrested.
The news of the saga gripped the psyche of the citizenry like the chilly harmattan wind on the plateau and that inaugural attempt became the manure that fertilized the imagination of dare-devil militants who used that incident to take their struggle for an equitable inclusion into the oil industry that impoverished the indigenous Niger Delta peoples, but prospered the oil companies and the government exceedingly, to another level.
Kidnapping was used as a tool to frustrate the expatriate community in the business, seen as fat cats, coming from diverse countries abroad to take up plum jobs , while employment and basic amenities were denied the natives in the face of the despoilation of their environment.
It succeeded because the expatriates left in droves, rather than stay and be kidnapped for ransom.
The after effects were that the oil companies had no other option but to employ indigenous people they had previously scorned and ameliorate the living conditions of their host communities to certain levels.
Unfortunately, there’s a limit to the number of people the industry can take in. While the wealth has spread out a little, millions are still wallowing in despondency and poverty, while seeing flashy displays of affluence around them.
Criminality then quietly crept into what was once known as a means for struggle and advancement for in the absence of white expatriates to kidnap, affluent natives became prime target of kidnap~for ~ransom bandits and the cash exchange involved in the nefarious business got into several millions of naira .
Now it has descended to the kidnap of septuagenerians and octogenarians that has left the entire State boiling with rage.
Like the kidnap of an 85 year old Madam Uzor in Kwale, Ndokwa West Local Government Area in March 2016.
The widow was relaxing quietly in her retirement home one evening when some hoodlums forced themselves into her house, built for her by her children , and spirited her away to an unknown destination.
The kidnappers demanded for a ransom of 30 million naira. The man that handled the negotiations on behalf of the family, tactfully recorded every conversation he had with the kidnappers. The ransom was eventually scaled down to 1.3 million naira and dropped at a dark spot between Ushie and Ashaka within the same locality. The Kwale town Vigilante group staked out the cash drop venue and saw a man making phone calls.
As soon as they closed in on him, he threw the phone away into the forest. Though he was arrested and handed over to the police.
An analysis of the negotiations brought one thing to the fore : that the kidnappers had inside knowledge of the family. Their negotiator gave information about the woman’s children staying abroad who he said can easily afford to pay the ransom.
And again, the voice was easily recognizable by the family. It resembled that of Madam Uzor’s former driver, who had earlier on been dismissed for dereliction of duty. The vigilante equally arrested and handed him over to the police.
With 1.3 million naira cash in the kitty of the kidnappers, it becomes easy to frustrate any diligent prosecution.
Gaps quickly arose. It is said that the police made no strenuous efforts to retrieve the handset that one of the suspects threw into the bush by combing the area or liaising with network providers to trace all their tracks .
Secondly, the police discharged the prime suspect, who was the woman’s former driver, and then asked the family to produce other suspects if they had anymore.
Dispirited, the family abandoned the pursuit of the case.
So many of such cases abound in Delta State of kidnap suspects being freed on whatever grounds by security agencies leading to more of such kidnap cases reoccurring because the kidnappers know that loopholes to set them free abound .
It has now reached the level of affluent Deltans taking their aged parents out of villages to stay with them in the cities they reside in and in some cases taking them outside the country, all for the fear of Insecurity in the Big Heart. Delta State is now a State you’d find palatial buildings in villages without residents, only coming awake when the dead are flown in for burial, and the police would be up and about to provide security for the visitors who no longer spend much time at home out of fear of being kidnapped.
The only way out is for the Police to really do it’s work and save Delta State from the hands of kidnappers. It leaves very little to the imagination why there has been no conviction of kidnap suspects in the State, at least nothing significant has come out of it, but I stand to be corrected. This is despite the death penalty law passed by the State House of Assembly in the Uduaghan administration.
There are vigilante groups in practically every Delta Community who are ready to partner with the police if cases cease to be bungled, so that Delta State can develop productively.
Greg Abolo is a public affairs analyst. You may reach him by email HERE.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.