Criminalizing The Payment Of Ransom For Victims Of Kidnap: A Myopic Strategy In The Fight Against Terrorism And Kidnapping In Nigeria – By Akintayo Balogun Esq.

May 21, 2021
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You cannot stop people from paying ransom for the release of their loved ones from abductors, so long as that is the only viable avenue for their release. 

The news filtered in on Wednesday, 19th May, 2021, that the Senate considered a bill that seeks to prohibit the payment and receipt of ransom for the release of any person kidnapped, imprisoned or wrongfully confined. According to the bill, Terrorism Prevention (Amendment) Bill, 2021, anyone who pays ransom to kidnappers and the kidnappers, who receives ransom risk 15 years jail term.  According to the Senator sponsoring the bill, he stated that essentially, the bill seeks to substitute for Section 14 of the Principal Act, the section to read:

“Anyone who transfers funds, makes payment or colludes with an abductor, kidnapper or terrorist to receive any ransom for the release of any person who has been wrongfully confined, imprisoned or kidnapped is guilty of a felony and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment of not less than 15 years” 

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To say the least, the reading of this bill sent a lot of shiver down my spine. It is not just correct. The Bill does not in any way address the security challenges of kidnapping in Nigeria. The so called proposed amendment is failing to deal with the real issue perturbing Nigeria. Paying ransom to kidnappers is never the problem, no one will go about paying ransom to kidnapers for no just cause. Anyone doing it has been pushed to the wall, and he does it with so much pains and frustrations. Many people who paid ransoms are yet to recover from the debts they were plunged into. Do you think it is convenient in the first place to give out hard earned money to some undeserving faceless individuals? No one wants to do that. The senate is getting it all wrong if this Bill scales through. The Senate should make laws that deals with the real problem of Nigeria and not the offshoots of the problem. If the problem is dealt with, the offshoots will not find a feeding place and will naturally die with its principal. The honest truth is, as long as abduction of citizens continue in Nigeria, especially with this unfortunate trend where there is massive security inefficiency, payment of ransom will continue, because that is the only viable means of getting victims released from the den of the kidnappers.

What we would have expected the Senate to do is to take steps to fortify the Nigerian Police and other security agencies or to recommend the creation of a special department that can command and conduct a successful mission/operation to the den of kidnappers and get victims out alive and safe. They should also ensure the arrest of such abductors to ensure that they face the wrath of the law. If this mission is successfully pursued, no one will be thinking of paying ransom. No one wants to pay ransom, Nigerians have only been pushed to the edge and have taken the matter into their hands to save their loved ones. Unfortunately again, 99% of Nigerians are unarmed, not to talk of defending themselves against kidnappers (Let us not even talk about the process of licensing a gun in Nigeria). How then do you deal with the situation? I am fairly convinced that the sponsor of this unfortunate bill has probably never had a close family or friend who was kidnapped or who died in the den of kidnappers. If he had, his school of thoughts on this issue would have been massively different.

I will make reference to 3 scenarios that played out in Nigeria.

In the first scenario, a family friend was kidnapped along Lokoja-Okene road. He was in the car with his wife and other members of the family but the kidnappers took only him, being the owner of the car and they also took some other persons in other vehicles they had stopped alongside. Immediately the kidnappers left the scene with their victims, his wife rushed to Okene to report the unfortunate incident at the nearest Police Unit she could find. The response of the Police officer she met was a shocker. The officer simply told her that she should just wait, the kidnappers will soon contact her and that was all the assistance she got from the police. True to it, few hours later, she was contacted by the kidnappers and they demanded for a ransom. He spent about 10 days in the custody of the kidnappers before the family was able to raise the ransom and thereafter released. This scenario is the most common kidnap situation in Nigeria. What did the Police do? Absolutely nothing. Now, in the midst of this, should the wife of the kidnapped victim be penalized for paying ransom to save her husband when the law enforcement agencies responsible for the safety of lives and property only folded their hands doing nothing? Now if this bill is passed into law, what shall be the fate of kidnapped victim when Government never comes to their rescue? What shall be the fate of kidnapped victim when the family is banned from raising funds to get the victim out of the devil’s den? Is that not disgraceful and shameful?

