Many Questions Over Bill To Criminalise Payment Of Ransom To Kidnappers

By Chukwudi Nweje

Nigerians who fall prey to kidnappers will face tough times if the Terrorism Prevention (Amendment) Bill, 2021 before the 9th Senate scales through. The bill has already gone through the second reading and is currently with the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters for further legislative work. It prescribes 15 years jail term for anyone who pays ransom to a kidnapper or terrorist for whatever reason.

Sponsor of the bill, Ezenwa Francis Onyewuchi argued that the amendment is necessary because kidnapping has become a lucrative business in the country even as ransom payment does not guarantee the release of victims.

He said, “Kidnapping is on the increase in Nigeria and it is prevalent across all the geopolitical zones. Some blame the rise of this criminal activity on poverty, religion, politics, deficiency of existing laws, unemployment, connivance of security agents, corruption and greed. Whatever the reason, it is most obvious that kidnapping in Nigeria puts everyone at risk… History has shown that even where ransom is proven to have been paid, the life or safe return of a kidnap victim may not be guaranteed; payments of terrorist ransoms is illegal under the UK Terrorism Act 2000, while the USA adheres to a strict No Concessions policy on the payment of ransom.”

But analysts insist that the reality on ground in Nigeria is that the security agencies are handicapped and cannot secure the citizenry, not to talk about staging a commando style rescue mission to free illegally held captives. Nigerians pay ransom because of the failure of the government to live up to the provisions of Section 14 (2) (b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which says that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.”

In the estimation of many, the implication of the proposed amendment is that kidnap victims may be in for a long stay with their captors; or they may even pay the ultimate sacrifice. Examples abound.

A former Deputy Governor of Anambra State, Dr Chudi Nwike was killed by his abductors in 2013 after they collected N5million out of a N30 million negotiated ransom. Dr Nwike was killed alongside the two men who went to drop the ransom. The abductors then called Nwike’s wife and told her to use the N25 million balance to give her murdered husband a befitting burial. True, the part payment of demanded ransom did not save the ex-deputy governor but the security agencies also failed him.

There are many other victims languishing in their kidnappers den including some of the girls taken from the Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok Borno State in 2015 and Leah Sharibu abducted from Government science and Technical College Dapchi, Yobe State in 2018. The girls have remained in captivity as negotiation and ransom have so far failed to secure their release, and so have the security agencies.

Many analysts including the sponsor of the amendment bill agree that the high level of poverty in the country is a contributing factor in the spate of kidnappings.

Section 16 (1) (a) – (b) of the constitution says “(1) The State shall, within the context of the ideals and objectives for which provisions are made in this Constitution; “(a) harness the resources of the nation and promote national prosperity and an efficient, dynamic and self-reliant economy; (b) control the national economy in such manner as to secure the maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every citizen on the basis of social justice and equality of status and opportunity.”

Many argue that though Nigeria is endowed with vast natural and material resources but they have not reflected on the lives of the citizenry with the country rated the poverty capital of the world. But the question remains, why is poverty so endemic in the country?

The answer may be found in the Chandler Good Governance Index (CGCI) which recently ranked Nigeria the third worst governed country in the world.

The Terror Act

Instructively, the Terrorism Prevention Act which the 9th Senate wants to amend was passed by the 7th Senate in 2011 and amended in 2013. Section 1 (1)(a) -(c) of the act defines a person who commits an act of terror as “a person who knowingly does, attempts or threatens to do an act preparatory to or in furtherance of an act of terrorism; commits to do anything that is reasonably necessary to promote an act of terrorism; or assists or facilitates the activities of persons engaged in an act of terrorism.” It goes further in Section 1(2) to define acts of terrorism to include acts deliberately done with malice, aforethought and which may seriously harm or damage a country or an international organisation; intended or can reasonably be regarded as having been intended to unduly compel a government or international organisation to perform or abstain from performing any act; an attack upon a person’s life which may cause serious bodily harm or death; kidnapping of a person among others.

