Mr. Pete Edochie is one of Nigeria’s best known and respected movie actors in the contemporary Nigerian movie industry called Nollywood in local parlance. Among the more than one hundred films in which he played significant leading roles, Pete Edochie shone like the morning star in the popular film called “things fall apart”, an adaptation from the internationally acclaimed novel “things fall apart” by the award winning writer and deep thinker Professor Chinua Achebe.
But for more than twenty four hours from Sunday 16th 2009, Pete Edochie saw hell in the den of a dare- devil armed gang that abducted him on his way back from an official engagement in Asaba, the Delta state capital. He was kidnapped in the commercial city of Onitsha even as three persons who tried to foil the abduction were violently killed by the gang of kidnappers who were armed reportedly with the latest state of the art sophisticated arms and ammunitions far and above what the publicly funded Nigeria police operatives are provided for by the Nigerian state.
The kidnappers of Mr. Edochie were benevolent enough not to have harmed him physically just as they reportedly established contact with the family of the popular but not too materially endowed creative movie actor and made outrageous demand of N60 million ransom. The kidnappers upon intense persuasion by the family members of the Edochie’s, reduced the ransom money to N10 million, an amount that the family spokesperson of said they could not raise. Before he was eventually freed, unspecified amount of ransom was paid.
The Anambra state Government under Peter Obi which is assailed by monumental down pour of organized social crime in the last few months claimed credit for the eventual release by the armed kidnappers of Pete Edochie but in obedience to the practice of official secrecy and lack of freedom of information, the state administration did not tell the good people of Anambra state exactly how much of their money was used to bribe the armed group of kidnappers before they freed their captor. Anambra state is one place among the many places in the country where the people are daily facing the terrorizing threats of armed kidnappers and armed robbers.
Edochie has offered his candid impressions of what may be responsible for the rise in organized crimes like kidnapping and blamed poverty among the nation’s youth as the underlying reason. I think he is correct. But again the question that naturally comes to mind is whether we are not all kidnapped? So I ask, are we not all kidnapped right now?
The next question is who is the kidnapper that has made majority of Nigerians victims of kidnapping?
To clearly understand the identity of the current armed kidnappers of a majority of the Nigerian population we need to examine the ways and manners that the so-called political office holders have piloted the affairs of state since the Nation gained political Independence almost five decades ago with specific reference to how the current democratic dispensation has fared.
The political story of how Nigeria was thoroughly messed up by both the civilian and military dictators is so well known by even the most silly kindergarten pupil so much so that poverty caused by prolonged regime of political and economic crime of corruption has become the inevitable misfortune afflicting clearly a majority of Nigerians put at over seventy five percent of the more than one hundred and forty million population. Lack of transparency and accountability are primarily responsible for the near collapse of socio-economic infrastructures in Nigeria because almost all previous and to a large extent the current administrations could not account for how the massive amount of over four hundred Billion United States dollars generated from Nigeria’s rapidly vanishing crude oil mineral resources were spent. If this huge fund stolen by government officials in the last four decades were used to finance the introduction of infrastructures like energy power, rail transportation and road infrastructure, then the high level of poverty among Nigerians would have been minimized.
Antonio Maria Costa, the Executive Director of the United Nations office on Drugs and crime [UNODC] in a lecture delivered at the sixth national seminar on Economic crime in November 13th 2007 titled “Anti-Corruption climate change: It started in Nigeria” told Nigerians the hard truth that; “Your country…lost billions of dollars – the livelihoods of millions of people – to foreign havens, stolen and expatriated by corrupt leaders. By some estimates close to 400 Billion United States dollars was stolen between 1960 and 1999. Sani Abacha alone is estimated to have stolen the equivalent of 2 to 3 percent of the Nigeria’s Gross Domestic product for every year that he was president.”
It is safe to say then that ordinary Nigerians have all along been kidnapped by the political rogues for over four decades.
