To pay or not to pay ?, by Umar Yakubu
… It is difficult for a parent not to respond when asked for a ransom for a kidnapped child, or even a parent. This is the only option that remains on the table because, unlike the film cited above, there is little confidence in the ability of Nigerian law enforcement agencies to save the victims of this nefarious activity.
The toughest choices require the strongest will – Thanos of Avengers.
I remember a movie by one of my favorite actors, Mel Gibson, titled, Ransom. The plot involved the kidnapping of the son of a multimillionaire with the help of crooked police officers. The ransom payment of $ 2 million was accepted by Mel Gibson, the father. On the way to the deposit, he changed his mind and decided to go on live TV and announce a $ 4 million reward, double the amount, for anyone helping with the return of his living son. As with human materialism, pleonexy has defined it. The cops started shooting each other and, to sum up, the boy was rescued and no bad cop received any money.
But this is just a movie and no one should try this stunt here in Nigeria. But I draw a conclusion from Governor El Rufai’s statement on the need for friends and families to stop paying ransom for their kidnapped loved ones. On the one hand, it makes a lot of sense. It is questionable whether past payments have led to a reduction in kidnapping for ransom acts. Or whether subsequent murders have declined. Based on media reports and available statistics, kidnapping cases have actually increased. Last week, three students were killed in kidnapping negotiations – a very painful loss of young and innocent lives. At the end of April, Kaduna state reported that 323 people had been killed and 949 abducted by bandits in the previous three months. It should be noted that the cases of these incidents are underreported and the number could in fact be much higher.
There have been several reports of kidnappings from those issuing ransoms, which has created a new sphere of activity – now we have professionals who make a living handing out ransoms to criminals! A Kano kidnapper has demanded payment of a cryptocurrency ransom. This activity is evolving and growing faster than our GDP. Since this is a new field, there is so much room for new tactics, that our current law enforcement infrastructure cannot keep up with the pace of change. Law enforcement agencies have the capacity, but not the will to act. Countries like Venezuela, Somalia and Mexico have not recorded a decrease in incidents of criminal kidnappings in their territory for years. Based on available data from Statista and other online sources, Nigeria was ranked eighth among global kidnapping hotspots in 2009. In 2014, it was number five. By 2017, number three. Kidnappings appear to thrive in fragile states and conflict-prone countries, as the void left by the government must be filled by one activity or another, usually in terms of organized crime.
On the other hand, it is difficult for a parent not to respond when asked for a ransom for kidnapped offspring, or even a relative. This is the only option that remains on the table because, unlike the film cited above, there is little confidence in the ability of Nigerian law enforcement agencies to rescue the victims of this nefarious activity. Will they just pray? Hope? Lament? Or just pay? The more recent kidnappers have become sick savages, and as such, it makes sense to rush to take the more realistic option, despite unknown results.
Since the main motive for these crimes is money, we have to try a cocktail of solutions, because the current solutions do not alleviate the problem. The immediate thing to do is to speed up the complete elimination of cash transactions in the country. The current technological infrastructure in Nigeria supports it.
The kidnapping activity must be stopped. And immediately. There must be a balance of terror at some point. We cannot afford the nuisance, alongside other vices like terrorism and banditry. South America, like Colombia and Brazil, have battled these crimes for decades, as have India and other countries in deep conflict, like Afghanistan and Iraq.
Most kidnappings in these countries involve visiting foreigners. Previously in Nigeria, kidnappings mainly concerned foreign oil workers, but recent citizens have kidnapped fellow citizens, like a dog eats a dog. The poor kidnap the poor. There is no unity in poverty and misery. The rich provide information about themselves. Children conspire to kidnap their parents. Parents and jealous neighbors educate and laugh at each other. Colleagues in the offices are also conspiring against each other! When did we get so low and with a hard heart? This is obviously not caused by poverty, nor by the absence of religiosity.
Since the main motive for these crimes is money, we have to try a cocktail of solutions, because the current solutions do not alleviate the problem. The immediate thing to do is to speed up the complete elimination of cash transactions in the country. The current technological infrastructure in Nigeria supports it. Where there are exceptions for making cash deposits or withdrawals, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) can provide adequate controls to ensure that the details of these transactions are taken into account. It won’t cost the government a kobo. Deposit banks would bear the cost through the expansion and updating of current technological trading platforms.
… We must continue to support our law enforcement agencies. Technology must come in. We will never have enough men to cover ungoverned spaces. Our current population growth rate is 3%. 100, and there is no real political effort to slow it down.
As controls are put in place, money launderers and other criminal elements will be forced to possibly seek other means of transaction. The only other similar option will be the use of cryptocurrencies. Whether we like it or not, this technology will soon be used more and more. Our government likes to ban what it does not understand. When you ban such a system, you are driving it underground into an arena that our law enforcement agencies lack the depth to engage in. As such, just like what the European Union has started, we need to start developing controls. We should legalize the use of cryptocurrencies, but subject them to regulations. There comes a time when we need to apply economics to the fight against crime. Some countries legalize marijuana and tax its users. It’s cheaper than funding law enforcement and creating room for rent-seeking activities. Most bans simply create “rich” public officials in what should have been regulatory space.
Of course, we must continue to support our law enforcement agencies. Technology must come in. We will never have enough men to cover ungoverned spaces. Our current population growth rate is 3%. 100, and there is no real political effort to slow it down.
Finally, we need to stop playing around with the constant records of biological data and harmonize all that already exist. We have the Biometric Verification Number (BVN), the international passport, the voter card and now the National Identification Number (NIN). Each agency collects the same set of data, while wasting valuable time and resources.
These are all economical approaches to solving criminal justice problems. The current criminal justice system, of course, must continue to be strengthened in all its ramifications. There’s no time to lose.
Umar Yakubu is with the Center for Tax Transparency and Integrity Monitoring. Twitter @umaryakubu
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