Editorial: “Vampire” and the Scourge of Kidnapping

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If, as stated in Section 14 of the 1999 Constitution “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government…,” then, the same effort being expended on combating Boko Haram should equally apply to securing the private lives and properties of all Nigerians because security does not begin nor end with the terrorist insurgency. To which end, the killing the other day of Henry Chibueze, the notorious kidnapper popularly called “Vampire” is a major milestone in efforts by the government to fulfil its constitutional obligation to the citizens. The point must be quickly made that in fairness, no one expects that kidnapping for ransom as a national wound that has festered for several years can be healed overnight with the killing of Vampire and dismantling his gang. Nevertheless, given that the APC administration was fully aware of the seriousness of the situation and indeed expressed its firm resolve to confront and defeat insecurity in all its forms, it is not unreasonable to expect that, in the least, Boko Haram, kidnappers and armed robbers would have been contained. It is regretful for an administration that puts a lot of premium on security, that so far, this is not the case.

The present level of personal insecurity of Nigerians occasioned by kidnapping and armed robbery brings to fore the role of the Nigerian police in our national life. According to the police spokesman, Jimoh Moshood, a Chief Superintendent of Police, Vampire, the “dreaded and deadly kidnap-for-ransom kingpin” was killed by the Police Special Forces, in a shootout in Omu Awa forest, at Ikwerre, Rivers State. Moshood said five suspected members of his gang were also arrested and a cache of arms and ammunition recovered. The gang is responsible for so many kidnappings and robbery attacks in Imo, Abia, Rivers, Delta and other states in the South-East and South-South. Police identified the arrested gang members as 26-year-old Obinna Elah, Arinze Abecheta, 24; Chukwu Ebuka Ikeazota, 23; Samuel Ugochukwu, 24, and Clifford Aheana.

Chibueze, the Vampire, was a notorious criminal who was spirited away in a daring operation by his gang members last January at the premises of a High Court in Owerri. He was arrested in 2015 and had been in custody following the kidnap of the wife of a government official. He admitted to having carried out several kidnappings in Imo and beyond before his arrest. On January 27, he was brought to court alongside other suspects, but escaped when gunmen disguised as DSS operatives, in an SUV parked at the court premises opened fire immediately he disembarked from the prison van. Vampire and two suspects were then spirited away by the gunmen, who left five Prisons officials and some bystanders wounded. After Chibueze’s escape, Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha, announced a N5 million bounty for information leading to his arrest.

Quite clearly, the rising wave of criminality by armed robbers and kidnappers is not acceptable for the reason that it is contrary to the yearning of Nigerians for a change that the APC promised. Beyond the killing of Vampire, the spate of kidnapping and the general insecurity in the country has reached an embarrassing level as to become a national disgrace. Nigeria continues to grapple with this scourge, which has become a national humiliation and a scandal to the self-acclaimed giant of Africa. Sadly, over the years, successive governments at both state and federal level have failed to holistically confront and defeat this malaise, raising more apprehension among Nigerians as it continues to twirl out of control.

Ordinary persons going about their ordinary, honest-to-God businesses have been kidnapped and some killed. It is admitted that the APC manifesto did not state in clear and specific terms how it would tackle security threats. It merely committed itself, under the heading of “National Security” to “establish a well-trained, adequately equipped and goals - driven Serious Crime Squad to combat terrorism, kidnapping, armed robbery, militants, ethno-religious and communal clashes nationwide.” But both as presidential candidate and now as President, Buhari has been more categorical and forceful; giving Nigerians reason to believe that a man has come who appreciates the nature and the seriousness of the problem of insecurity on the one hand, and how to combat it on the other.

It seems obvious that shadowy individuals, possibly in positions of authority have been involved in some of the kidnappings, especially high-profile cases like the maternal cousins of ex-President Jonathan, who were abducted in Bayelsa State. Prior to this, the mother of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, erstwhile Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy was kidnapped. Gunmen also abducted the wife of Nigeria’s former Ambassador to the USA, Gen. Oluwole Rotimi (rtd). Aside these high profile cases, expatriates working in the country have not been spared from this barbarism. Therefore, government must urgently address this cankerworm squarely. Government must be proactive rather than merely reactive to the problem of kidnapping and the alarming wave of insecurity and criminality ravaging the country today.

Besides financial gain, which makes the scourge a booming industry, the malaise has assumed epidemic proportion, which should no longer be tolerated. No doubt, it has assumed an epidemic proportion and for any person irrespective of status, creed, or religion to be abducted so cheaply in any part of the country, is unacceptable. Kidnapping has clearly become a national malaise, with an epicenter in the South generally, and the South-South and South-East axis, in particular. Both the federal and state authorities should face the major challenge thus ensuing, bearing in mind that for every reported case, many cases are not reported for fear of victimization by the perpetrators.

No government worth its name can allow the kind of permissiveness. The fear of kidnapping is now the beginning of wisdom as people are afraid to travel outside their immediate environments. If Nigeria is to fully tackle kidnapping and other criminalities plaguing it, it should be ready to re-examine the structure of policing, and to eventually work towards decentralization in line with the dictates of federalism. Law and order is non-negotiable as a stimulus for peace and development. The authorities should equally be worried that the level of insecurity has so overwhelmed the police, that in most kidnapping incidents, police orderlies are killed. It is better to police the entire community than individuals. Experience shows that not only has attaching one or two police orderlies to an individual failed to prevent criminals from attacking, the arrangement actually makes policemen more vulnerable to daring criminals.

One factor that has promoted kidnapping is the ostentatious life style of government officials and politicians. It is common to see politicians, even local government chairmen, rise from nothing to affluence, parading chains of exotic vehicles in a system that is stricken with poverty, and to the chagrin of the suffering masses. Millions of young people have no jobs and people are bitter with the system. Also, the proliferation of arms has helped in criminal activities. The infiltration of all sorts of arms shows security failure. Government should work to curb arms’ proliferation. The governance structure has also failed to live up to expectation. Good governance that will ensure gainful employment to the teeming youth, and bridge the wide gulf between the rich and the poor is an urgent imperative to eradicating kidnapping and other criminal activities in Nigeria.