Ransoms: Fuelling or Quelling?

In 2014, “Bring back our girls” echoed through Nigeria, a plea for the release of the Chibok schoolgirls held by the Boko Haram militant group. Unfortunately, we find ourselves in a similar situation, but with more slogans going around as new victims are found by the day.

Kidnapping has become prevalent, involving not just children but adults as well. And the main reason appears to be the inadequate security measures and lack of response by the national forces. From the Chibok schoolgirls, to the kankara schoolboys, and now the nationwide rampage, the issues persist.

The recent kidnappings, particularly in Northern Nigeria and the Federal Capital Territory, have taken a disturbing turn: rather than the plain terrorism or religious extremism of the past, kidnappers now appear motivated solely by financial gain, demanding exorbitant ransoms, and killing hostages when their demands are not met.

The amounts demanded increases by the clock, and the severity always leaves people with no choice but to come up with the funds either through sales of properties, loans, or even crowdfunding. Since 2011, kidnappers have collected at least 8 million dollars with more than half of it between 2016 and 2020, sources say.

Countries like the US and the UK forbid the payment of ransoms, arguing that it only furthers their activities. Others, such as France and Germany however, paid a lot in ransom, just like the Nigerian government and people.

In 2022, however, the Nigerian government passed the Terrorism (Prevention) Act 2013 (Ammendment) Bill, into law which criminalizes the payment of ransoms to terrorists, and sentences the offender to not less than 15 years in prison.

As expected, majority stand against it. Opponents argue that when kidnappings occur for the sole purpose of receiving a ransom, payment becomes unarguably the way to guarantee the safety of the victims. This could be true as we see, the hostages are released once paid, or one or more killed when delayed. With such scenerios, families are preoccupied with the sole thought of meeting the demands. It is said that lawmakers are opposed to ransom payments because they haven’t had a family member kidnapped.

They also add that the bill fails to address the root cause – the absence of adequate security. Many believe that without effective preventive measures, criminalizing ransom payemts might be a futile exercise. “Payment of ransom is not the problem here, kidnapping is”, victims say. “You can only pass such bills where there is adequate security”.

The government’s repeated claims of being unable to identify or trace the perpetrators also raises concerns. There is a lack of trust of the citizens in the politicians and law enforcement agencies and they are even accused of working hand in hand with the bandits.

Looking beyond the emotions of the current situation, policymakers seem to be considering the long-term benefits of anti-ransom measures in passing such a bill. While initial efforts may pose risks and casualties, it may if done appropriately play a huge role in eradicating kidnappings and creating a safer Nigerian environment.

While acknowledging the emotional toll on families, they deem it essential to analyse the short-term relief provided by paying ransoms. Defendants of the bill argue that giving in to these demands only emboldens kidnappers, funding future criminal activities and endangering more lives. The assurance given from the definite payment of every naira requested has led to the increase in cases.

A middle-ground can be found in stating that it is not the aim of the bill that is the problem but how the bill proposes to achieve the aim. While ransoming should be discouraged, the jail term is debatable, given that as it stands, the government provides no alternative to ensuring the safe release of the victims.

That being said, it may be concluded that before such a rule can be successfully implemented, prerequisites must be met, which include preventive measures and efficient response services. Facilities should be available to allow for tracking, locating, and safe rescue of victims while minimising casualties.

Rescue operations or non-compliance to the requests of the kidnappers could definitely cause casualties. Former president Buhari had said that the nation had the capacity to deploy massive forces against the bandits where they operate, but the limitation was the fear of heavy casualties of innocent villages and hostages. Possible solutions to this could include pre-information and evacuation of targeted areas.

It’s an unending argument and no one knows, really, what to be done until they sit in the pan. However, effective governance isn’t run by emotions. The issue at hand demands a re-assessment of priorities – to keep playing or put an end to the catch-and-pay cycle.

Rodiyah Khidir


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