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Greenfield, Afaka and bad precedent

Published by The Nation on Sun, 06 Jun 2021


By Adekunle Ade-AdeleyeBarely 24 hours after parents of 20 abducted Greenfield University, Kaduna, students paid bandits a whopping N180m to resolve the stalemate, another set of abductions has taken place in Niger State. This time, some 136 pupils of Salihu Tanko Islamiyya School (or 156 by the bandits enumeration) were taken by another set of bandits who have named their price. The abductors want N110m, later raised to over N200m. Frustrated, angry and bitter, Sani Bello, the Niger State governor, has sworn not to negotiate or pay any ransom. He had probably reached the same point of detachment Kaduna State governor Nasir el-Rufai got to recently when the College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, students were abducted by bandits and N800m ransom demanded. In the Kaduna case, the governor simply tuned off, refused to negotiate and showed only theatrical interest in any rescue attempt. Mr Bello, whose state competes ghoulishly with Kaduna in kidnapping, is also tuning off.The Forestry Mechanisation students spent some 55 days in captivity, paying about N50m of the N500m demanded by the abductors. The abducted Greenfield University students spent about 38 days in captivity and paid anything between N150m and N180m. If parents decline payment of ransomstate governments have now reached the end of their tethers and are no longer negotiating or payingkidnapping will probably cease altogether. But the problem is that while a government can afford to play ducks and drakes with the students feelings, parents cannot. The government has the constitutional duty to protect lives and property. When they fail, they can shrug their shoulders and saunter off into the sunset since it is not their childrens lives that are at risk. Those who care about their children will not only negotiate, they will pay ransom, even if it bankrupts them. Their childrens lives are invaluable to them in a way the government is unable to empathise.So, where precisely does this leave Nigerians besieged by kidnappers and all manner of freelance bandits' Precisely nowhere. State governments, especially those not seeking reelection, can afford to be detached from the crisis; it is not clear that a governor seeking second term could abandon the problem and hope it would resolve itself once parents began to decline ransom payment. The state governments are of course right that ransom payment feeds the crime, and even gives it a catalyst on a proportion that staggers the imagination. But what is the solution' Mallam el-Rufai had infamously declared that should any of his wives or children be kidnapped, he would neither negotiate nor pay ransom. Instead, he would simply pray for those unfortunate relations to be accepted in heaven. This kind of opaque reasoning proceeds from the crass religionisation of public administration. If the state would not negotiate or pay ransom, and it is too ill-equipped and incompetent to muster a rescue, what happens to the abducted'Declining to pay ransom, as beautiful and elegant as it seems as a policy, is not enough to deter kidnappers. What is paramount is that the abducted Nigerians be released unhurt, whether they are students or workers. If the government resents ransom payment and appreciates the futility of engaging in the buying and selling of human beings, it must concomitantly forestall the crime by either providing security against abductions or developing the expertise to mount rescue attempts with minimum collateral damage. To preclude ransom payment while clearly proving incapable of securing lives and property is both reckless and unacceptable. It is even irresponsible. The first duty of any government is the protection of lives and property. To fail in that cardinal responsibility is to delegitimise itself or make its occupation of State House ceremonial.In all this, the federal government, which counterproductively retains a stranglehold on the security forces and law enforcement agencies, has kept eerily silent over the kidnapping crisis. First it began by threatening to deal ruthlessly with abductors, then it followed by paying condolence visits to families of those killed during abductions. Now, it does neither, preferring to keep quiet nearly all the time, or just play dumb. The national parliament, in their wisdom, is now determined to criminalise ransom payment, of course without criminalising the failure of government to secure lives and property. As this column argued a few weeks ago, it is clear that the parliament has been converted to observing the problem from the supply side. If parents disregard the pains they go through and the sleepless nights they endure as their children are brutalised and battered in captivity, they will regard any punishment levied against them with contempt. Any day, parental longing for abducted children trumps the punishment they might receive. Only an irresponsible country can ever countenance punishing grieving parents, not to talk of enacting laws to criminalise parental love.There will be many more governors declining ransom payment, all of them taking a depressing cue from Mallam el-Rufai and Mr Bello. Such do-nothing governors will not be embarrassed by their failure to rescue the abducted children, with one of the governors last week even assuring the freed Greenfield University students that the bitterness of the last few weekswould set the backdrop for positive achievements in their (students) lives. They will leave the pains and the efforts to parents whom they now abuse and want to criminalise. But if governors are frustrated, and the federal government is irresponsible, could parents of abducted children also fold their arms as the states and federal governments are doing, or bury their heads in the sand as well' Were politics to be rewarded or punished with votes the way it should naturally be during elections, the governors as well as the presidency would have long found an answer to the crisis. For now, they can snooze away the lazy days until the smug glow of self-importance is wiped off their faces by electoral shellacking.Land flowing with bitterness and sadnessLast Thursday, ex-president Olsuegun Obasanjo remarked that instead of becoming a land flowing with milk and honey, Nigeria was, on account of bad leadership, flowing with bitterness and sadness. He is right, even if he is partly to blame. There is no part of Nigeria that is not unsettled by either poverty or crime of all categories, or worse, by various forms of insurgency. Not one. That bitterness is rife is undisputable. That Nigerians wear apprehensive and sad faces, is also not in doubt, except perhaps to presidential spokesmen.Chief Obasanjo is idiosyncratically censorious. So, often, his person gets in the way of his intelligent observations. Speaking during a book presentation at his Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library, and using unimpeachable scriptural allusions, he drew a parallel between good leadership and development. Said he: God has created Nigeria to be a land flowing with milk and honey, but due to leadership failure, the country is wallowing of crises and problems Right now, it is a land flowing with bitterness and sadness. That is not what God wants this country to beI believe that God has created Nigeria to lead the black race. That we are not doing is not because God has not given us all that we need to do it. It is because we have failed in leadership to do it and that have to be corrected. That is the fault of all of us.No one who looks at Nigeria would not suspect that it is this countrys manifest destiny to lead the black race. If the former president sensed it when he was in office for eight years, he did not give any indication that he did. Yet, he was a workaholic, and has had a significant impact on the country. However, those who came after him have been truly execrable. How could they not see, or at least get a glimpse, what the rest of the country, including the sanctimonious Chief Obasanjo, see
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