Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Nigeria, like any other country, is known for many things. It is known for it's talented crop of writers, performers and even scientists like John Dabiri. Unfortunately, it is also known for poverty in the midst of oil wealth. But even worse than that sad reality is that Nigeria is increasingly becoming a kidnapping capital. Nowhere else is this madness exemplified than in the reports of 15 young children that were kidnapped on September 27th, 2010.

The children in question were being shuttled to school in a school bus when the kidnapping occurred. According to NEXT, their bus was cornered by a Toyota Camry, the bus driver was forced out at gun point and the children where taken away. News of the incident sent anger through Nigerians. 24 hours after the incident, the BBC reported that the criminals wanted a ransom of N29 million or approximately $300,000.

On September 28th, president Jonathan reacted to the terrible situation describing it as "utterly callous and cruel". He also ordered the country's newest Inspector General of Police to "take all necessary steps to rescue the abducted children and return them safely to their parents." 

I have said before that the growing kidnapping in Nigeria is less a statement on the kidnappers and more a statement of Nigeria as a nation. In this case, it is a failure and unwillingness to make demands of fellow citizens, leaders and even criminals to get into order. Instead, the nation sighs, shakes it's collective head, then wags a collective finger and waits for someone else (read God/Allah/a higher being) to tackle the problem on the nation's behalf.

The reality is that until Nigerians themselves decide that kidnapping will no longer be tolerated, the trend ( if one dare relegate it to that) will continue unabated. After all, it is common knowledge that certain politicians, members of the elite and some security forces are knee deep in not just the creation of kidnapping as a tool of brute force, but its continued existence in Nigerian society. As such, it is foolish and maybe even insane to expect that category of people - politicians, the elite and security forces - to solve the problem.

Bringing an end to kidnapping would require Nigerians to take a deeper look into the recesses of their own society and shed light on their dark secrets. The factors that create and reinforce kidnapping: greed, corruption at all levels, unaccountable leadership and an unnecessarily passive public. These all combine with other issues to keep the country in some fatigue or the other, be it kidnapping fatigue or demoralizing PPP. With the upcoming elections, I can only hope that the people of Abia state, where these children and many other individuals have been kidnapped, will vote their obviously ineffective leaders out of office. This includes not just local state politicians such as Governor Orji, but also their representatives in the National Assembly who have been ineffective in bringing rampant kidnapping to a conclusion. If one is to be consistent, the same would anti-incumbent push would apply to the current president who is in charge of the armed forces and determines who runs the national police force and it's operations in Abia state.

Will the electorate use their vote to require accountability and punish lawmakers and others for failing to handle the nation's kidnapping problem? Only time will tell. But even though Nigeria has the tendency to surprise, I will not hold my breath. Nevertheless, my thoughts are with those 15 children that were taken from their families. And, I hope that Nigeria will bravely face and tackle it's many challenges. Kidnapping included.

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