On April 27, the Senate passed the Terrorism (Prevention) Act 2013 (Amendment) Bill, 2022, into law and particularly amended Section 14 to read thus:
“Anyone who transfers funds, makes payment or colludes with an abductor, kidnapper or terrorist to receive any ransom for the release of any person who has been wrongfully confined, imprisoned or kidnapped is guilty of a felony and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment of not less than 15 years.”
It is admitted that the intention is good, honest and sincere – made in a bid to complement the efforts of the executive in bringing the security situation under control and to decapitate the machinery of these hoodlums. However, one states emphatically that the approach to this challenge is imprecise, unreasonable, and nebulous and the execution of the said section might be a disaster.
What happens to innocent Nigerians who have been in captivity for several weeks running into months and years and the only thing keeping them in captivity is the failure/inability of their families to pay the ransom?
In April 2021, five students and staff of the Greenfield University in Kaduna State, who were in the den of kidnappers, were shot dead because their people could not meet up with the immediate demands of the kidnappers. Should Nigerians wait until the kidnappers tell them to come for the dead bodies of their family members?
Should we forget all kidnap victims and never bother about them again since the security system is overwhelmed?
Does this legislative Act not amount to double jeopardy for victims of kidnap and their families/friends?
Now that the Bill criminalizing payment of ransom has been passed, what Bill would be passed into law against the kidnappers to stop their activities?
Has the National Assembly or even the executive given or made any Order(s), demanding for the return of all unlicensed or illegally acquired weapons used in perpetuating these crimes?
What steps have been taken to technologically beat the activities of these kidnappers?
How many times have the National Assembly summoned the Service Chiefs to answer questions relating to the activities of these hoodlums and how to tackle the issue?
Of course, the implication of this amended Act is that after being painfully forced to pay money (whether borrowed, from savings, from donations, or otherwise), to secure a release, victims or their families/friends will be put on trial and possibly sent to jail for 15 years for saving a life that the security agents could not or probably did not even attempt to save.
I recall here the story of a family friend, who was kidnapped along the Lokoja-Okene expressway in Kogi State along with several other persons. His wife who was with him at the scene rushed to the nearest police unit to report the abduction. The officers did not even bulge a bit. They simply told her to be patient, “the kidnappers will call you”! And that was exactly what played out. No action was taken by the police until the family was forced to raise the sum required by the kidnappers.
Should the legislatures not also make laws punishing casualness and insouciance?
The golden step(s) taken by the late President Musa Yar’Adua (God rest his soul) on the issue of kidnapping in the South-south and Southeast remains indelible in the annals of Nigeria’s history. One of the challenges that welcomed him into office as president in 2007, was the issue of pipeline vandalism, bombing of oil installations, kidnapping, and demand for payment of ransom. These were serious pains in the neck at the time. When the issue was posing a serious threat to the economy, the president and his cabinet spearheaded and executed a dynamic plan that brought quietness and peace and ultimately reduced, if not ended the challenge of kidnapping and demand for ransom in the region. This brilliance of the Yar’Adua-led administration was the miracle of the decade. However, our current leaders seem not to tow the same part to see what can bring a reasonable and lasting solution to the polity. We have been on the same issue for the seven years of this administration with so much retrogression.
Today, the victims of the train attack of March 28, are still in the custody of the kidnappers five weeks down the line, and painfully, we received news of one of the victims giving birth while in captivity. It is so unfortunate that the story of this beautiful soul, born in Nigeria, at this time, is beginning with “life in captivity”. Until the lawmakers wear the shoes of families of kidnap victims, they might never understand the weight of the psychological trauma that goes with the kidnap. No sane human being throws money into the gutter. As much as this Bill that has been passed into law has the good intention of curbing and rendering the kidnappers insolvent, no one wants to invest in kidnappers, no one is doing it out of a free will. It was necessity that invented the payment of ransom. This legislative intervention most respectfully is not a fight against the enemies; it is a fight against the victim.
An Act, banning the payment of ransom in the face of an overwhelmed security system, is simply an Act annihilating kidnap victim. The effort channelled into passing this bill into law should have been channelled into acquiring and building modern and standard intelligence network that can fish out these hoodlums from their hideouts. The Act by the National Assembly is tantamount to telling a person who is being robbed at gunpoint to tell his robbers that robbery has been banned. It’s either he gets a bullet on his chest or he is robbed roughly. Any law that seeks to penalize an already traumatized citizen is an unjust and bad law. The Act should be challenged in the Court of law. While we still await a massive move of the government against banditry, terrorism, armed robbery, and kidnapping, I must state emphatically that kid gloves are drawing Nigeria into perdition.
Our leaders need to wake up.
- Balogun Esq., is a legal practitioner based in Abuja.