Evincing the Underlap
Being comfortably ensconced amidst all the killings and kidnappings left me with no doubt that Arewa is its own antonym; its energy and heart for humanity are more channelled towards correcting eccentric individuals than in ensuring the maintenance of our collective security. We are bleeding from kidnapping-inflicted wounds yet have accepted it as the inescapable new normal — an Achilles heel-like conjoined twin; the predestined weakness that follows you wherever you go.
Many fingers point to a vacuum in the security apparatus and unemployment as its underlying causes and while they may be contributory factors, the causes are beyond that, the wounds are deeper and browsing the surface with a stereo microscope just won’t do. We must study it — as if blessed with a polarizing microscope that evinces the underlap. In the end, our findings wouldn’t be farther than these; Unemployment and poverty don’t produce kidnappers, injustice does; shielding our own from taking responsibility does; elites that don’t help the needy do; religious leaders that worship politicians do; and a society more worried about the dressing of its neighbour while its roof is on fire is the exact habitat it needs to thrive.
Historiography of kidnapping and the region’s flirtations with it is needed to develop a lasting solution to the endemic. It is generally believed to have originated in England in the 17th century, where children were kidnapped and sold either into slavery or to work in the farm. But kidnapping has been around for longer, Joseph was kidnapped and sold by his brothers in the Scriptures.
It was on our shores long before it landed in England too even though it was considered as a legal trade at the time (provided that the victim is an African, of course) you can imagine the life of our forebears — one minute you are hunting rabbits with your bow and arrow and the next, you are in a ship against your will, chained and heading to a land where you will be auctioned to the highest bidder; ladies and gentlemen, our very first flirtation with kidnapping!
Though it was for slavery a quick comparison between the times tells you we have come full cycle — the similarities are apparent; there was massive ignorance, poverty, tribal conflicts, religious intolerance (only then it was between Muslims and animists,) there was foreign interference and people were being sold for huge treasures like salt and mirrors (they were luxuries at the time.) The difference with today is that those people didn’t have a Constitution that conferred fundamental rights on them, you do; a government whose primary role is security and welfare of the people, you do; mass and social media for the quick spread of information and security agencies that are answerable to them, you sure as hell do too. Do you feel it now, the derealization like two worlds have crashed into each other and we are being borne into the past?
Kidnapping in its current form was first witnessed in Nigeria when Chris Ngige — while he was Governor of Anambra state — was kidnapped by some 200 policemen and forced to resign and then later in 2005, Niger Delta militants began the kidnap of foreign expatriates for ransom to fund the activities of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). Since then, it has proved to be a lucrative alternative (it is also a lot safer for the kidnappers too) to armed robbery. Later, it became the organized crime’s response to cashless policy and security agencies patrolling the highways.
Its walk to Arewa was slow, hunchbacks, other physically challenged persons, mad people and children were its first victims, kidnapped for human rituals mostly just before and during elections. The wound healed almost as fast as it came, with the excellent work security agencies and help from seasoned hunters like Ali Kwara and Sarkin Baka but like a chronic wound, it has returned and these persons are no longer the targets — we all are! And if money can’t be tapped from our relatives, we get murdered for it. No wonder all the most devastating kidnappings in Nigeria have occurred in the North.
The Boko Haram leader, Shekau was saying “I will sell them in the market” after kidnapping 276 Chibok girls; a familiar pattern? 111 were later kidnapped in Dapchi, which are capped lately with the kidnap of ABU students (the second batch in less than a year) and then the 12 policemen whose family are now selling properties to secure their freedom.
The belief in human rituals to win elections must have waned but so is the risk of kidnapping middle class or upper-class people for ransom and the reward for kidnappers increases by the day. You can be picked anywhere, on the road or at home; nowhere is safe!
To reverse this sudden decline to the dark age, individuals need to take responsibility not just because the governments want you to believe that change only begins with you but because the Nigerian government has never solved anything on its own without making it worse. Stopping the Maitatsine sect, for instance, without treating the underlying factors behind it only created Boko Haram and so will tackling unemployment if the children of nobody have to pay to get employed, pay to get a promotion. So will creating a funds pool when the poor have to pay to access it but the rich get it on a platter, most refuse to pay yet walk freely. These will only create more kidnappers and more criminals, angry, organized and out for vengeance. The system needs to be made to work, people need to believe that they can be anything they want to be.
To slog it out, the government needs to ensure its poverty alleviation programs reaches the intended target because when you clip the wings of the youth, they tend to grow a new one and you have no idea the kind of wings they will grow when they feel like outcasts in their communities.
One of the main reasons northern elites want the poor to remain poor is the feeling being called alangubro gives them, they absolutely love it! They like to give huge sums of money to praise singers that contribute to the growth of the society while giving “gashi ka hau mota” to youths that want to make an impact but lack the resources to do so. They must learn to create real jobs or to make donations to local NGOs making an impact in their community.
No society can expect its citizens to fall in line without help from religious leaders, so apart from government anti-terrorist and anti-kidnapping programs, religious leaders need to preach the messages from such programs.
Kidnapping is not meant to stay here amongst peace-loving people but it won’t disappear if we continue to play Jekyll and Hyde with societal issues. We must shed the right kind of tears, utter the right kind of words and apply the right kind of pressure or like in the mythological tale, watch the Achilles heels be our downfall.