Monday, August 31, 2009

Over the last few years, Nigerians have grown accustomed to an increase in kidnappings. Initially used by MEND militants as a tactic to terrorize foreigners working in the nations oil industry, kidnapping is increasingly used by some to make money quickly. Kidnappings have become a lucrative business with the taking of children such as Margaret Hill in 2007, foreigners that have lived in Nigeria and selflessly helped communities for decades, such as Dr. Robert Whittaker, and even defenseless senior citizens across the Eastern region. The most recent publicized kidnapping involved legendary Nollywood actor, Pete Edochie. Edochie played the role of Okonkwo in the series production of Chinua Achebe's 'Things Fall Apart'. While Edochie was released unharmed and allegedly without having to pay a ransom, what is clear is that kidnapping has gone beyond being a remote trend to become a constant part of Nigerian existence in certain parts of the country.

More disconcerting than the increase in kidnappings is the passive public response to these acts of violence. In fact, far too many have been able to conveniently separate themselves and their families from the insecurity and other issues these kidnappings raise. Originally, those kidnapped were foreigners and so it was easy for some to distance themselves from the kidnapping. Then, when Nigerians started getting kidnapped, others would simply shrug it off and qualify it as something that only happens to rich people. This ability to see the kidnappings as something that happens to "other people" illustrates a disconnect in the social fabric that fuels further unrest and handicaps the nation's ability to better itself.

Yet, one thing is clear, the failure to react more forcefully to these actions is reflective of a larger issue. In general, Nigerians seem able to "roll with the punches" even when it makes little sense to do so. Despite the constant disrespect from 'leaders' who have historically plundered the nation's coffers, the people somehow accept that as normal and despite complaining and even acts against such corruption, things remain the same. This inability to collectively react to and stop truancy, be it from corrupt officials, violent militants or kidnappers and thieves who wield guns is a sign of passivity that if left unchecked will lead to the total destruction of the nation's social fabric.

Just because Nigerians have been considered "the happiest people on the earth" does not mean that they should be passive in the face of clear disrespect, corruption, truancy and violence. This reaction only emboldens those who peddle in creating insecurity across the country and allows a minority to hold the rest of the country hostage to their baneful whims. If Nigerians cannot react forcefully to the increasing spate of kidnappings then, what will it take for them to react to the greed and corruption that prevents progress? Although that question is yet to be answered, the continuing state of dissatisfaction amongst many Nigerians continues to increase and will likely force a resolution of this issue. One can only hope that this resolution, when it comes, is peaceful and long lasting.

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NneomaMD said...

Actually, I have heard that this kidnapping phenomenon is being taken to the masses....in that it is becoming increasing commonplace to kidnap middle class and poor Nigerians for a ransom as little as N5000 (less than 50 dollars).
Unfortunately, it is when these things become more widespread that the nation begins to notice....remember the rise of the Bakassi boys was largely due to the fact that everyday Igbo traders were starting to feel the heat of increasing armed robbery. I wonder if another Bakassi Boys-like group will rise in response to this latest trend.
It goes without saying that we have a government that refuses to respond adequately to this challenge. I heard that the banning of Okada drivers in the East was largely due to the increase in kidnappings (particularly in Abia State when it started to affect ordinary citizens)...Unfortunately, such a ban as put more Nigerians out of work and the kidnapping trend has only increased in popularity...

Dojaa said...

This is a first hand statement from someone whose 7 year old nephew was kidnapped by gunmen who walked calmly into her sisters house.....the police wanted 250 thousand to look for the child, then they asked for 1million, then we decided to pay the kidnappers because we realised that everyone tries to make money from the situation.
This is my advice to anyone unfortunate enough to be involved in a kidnapping situation in Nigeria....do not go to the police because they will not help you and you will only end up spending more money...they do not care about you, they will keep asking you for money and they will do nothing for you.


tobenna said...

Nigeria is a failed state with a DEAD President.

יש (Yosh) said...

Nigerians have been kidnapped for as far back as the mind can go and as such, the passivity. Nigerians have been desensitized to what would appear arbitrary and bizarre. We wade through the worst circumstances like it's nothing. We are a very tough lot, but unfortunately our toughness has been channeled into the wrongest crevices. You may choose to call it warped stoicism.

I don't mean to be pessimistic, but the kinda rude awakening that'd shake the foundations of this country to get things right would go with a lot of senseless violence that will leave us and the generations unborn reeling from it for a long time to come.

I so hope I'm wrong, but I can't help but see things in this light,.


@ Nneoma: Indeed, middle class people are now affected by this phenomenon.

As to a group rising to respond to this rash of kidnapping, that is worrisome. Vigilante groups can be a necessary means of installing security, however, far too often the vigilantes take on a life of their own and end up causing more problems if they don't know when to quit. And as you note, the other steps taken to quell the problem, by the government, have simply caused more hardship for average people.

I wonder if this problem could be solved if states were given the option to create their own police force instead of relying on a national body for security?What do you think?

@ Doja: First off, I just saw the kind comment you left in response to an 'anonymous' reader. Thank you for taking the time to put in a good word for me and the blog. I appreciate your support immensely!