Renowned Nigerian Economist who speaks truth to power Professor Sam Aluko rightly captured the debilitating effects of corruption on Nigeria and ordinary Nigerians in his lecture at the 1999 annual conference of the Nigerian Economic society thus; “Income distribution has been skewed, and is still skewed, in favor of the rich and the powerful who gain by illegitimate means and who also contribute to capital flight and gross misappropriation of public funds in the absence of adequate systemic checks and balances.”
It is the considered view of some analysts that the ongoing widespread kidnapping of some Nigerians by armed gangs are manifestations of their will to over power their perceived political oppressors by exerting their pounds of flesh through a coordinated regime of collection of monetary ransoms to leverage or rather be at par with their counterparts in the political seat of power who are the real kidnappers of millions of impoverished citizens in Nigeria.
What these dangerously armed gangs of kidnappers are doing through their criminal activities could be interpreted as the practical manifestation of what Fredrich Wilhelm Nietzsche wrote that; “…there is however one thing that does characterize all human beings, and that is the drive to dominate the environment. This drive so central to human nature, is the will to power…the strongest and highest will to live does not find expression in a miserable struggle for existence, but in a will to war: a will to power, a will to overpower.”
But the truth is that if ordinary Nigerians who in the true sense of it are economically impoverished and have therefore become kidnapped victims because of political corruption of the elite who have captured the seat of power through an electoral process that is deemed internationally and locally as flawed, are also buffeted and bombarded by these armed gangs of kidnappers who have engaged in a regime of indiscriminate abductions, then things have truly fallen apart in Nigeria and only a popular revolution by the populace can salvage all the situation.
Professor Yemi Osinbanjo, a senior Advocate of Nigeria in a paper titled “Rule of law or Rule by law: what are the real issues in bringing perpetrators of serious crimes,” clearly painted a graphic picture of how ordinary Nigerians can safely be categorized as kidnapped victims. Professor Osinbanjo stated that; “Today the nation is also faced with the challenge of fighting corruption. There are cases of individuals who are said to have stolen billions of naira and acquired assets locally and abroad. The mind boggling figures have riveted everyone’s attention. Many calculations are done daily on how many social services could be rendered to millions of citizens with money cornered by so few (elite).”
Antonio Mario Costa dramatized how we ordinary Nigerians can be classified as victims of kidnapping perpetrated by powerful but corrupt political leaders who collectively stole more than 400 Billion U.S. Dollars from our public treasury in the last four decades that crude oil was discovered in huge commercial quantity.
The United Nations’ senior diplomat told his bewildered Nigerian audience including this writer thus; “400 billion US dollars ladies and gentlemen: think of the millions of vaccinations that could have been bought; the thousands of kilometers of roads that could have been paved; the hundreds of schools, hospitals and training centers that could have been built; and the water treatment facilities that could have been modernized, with this money. The opportunity cost of the stolen common wealth is enormous. Think of how different Nigeria would look today.”
The irony in the kidnapping episodes playing out all across Nigeria is that only the poor are actually physically kidnapped by these armed gangs who in any case are also victims of the larger kidnapping scheme coordinated by those in government who did not only corner public funds to themselves but have used their influence in government to corner all the publicly funded security services to themselves and their family members for maximum protection without giving a thought to the fact that ‘if the poor cannot sleep because they are hungry, the rich can not also sleep because the poor people are awake and a hungry man is an angry man’.
The ball is therefore in the court of ordinary Nigerians who are victims of kidnappers in government to free themselves by voting out all corrupt politicians and working with organized civil society to ensure that the votes of Nigerians in the 2011 elections count.
I agree with Professor Anya O. Anya that; “it is the case that respect for democratic principles, by reducing the political and social costs of governance, by promoting social harmony through the enhancement of the democratic legitimacy of the rulers, by fostering the political participation of the citizens, determines the effective and efficient implementation of development policies and strategies”.
Nigerians must exorcise themselves of the evil spirit of docility that has beclouded our collective sense of reasoning so much so that we tolerate these thieves in government and share from the crumbs that fall from their tables each time they come home with their well armed security operatives at citizens’ expense.
• Emmanuel Onwubiko heads the Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria and lives in Abuja.