Section 13 of the act lists persons who knowingly; “(a) solicits, receives, provides or possesses monetary or other property or;(b) enters into or becomes involved in an arrangement as a result of which money or other property is made available, or is to be made available, for the purpose of terrorism or for a proscribed organisation as terrorist financiers and prescribes a prison term for a maximum term of 10 years.

The amendment passed in 2013 makes provision for extra-territorial application of the Act and strengthens terrorist financing offences. In Section 13, it classifies any person or entity, in or outside Nigeria who “(a) solicits, acquires, provides, collects, receives, possesses or makes available funds, property or other services by any means to – (i) terrorists, or (ii) terrorist groups, directly or indirectly with the intention or knowledge or having reasonable grounds to believe that such funds or property will be used in full or in part in order to commit an offence under this Act or in breach of the provisions of this Act. Section 13 (3) of the law also states that “for an act to constitute an offence under this section, it is not necessary that the funds or property were actually used to commit any offence of terrorism”. The act prescribes a term of life imprisonment for those found guilty under the law.

Whither the terror act?

Analysts argue that the subsisting law has ample provision to deal with kidnappers who the principal act so classified as terrorists. They note that the problem is that the government has not shown the political will to fight terrorism. The Federal Government only boasts that it has the capacity to neutralise terrorists but has not matched its words with action. Rather, it continues to dialogue, grant amnesty to ‘repentant’ terrorists’ and paying huge sums of money to other as appeasement for them to desist from their acts of terrorism.

But it is yet to be seen whether the latest threats from the National Security Adviser (NSA), Maj. Gen. Babagana Monguno (Retd) will yield result. He says that dialogue suggests weakness and incapacity on the part of the government and that “While the government is not averse to talking with these entities, it also has to fully apply its weight. You can’t negotiate with people who are unreliable and who will continue to hurt society. We will apply the full weight of the government to deal with these criminals.”

Bill out to punish victims

Some Nigerians argue that the proposed amendment bill will traumatise victims of kidnap rather than help them; they said the Senate should step down the bill and called on government at all levels to address the root causes of extreme poverty.

Former President of Aka Ikenga, an Igbo intelligentsia group, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike says, “I am of the view that this proposal is contrary to good conscience, natural justice and common sense. This is because it seeks to punish a traumatised man who is out to do anything to secure the freedom of a kidnap victim. It is on the same pedestal as laws that seek to punish a victim. When a person is given the news of the kidnapping of his kit and kin, his natural reaction is to get the security forces to secure the freedom of the detainees. The parents of the Greenfield University students did the natural thing but today, five students are dead. What is the reaction of the security forces? The proposed bill should be thrown into the waste bin.”

Okechukwu Nwanguma, Executive Director, Rule of Law and Accountability Centre (RULAAC) is of the view that the government has failed to protect Nigerians from attacks.

He says, “The president has failed woefully to protect Nigerians from daily attacks by terrorists, bandits and kidnappers. Nigerians have been left at the mercy of criminals without the government and security agencies being able to rescue them. Left with no options, parents and relatives of kidnap victims negotiate with bandits to secure the freedom of their loved ones.”

Address root causes

For President, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), Yerima Shettima, the government should address poverty which he says is the root causes of kidnappings rather than seek to punish those who pay ransom. He urges the government to mop up illegal firearms in the hands of non-state actors.

He says, “The solution to challenge of kidnapping is beyond initiating a bill to sanction those that pay ransom to kidnappers. This cannot be our priority, our priority is for governments at the Federal, State and Local levels to redouble efforts of tackling the root of the problem. Government needs to work extra hard in dealing with the proliferation of arms in the country, especially in the hands of non-state actors. Without a clear-cut strategy for massively fighting poverty, insecurity in general and kidnapping in particular may remain with us. We have to strike a balance between confronting the kidnappers and merely worrying over payment of ransoms.”

Last line

Analysts say the proposed bill is an escapist strategy the government wants to use to shy away from its responsibility under Section 14 (2) (b) of the Constitution.

“The proposed bill negates the need for government to live up to its constitutional duty of securing the lives and property of the citizens. This may not yield better results in the fight against kidnapping. We should be talking about very practical solutions before we go into legislative activism” Shettima added.

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