A bill sponsored by Senator Ezenwa Francis Onyewuchi (Imo East/Owerri Senatorial District) to amend the Terrorism Act 2013 is generating controversy in the country. The bill, which passed second reading in the Senate last week proposes an imprisonment term of 15 years for “Anyone who transfers funds, makes payment or colludes with an abductor, kidnapper or terrorist to receive any ransom for any person who has been wrongfully confined, imprisoned or kidnapped…”. In essence, the bill makes it a criminal offence for any person who is kidnapped or whose friend, relation or other associate is kidnapped, to pay ransom for the release of such a kidnapped person. According to Senator Onyewuchi in his lead debate, “Kidnapping has become a fast and lucrative business…and the most pervasive and intractable violent crime” in Nigeria. He argued that ransom payments lead to more kidnappings and build the capacity of terrorist organisations to conduct attacks. He also went on to cite the United Kingdom and the United States as examples of countries where payment of ransom is illegal.
The bill has received mixed reactions in the country although it is doubtful that it will go any further than where it has stopped at this time. Payment of ransom for release of kidnap victims has become the easiest and laziest response to surviving the dangerous dimension of Nigeria’s kidnap industry. Security agencies – the police and other arms of security have spectacularly failed to find a response to the menace. Indeed, security forces themselves have sometimes advised victims to respond to the demands for ransom payments as they raise their hands in surrender to kidnappers. Reports of kidnapping swell everyday without an indication that the Nigerian Government can find a solution to the problem. According to SBM Intelligence, a research organisation, Nigerians have paid about $18million as ransom to kidnappers between June 2011 and March 2020. On a daily basis, citizens worry about the ineffectiveness and incompetence of government security machinery and their inability to push back against kidnapping in the country. There is no evidence on ground of any government strategy to rein in Nigeria’s security crisis. Instead, government pronouncements and actions appear to enforce the widely held belief that it lacks the political will or readiness to tackle the problem. Several citizens admit that although kidnapping and general insecurity have been a problem in the country over the last several years, it has now gotten to frightening proportions, especially with fingers pointing at cattle herders who citizens worry are handled with kid gloves by the current government.