Onovo’s ultimatum to kidnappers

Casmir Igbokwe

Our Inspector-General of Police, Ogbonna Onovo, has been talking tough. In fact, he has relocated his office to the South-East. Some other security experts have also added their angry voices. Our senators are not left out. The Senate President, David Mark, particularly wants a state of emergency declared in kidnap-prone areas. A cacophony of other voices has risen against kidnapping in the land.

This is understandable. Last Sunday, four journalists and their driver were kidnapped in a village near Aba in Abia State. Among the victims is the Lagos State Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Mr. Wahab Oba. An abnormal situation, you may say, demands an abnormal response.

But, let‘s pause and ponder over the ways of some of our security personnel. Last Wednesday, I attended the annual speech and prize-giving day ceremony of the Air Force Primary School 1 at the Sam Ethnan NAF Base, Ikeja, Lagos. On entering the base, I saw an air force officer who was passing by. I stopped him and asked for direction to the school. He directed me quite all right, but decided to exploit the situation.

”Where do you come from?” he asked.

”From Punch,” I answered.

”No, I mean what state you come from?”


On hearing this, he hailed me, saying he was my brother. He then veered into some unnecessary tales. I became uncomfortable. But as I unconsciously put my hand in my pocket and made to go back to my car, he said, ”Oh, your hand is in your pocket. Today is a good day for me because I know you want to give me something.”

Embarrassed, I gave him some money which he grabbed and thanked me profusely. He wanted my complimentary card, but I had none on me. He could have taken my number, but his phone was off because the battery was down. I promised to see him again soon as I jumped into the car and asked my driver to zoom off.

This experience set me thinking. Why will an air force officer be this beggarly? I know security men are poorly paid, but is it that bad? The average police officer who mingles more with the civilian population is even worse.

There have been suggestions that the kidnappings in the South-East will not succeed without the active involvement of some unscrupulous policemen. In Abia State, for instance, there are numerous police checkpoints. But they have not helped to curb crime in the area.

Onovo himself put it this way, ”The issue of bribery among police officers has reached an alarming level especially as the roadblocks are now being mounted for bribe collection. I will soon remove the roadblocks because the objective for which they were introduced has been defeated.”

No doubt, our policemen have failed us. The IGP gave an ultimatum to the kidnappers of the four journalists to release them within 24 hours. As at the time of going to press, that order has not been carried out. And rather than carry out their operations discreetly to apprehend the hoodlums, the police have been making one pronouncement after the other, revealing their operational methods in the process.

As the IG asked, where do we go from here and what do we do? I won‘t claim to know the correct answer. But I will hazard some guesses.

First, the Federal Government must find a way of providing the enabling environment for our industries to thrive. Aba used to be home to small and medium scale industries. These industries – be it shoe, machine tool, ceramic or textile – provided jobs for the teeming masses in the region. Businessmen and women visited from different parts of Nigeria and beyond to buy goods in Aba.

Today, the reverse is the case. Cheaper goods from China have taken over. Many industrialists in Aba are lamenting. The roads are bad. Electricity is comatose. The industries are dying one after the other. I know many young men who were into shoe making in Aba. Before now, they were doing well. Not anymore. Some of them beg for money to feed their families. Some have relocated to Lagos and some other cities with the hope that things will get better. But things are getting worse. A man with loose morals who finds himself in this kind of situation is a potential recruit for kidnappers.

A policeman who is poorly paid and who finds in roadblocks a veritable source of income, is a big recruit for kidnappers. He can provide logistics and intelligence support for them. One of the kidnappers of the journalists in Abia was said to be holding a gun painted in police colours. Was the gun snatched from the police or what?

The Federal Government needs to take another look at our police force. Are our police and other security agencies well paid? Will dismantling of roadblocks as the IG has threatened solve the problem? Are we recruiting the right calibre of people into the force?

An honest answer to these questions will give us the clue to what to do. I pity the IG because this heat of insecurity is more on him. He has already appealed to the emotions of his Igbo brethren, wondering why they should be the ones causing him much headache.

Of course the impression is created that kidnapping is an Igbo problem. It started in the South-South but the South-East has made a commercial success of it. People are being kidnapped for N10, 000 or even as low as N5, 000 in Aba. They have even exported the business outside the shores of this country. In Malaysia, for instance, some Nigerian students allegedly kidnap fellow Nigerians and demand as much as $10, 000 as ransom.

Unemployment, corruption and poor leadership have been the major causes of these crimes. But shall we fold our arms and lament every day? To save Onovo this perennial embarrassment, there is a need to decentralise our police force. Community policing will take care of crimes in the hinterland. The IG will not need to relocate to contain such crimes. He does not need to issue a 24-hour ultimatum that will not yield any result. The criminals will be laughing at him now.


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