Yes, I remember the experience of your family from last year and the way that the police force (specifically, members at all levels) tried to make money off of your situation. Till this day, it remains disheartening - the only good thing being that you got your family member back in one piece but with lots of mosquito bites.

The fact that citizens cannot even bother going to the police is significant and stressful. I know too many people who have simply felt powerless and had to pay the ransom. I wonder what would happen if some of the very high ups started to notice that their family members were being kidnapped and whether that would compel all levels of government and citizenry to put an end to this madness.

Thanks so much for swinging by and participating in the discussion.

@ Tobenna: "Nigeria is a failed state with a DEAD President."

This is coming from someone who lives in Nigeria and whose experience within the nation colors his opinion. I appreciate your frankness, but I worry that if we continue to say the nation is failed then it truly could collapse. I need to hold out hope that we the citizens, at home and abroad will figure out some way to keep the nation from its coffin, especially as AFRICOM/US continues to hold war games/preparatory games for the possibility of Nigeria falling apart completely. The reports of what would/could happen are scary, and I can only pray that it not come to pass. But, prayer, and the collective action to prevent what we fear are another issue that I choose not to go into.

Anyway, how is your family? Take care and stay safe, my broda.

@ Yosh: Long time no see, bros. How far?

Reading your comment was truly enlightening. I have to agree that the nation is desensitized to far too much. This desensitization is part of what I once discussed - Persistent Psychological Paralysis (PPP). I continue to believe that much of Nigeria's issues are more psychological than anything else and your analysis lends to that opinion.

Like you I fear that something terrible could happen, but I hold out hope that an opportunity will present itself for good things to flow. After all, there are good things happening in Nigeria and to Nigerians on a daily basis. Maybe they will multiply and flow in the right direction so a positive transformation can occur and our children will be left with a positive legacy.

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. Much appreciated, as always.

Beauty said...

one thing is clear, the failure to react more forcefully to these actions is reflective of a larger issue. The social side of the system take 2. When we celebrated Nigerians being on Forbe's list of World Billionaires, did we expect the 70% living in extreme poverty to just siddon and look? Kidnappings is part of the deterioration that should keep our so-called leaders awake rather than continue in the celebration of mediocre.

Geebee said...

‘Being able to roll with the punches’ has become perhaps the greatest strength of Nigerians. We have overnight developed shock absorbers that allow us have the ability to endure whatever ill we face and this is indeed heartbreaking. The kidnapping issue remains a troubling issue and an insult to the country and just goes a long way to show how barbarism has become entrenched in our very system. It is hi-time we all rose to talk down this trend. You don’t solve a problem by creating another.

Unknown said...

They say "heaven helps those who help themselves." When we do not join hands, speak up to combat the wrong doings of our people, their evil acts will run on for generations.

You mentioned the fact that we've learnt to "roll with the punches." In other words, see these things as a part of life. I personally believe people don't get moved to take actions on certain things unless it affects someone really close to them.

TheAfroBeat said...

Yes indeed, we are very proud of being able to "roll with the punches" and be resilient in the face of things nonsensical even when we have the power to be part of the solution. However, in this case, what could the resolution be, as far as the average citizen is concerned? Without a change in our value system (the current "get rich or die trying" is what fuels these criminal acts) or an upgrade in our justice system (to enact harsher punishments on those caught...wait, first we have to CATCH them don't we?!), I dare say a resolution is a long way away.

Thanks for sharing o! I dey o, trying to keep head above water. Never reach naija yet o...long politics for work, sha we dey continue dey hustle!

Anonymous said...

I would call what you describe as a disconnect in the social fabric a lack of empathy which is unfortunately costing Nigeria a lot. When people fail to see themselves in those who are suffering they will not be moved to do anything. Everyone was at risk from the day kidnapping started in earnest but the general public for whatever reason was unable to or refused to recognise the danger.

I don't know how you go about encouraging empathy in society but it is a quality we need more of in Nigeria.

Anonymous said...

This is a great topic. I haven't been on your blog in a LONG TIME. I recently went to Nigeria this summer, and I can tell you the corruption is crazy, as you might already know. Since I am not a Nigerian Citizen to the country and I look "Americanized" I was in living fear that anything might happen. I had to dress down, learn certain characteristics of the people, and blend. It was so depressing, can you believe traveling from Lagos to Onitsha, and Onitsha to Port Harcourt how many times we were stopped? Because of me? Even with the old cars that we used to travel, because they see someone, "Oyibo" in the car, they want to check our baggage and everything. Only to learn it's only clothes and food. When will it stop? When will Nigeria begin to have it's own structure, and it's own freedom. A trust within it's system, the honest payments of the country. More buildings, and running electricity and water.

What will we do? I know all of this will change, but it will be a many a century after I die that these changes will happen. Maybe then the currency will be up there with the bigger independent countries.

Anonymous said...

It is very unfortunate that these kidnappers are increasingly targeting relative of US citizens living in Nigeria hoping that the US relatives will pay the ransom demands.... Personally being a US citizen residing in the US, the thought of any of my family member in Nigeria being kidnapped scares the hell out of me... Stupid kidnappers do not have any knowledge of the finacial dificulties wwe face here in the US and yet the hope to extort money from us... Too bad... Nigerian government should aggressively start doing something about this.

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