A second scenario that comes to mind is the live case of the GreenField University Students. The kidnappers took several students and requested for huge sums as ransom. When the family of the victims did not respond adequately to the demands of the kidnappers, they killed 3 of the victims (may God rest their souls). The kidnappers had promised to continue killing the victims as long as the parents fail to yield to their demands. While the families of the remaining victims ran around to raise funds, again the dare devil kidnappers killed another 2 of their victims (may God rest their souls). Some other parents raised funds to have their children released while majority of the kidnapped victims are still in custody as at the publication of this write-up. Now, in the event that the families of the victims are unable to raise the required funds (God forbid), what is the government doing about it? Has there been any attempted raid on the enclave of the kidnappers? 5 of their victims have been killed, negotiations are ongoing for the release of the remaining. Should the families of the victims sit down and watch the evil men of the underworld sniff life out of these students because a docile government is in power? God forbid. Should the families of this victims be penalized for paying the ransom while the government is not doing much? We must also bear in mind that the government of Kaduna State (where this kidnap took place), has come out to say that it will not pay ransom for this victims and it stood it grounds firmly on that position, yet no raid was conducted by the government. What then is the fate of the numerous Nigerians in kidnappers den all over the country if this bill is passed into law? Should Nigerians be punished for saving their loved ones where the government has failed woefully to protect its citizens? Is the government aware that kidnappers don’t have all the patience? Once they are not getting any response from the families or friends of their victims, they shoot them dead. Should Nigerians rather lose their loved ones because there is an appalling law that says they shouldn’t pay ransom to kidnappers? The government is not doing anything, the families of the victim cannot do anything. The victim remains in the den of the kidnappers or are shot dead. Is this the way to go?

The third scenario is the kidnap and successful rescue of an American national. On Monday 26th October, 2020, one Philip Walton, an American national, was abducted from the village of Massalata in Niger republic, where he had been living with his wife and child for about two years. His abductors brought him into Nigeria, of course, through our porous borders. However, in a swift, professional and stealthy reaction to the abduction, the US Special Forces conducted a raid in Nigeria on Saturday, 31st October, 2020, exactly 5 days after the kidnap and rescued Philip Walton from his abductors without any hurt to the victim and without the payment of any ransom. Upon the completion of the rescue mission by the American Special Force, in a statement by the assistant of State for Public Affairs, he stated “No American service personnel was harmed in the operation to rescue Mr. Walton from the armed men.” What a feat! This could only be achieved in a system where the security system is one of the best, if not the best in the world. The relations of the victim never needed to negotiate with his abductors, the government simply moved into action, located the enemies, subdued them and saved their national.

This last scenario is what the Nigerian Senate should base their attention on. This is all we need. If this can be put in place, nobody would be talking about payment of ransom to kidnappers.

Recommendations to the Senate of Nigeria

  1. Bury that bill. It is not what Nigerians need at the moment. The Senate should be more interested in strengthening the security apparatus in Nigeria or at most, allowing civilians to arm themselves so they can defend themselves against kidnappers.
  2. Our senators should value the lives of Nigerians more.
  3. The process of licensing Nigerians on the use of personal weapons to defend themselves should be decisively and sturdily looked into.
  4. Nigeria should focus on penetrating and hijacking the entire networks of kidnappers and terrorism in Nigeria. So that once a call is put across to a victim’s family or a location is discovered, the security agencies swoops in and makes a compacted arrest of the situation.
  5. Our senators should strengthen our security personnel and make them professionals in their field. Make them the pride of the country. America proudly announced that “No American service personnel was harmed in the operation to rescue Mr. Walton from the armed men.”

The Senator that sponsored this Terrorism Prevention (Amendment) Bill, 2021, may have done it with a good and sincere purpose, to curb the spate of terrorism in Nigeria and to stop financially empowering kidnappers, but the strategy is naïve and myopic, which now makes the entire bill cowardice. It is strongly advised that this bill is abandoned with the speed of sound. Let the Senate concentrate on rejuvenating, equipping and reengineering the security architecture of Nigeria, so it can meet up with international best standards and our officers can rescue victims even before contact is established with the families or friends of the victim. Until this is done, this bill is rather ill-fated. It is a slur and same should be discountenance and thrown away into the bottomless pit and never to be heard of again.

May all victims of kidnap find their freedom in shortest time,

May life enter again into our security system,

And May the good light shine in the dark places of Nigeria.

Amen.

Akintayo Balogun Esq., LL.B (Hons), BL, LL.M, is a legal practitioner in private practice and based in Abuja, FCT. A prolific writer, public affairs analyst and commentator on national issues. akinson6@gmail.com.

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