Kidnappings in Nigeria as a class act: Implications for the criminal justice system

Author: Dr Akinola Akintayo
Lecturer and researcher in the Department of Public Law, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, Nigeria

Nigeria is a country steeped in inequality. Reports indicate that a minimum of 86 of the 140 or so million Nigerians live in extreme poverty. The country’s richest individuals are also said to earn 8,000 times each day what their poor counterparts spends on basic necessaries in a year. To further underscore the severe level of inequality, studies also indicate that the combined wealth of the top five richest Nigerians can end extreme poverty in the country. That is how bad the income and wealth gap in Nigeria is.

However, this kind of inequality underpinned by exploitative and oppressive capitalist mode of production tends to weaken what some scholars have referred to as the ‘social instinct’ and breeds discontent, opposition and conflicts between society’s classes. In this kind of clime, the less privileged and deprived members of the society may well feel entitled, either within or without the law, to demand what they considered their own fair share of the commonwealth from the more opulent part of the society. The main purpose of this short piece is to interrogate emerging evidence which suggests that recent dimensions of kidnappings in Nigeria is a class act where the deprived class may be demanding what they perceived as their fair share from the more opulent class and examine the omens that this bids for the criminal justice system.

The class dimension of recent kidnappings in Nigeria

Except for few divergent views, the general understanding in criminological circles is that most criminal offences are committed by the poor against other poor members of the society. There is evidence, however, that kidnappings in Nigeria has taken a different form. Kidnappings for ransom which started off as one of the instruments of agitation for self-determination and later for personal enrichment of militants in the Nigerian Niger Delta appear to have now transformed into a class act. The targets of the kidnappings have now changed from expatriates oil workers in the Niger Delta to the targeting of the rich and well-resourced, their wives, children, close relatives and loved ones in the society. A couple of examples will suffice to illustrate this point here.

The first illustration here is the notorious billionaire head of a kidnapping gang in Lagos arrested by Nigerian security forces on 10 June 2017. Chukwudubem George Onwuamadike, popularly called ‘Evans’ is alleged to have made billions from kidnapping the rich and their family members for ransom. He is currently in police custody and available information revealed that he habitually demanded millions in both local and foreign currencies from his victims before releasing them.

The second illustration is the kidnapping of the wife of the sitting Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on Thursday, 29 September 2016. The kidnappers were reported to have demanded for a ransom of N1.5 Billion Naira (about 4 million US dollars). The victim was, however, allegedly ‘rescued’ about 24 hours later due to ‘the gallantry and efforts of Nigerian security forces’. It is however common knowledge that most victims allegedly rescued by Nigerian security forces with or without gallantry were released by their abductors only after paying hefty ransoms.
The third illustration is the kidnap on 6 October 2016 of the principal, vice-principal and four students of a high brow model college believed to be attended by the children of the rich and well-resourced in Igbonla, Epe area of Lagos State. Two of the victims were rescued almost immediately by the police while the abductors demanded a ransom of a N100 Million Naira (about 274 000 US dollarss) for the other victims. The four other victims were released about five days later on 11 October 2016 after ostensibly parting with huge sums of money as ransom. The abductors came back to the same school on 25 May 2017 to abduct six students who they released more than two months later after talks and negotiation with some government officials.

Finally, there was the kidnap in September 2015 of Olu Falae, a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation of Nigeria and another former Senator, Iyabo Anisulowo, kidnapped in April 2017. Reports indicated that both were released after spending days in captivity and after the payment of hefty ransoms. Similar examples can be multiplied.

So we have a situation in Nigeria where contrary to the generally held believe and theories of crime, most current kidnappings are not targeted at those perceived as only marginally better off and equally vulnerable like the criminals themselves but are directly targeted at the elites and those perceived to have benefitted from the inequality in Nigeria. Thus, even though the abductions appear to have now become indiscriminate and widespread in many parts of the country, I suggest below that this is only a consequence of the successes that criminal gangs have recorded against the rich.

Following from this also is the fact that although there could be elements in the kidnapping gangs that are not from poor backgrounds but seduced by the allure of cheap money obtainable from ransoms, it however does appear clear, if the profiles of those arrested in connection with some of the incidents is anything to go by, that majority of those involved in the kidnappings are poor youths from the periphery of the Nigerian society. The current dimensions of kidnappings in Nigeria therefore break ranks with the general criminological understanding of crime as something preponderantly perpetuated by the poor against the poor.

Omens and implications for the criminal justice system

At least four implications of current dimension of the kidnappings can be deduced. The first is the likely proliferation of that type of crime. Criminals are also rational beings who make rational choices and will therefore tend towards those criminal enterprises that are more profitable with relatively less risk of apprehension and punishment. The now rampant and indiscriminate kidnappings in many parts of country seem to confirm this thesis.

The second implication flowing from the first is the potential overwhelming of the criminal justice system. When a crime becomes generalised, the likelihood that the criminal justice system will be overawed is very high. This fact is perhaps already evident. The more law enforcement officials say we have the situation under control the more the generalised criminality and lawlessness in the country make a lie of their ‘confident’ pronouncements.

The third implication is that in the face of a failing criminal justice system the tendency of ordinary citizens to resort to self-help is very high. This also is already in evidence. Nigeria news media is now replete with reports of jungle and vigilante justice being meted out to suspected kidnappers and other criminals largely because ordinary citizens have lost faith in the formal criminal justice mechanisms. As is to be expected, however, most victims of the vigilante justice reported were alleged to be innocent victims.

Finally, the generalised chaos and lawlessness that is likely to be engendered by the combination of the factors above may create and foster a feeling of impunity in everybody, the criminals, law enforcement officials and the ordinary citizens. The end result of such a situation I am sure is better imagined.

Conclusion

Available evidence suggests kidnappings in Nigeria have become a class act. This is an ill wind that bids the criminal justice system and the larger society no good. One crucial factor in the transformation of this type of crime from what it was to what it is now is the worsening poverty level and the severe and shameful income and wealth gap between the rich and the poor in Nigeria. To arrest the looming criminal justice crisis therefore the government need to urgently address the twin evils of extreme poverty and severe inequality in the country. A stitch in time saves nine.

About the Author:
Dr Akinola Akintayo is a human rights and democracy expert, researcher and lecturer in the Department of Public Law, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, Lagos-Nigeria. His research interest and publications spans human rights, democracy, constitutional law and practice, criminal law, conflict prevention and management in Africa.

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2 Comments on “Kidnappings in Nigeria as a class act: Implications for the criminal justice system”

  1. Azubike says:

    A very concise piece by the author. May I add that the increase in kidnappings present the poor response by the Nigerian government on socio-economic yearnings of Nigerian citizens. Aside the high profile kidnapping, there are stories of kidnapping with cheap ransom such as food items, recharge cards etc. Could the author suggest possible solutions to this quagmire?

    • Dr Akinola Akintayo says:

      Thanks Azu for your comments. Like you rightly observed, the high profile and the now indiscriminate Kidnapping reflects the very poor response of the Nigerian government to the socio-economic yearning of poor Nigerians. Solution to the quagmire is as already stated in the conclusion to the short piece, that the Nigerian government as a matter of urgency address the severe inequality and extreme poverty in the country. Now.


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