Captives to cash: Our crime soap opera

BY KEN UGBECHIE
What have we not seen, or heard? With our ears we have heard strange stories, gory tales and distressing news from our fatherland. Even the world has become numb to our case.
Crime has fouled up the nation’s air. Banditry festers. Fear grips the people. Behold our crime soap opera. It runs in your face. The script is always ready. The actors willing and unhinged. And you wonder, why so much crime in a country of so many anti-crime agencies, anti-crime recruits and enthusiasts.
Nigeria is probably the most militarized nation in the world. Too many uniformed men and women all fighting crime, presumably. The Army, Airforce, Navy, Police, EFCC, ICPC, LASTMA, FRSC, Customs, KAI, NSCDC, Vigilante, local hunters, Hisbah, LNSC, etc. It is a long list. Each state in Nigeria has its own makeshift security (anti-crime) group. Uniformed men and women decorate the highways and byways. They are in the streets, in your neighbourhood; in your face. Their mission: Fight crime, tame the criminals. Yet crime prospers.
Crime blooms like May flower. I worry. If you love driving, like myself, you would have noticed that every manner of uniform-wearing and arms-bearing agency is on the highway. Yet, on these same roads, the criminals feast on the people with unfettered gusto. They hijack buses, lockdown highways for hours on end. Some are even dramatic and serio-comic.
The criminals, fully assured that our lengthening garrison of uniformed men and women amounts to nothing, would take their time, lead their captives to ATMs and make all the withdrawals they need to make. Some criminals insist on transfer from their own POS terminals. Yes, criminals now log their POS. It’s a cashless economy and they have upgraded.
Well, if you think this writer is making up stats just to suit his morbid mind, you need to listen to the Acting Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, a man who should know. He jolted the nation recently with these unsettling statistics: A total of 1,071 persons lost their lives in crime-related cases across the nation in the first quarter of 2019. Let’s do a little math here. It means in the 90 days (January-March), Nigeria recorded about 12 deaths per day. Epidemic!
The crime statistics also showed that between January and March, no fewer than 685 persons were kidnapped across the country. Now, this works out to an average of 8 kidnaps per day. Let’s continue. IGP said 767 of the persons killed were from the North with the North-West topping the fatality list with 436; North-Central came second with 250; while the South-South recorded 130 deaths during the period. Most of the reported death cases in the North were linked to banditry and communal violence, says IGP Adamu. He didn’t add religion. We dig deeper: Zamfara State (Oh the land of gold and cattle rustling) has 203 murder cases to lead the national prevalence chart.
Note that this same Zamfara is the least educated state with perennially the lowest school enrolment, WAEC and JAMB registration and has the lowest and indeed the most primitive cut off mark ever reserved for any class of people into Nigeria’s Unity schools. Kaduna State followed closely with 112 cases. A good 90 people were killed in Benue State alone. Scary!
Banditry, a word and crime in its ascendancy these days, harvested a total of 175 deaths within the period. Zamfara State (you see what I mean: Gold rush and cattle crush) topped the list with 104 reported cases, next is Katsina State (President Buhari’s state: these goons have no fear and respect for constituted authority) with 21 deaths and Sokoto State with 19 cases of bandits-induced deaths. Bring on kidnapping. Here, the stats still shocks. The IGP said 546 (79.8 per cent) of the national total kidnap cases were recorded in the three northern geopolitical zones with the highest zonal prevalence rate occurring in the North-West where 365 persons were reportedly kidnapped within the period.
Remember that kidnapping is all about converting captives to cash. Big money is paid as ransom. Once cash is paid, freedom is secured. And both the kidnapped and the kidnapper are happy. If you add the story of Evans, you’ll realize it’s big business. Still on the kidnapping chart. North-West is followed by the North-Central where 145 persons were kidnapped. Again, Zamfara State (gold, gold and the curse of gold) has the highest national kidnap rate of 281 victims within the period. Kogi and Niger states where 65 and 51 persons respectively were kidnapped within the period complete the troika of axis of evil.
Armed robbery which used to be the chief crime in the past has been pushed behind by kidnapping. A total of 212 major armed robbery cases were reported nationwide within the period. IGP Adamu said the North recorded 130 major robbery cases representing 59.43 per cent of the national total throughput. North-Central geopolitical zone recorded a total of 81 armed robbery cases to top the chart. Niger State, the FCT and Zamfara State with 32, 23 and 18 armed robbery cases respectively occupy the top three slots in the national armed robbery chart. Note that these are cases known to the police.
The crime prevalence did not include the extra-judicial killings, killings/kidnappings not reported to the police or even unreported and professionally suppressed cases of armed robbery/kidnapping or killings associated with the horde of uniformed agents especially the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) which from every indication is not yet reformed.
I admire the forthrightness of IGP Adamu in coming out with such disturbing statistics. I like his courage. Some will argue that this is an indictment on him. Yes and No. But he deserves our commendation for speaking out on a matter that is obviously beyond the power and capacity of the police. The national crime rate is too high and unacceptable. It wards off visitors and investors. It evokes fear everywhere and at every time.
Unfortunately, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, the chief security officer of the nation, appears not to know what else to do. But he can do something. I have said it before. Buhari should fire his service chiefs and kick a few asses out of the military and the police.
It’s obvious we have too many people who are either serving as moles within the security apparatchik or are sympathetic to the cause of the agents of crime, be they Boko Haram insurgents, kidnappers, cattle rustlers or ice cold bandits feasting on the proceeds of gold mining in Zamfara. Nigeria is not at war but she has lost more lives than war-ravaged nations of the world.
This calls for national emergency. Delay is dangerous. Abuja-Kaduna road, a journey of barely two hours, has become a passage to the grave.
Even Army Generals avoid this death highway. No one is safe; no immunity for the high and mighty. A journey of just two hours has become a gamble of life and death.
It’s either you arrive safely or you end up in the dark fortress of the bandits and kidnappers. Not good for a nation struggling to win the hearts and pockets of foreign investors.

•Ugbechie is a Celebrated Nigerian journalist

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