What is the most suitable punishment for kidnappers?

At the incessant rate in which incidents of kidnapping is rampant in Nigeria, the question as to what is the most appropriate punishment to be dispensed with and meted out to perpetrators of this heinous crime cannot but be overemphasized, and brought to the front burner of public national debate. It is a matter of grave concern which deserves to be given priority that needs to subject it to an urgent plebiscite in the National Assembly.

This becomes imperative, since the situation has assumed a dire strait and gory dimension which leaves little or nothing to be desired; such that it gives the uncanny and sinister impression which suggests that when the 14th century English author and satirist Jonathan Swift, wrote the novel entitled: ‘KIDNAPPED’; he probably had the current scenario playing out in Nigeria in mind, as the theme and subject of his book.

This is because for about two decades or more, the Nigerian Federal government had been beset, faced with and perturbed by this intractable and menacing problem in personification of a hideous nomenclature, better known as kidnapping.

Trouble started when on the night of 14/15, April 2014, about 276, mostly Christian schoolgirls aged between 16/18, were kidnapped by the Islamic terrorist group BOKO HARAM from the Government Secondary School in Chibok, a town in Bornu state, North-East Nigeria, which suffered worldwide condemnation.

Between December 1, 2023, and January 3, 2024; over 300 persons were reportedly kidnapped across Nigeria under President Bola Tinubu’s tenure in office, reports had said.

As it stands, even though we know only too well that kidnapping is a global problem of huge proportion, affecting many countries all over the world from the USA and Mexico; to countless other African and Asian countries, notwithstanding, the Nigerian situation has not only defied all reasonable measures applied and solutions proffered against it, but is too close to call.

Also, we are aware that in every country where there are people, there you will spontaneously find in reckless abundance also, crime and justice, walking hand in glove, side by side. In Nigeria, for example, one of such crime is not totally unconnected with the menace called kidnapping for ransom which had been ongoing serially, in sequence.

Daring kidnappers lay siege and tend to hold the society to ransom with their lethal antics, as if they are a larger organization or government agency of its own, that tries to control all aspects of human life and the entire society, using coercion and intimidation as their tools. To the extent that travelling within Nigeria has now become a luxury you can ill-afford, only at your own peril.

To the ignobly immoral extent that the vice has mitigated concerted efforts made by the three tiers of government, and security agencies in the country, to secure lives and property of the citizens so as to drive and grow development and progress in Nigeria meaningless.

This is because development and progress can hardly thrive in an atmosphere where there is fear and intimidation. As we write, hardly a day passes by in all the six geo-political zones, comprising 36 states in Nigeria, and the FCT; that incessant incidents of marauding kidnappers on the prowl is not recorded, beginning from the North, West, East and South of the country.

This is the point where indeed crime and justice come into prominent play in the matter. But just before we proceed to dissect the contending pros and cons of the issue, let us first of all, find out what exactly do crime and the justice system had in common, juxtaposed with the threat constituted by kidnapping in order for us to get a better understanding of the seriousness of the menace posed by kidnappers, hindering peaceful co-existence in society.

What is crime? The Oxford English dictionary defines ‘Crime’ as ‘a serious offence that negates the sensibility of lawful authority, an act that willfully breaks the law, or an illegal action which hurts and rankles the taste buds of right-thinking people in society’, such as armed robbery and kidnapping of persons.

On the other hand, ‘Justice’ is from the judiciary, which is a system of penal code of conduct whereby citizens are always expected at all times, not only to be law-abiding, but also to be of a justifiable behavior and generally acceptable conduct that could be able to be defended as a reasonable and acceptable conduct. Conduct that is fair to all concerned: conduct that is morally right and appropriate in eye of the law.’

And ‘a judge, a public officer who is appointed and saddled with the responsibility to hear and determine what is morally right and what is wrong.’ This brings us to the origin of kidnapping, which act, is not only an aberration but utterly immoral in its entirety. So by the way, what is kidnapping?

In order for us to better appreciate the implications entailed in the menace known as kidnapping, it is instructive to trace its origin as an evil practice, so as to deduce what indeed gave rise and led to it. Therefore, to the search engine GOOGLE, we turn.

According to research, ‘Kidnapping is derived from (“Kid” ) – “Child” and “nap” from “nab”, which equals to “Snatch”, and was first recorded in 1673’ so stated the source. Originally’, it was said to be used as a term used in describing the equally bad practice of stealing children back in the day, for the purpose as servants or laborers in the American Colonies’, added the source.

Furthermore, it is hinted that ‘there are several aims of kidnappers including the enslavement of their victims, marriage to their victims and extortion of ransom money. But it emphasized that ‘The principal motives for kidnapping are to subject victims to some form of servitude and to expose the person to false commitment of certain unrelated offence. The failure to comply with their terms and conditions may result to torture and even death.

In modern times, ‘Kidnappers used such crude methods involving the form of “Shanghaiing or to Pressgang” men into submission, were used to supply merchants’ ships in the early 19th century with sailors, who were abducted.

The Meriam Webster dictionary on its part, defines the meaning of ‘Kidnapping to seize and detain or carry a person away by unlawful force and often than not, with a demand for ransom.’ Going by this definition, which fits into the circumstances perfectly well, we can easily conclude that Joseph, a little boy, who was abducted and later became a governor in his host country, could very well be described as a victim of kidnapping.

To illustrate, let us paint the scenarios, by going to the Bible. In the book of Genesis (37: 24 -28); ‘Joseph, son of Israel, when sent on errand by his father to join his brethren on the fields to fend for their flocks, was abducted and kidnapped by his brothers and sold as a slave to merchants from Gilead on their way down to Egypt on business trip.

‘They took him and cast Joseph into a pit. But as they sat to eat bread, and behold, here come the merchants. So they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold him to the merchants for twenty pieces of Silver’—RANSOM! The merchants brought Joseph to Egypt, where he was resold. His sin: his brothers accused and branded Joseph a dreamer, for which he must forfeit his absolute freedom.

If the term was originally referred to child theft, then why is it still called kidnapping even when adults are involved as victims? While originally, the term was specifically designed to refer to the abduction of children, depending on the prevailing circumstances back in the day, however, it has since come to be accepted and used generally, for victims of all ages, regardless of their gender.

In 2018, Nigeria is said to have the highest number of cases related to kidnapping for ransom globally. On January 10, 2021, an unforgettable kidnapping incident took place that did not only shook Nigeria but also the entire world was the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls by BOKOHARAM insurgents from a Government Technical School in the North.

As at August 13th, 2022, a report had it that at least 500 incidents of kidnapping were recorded and no fewer than 3, 420 persons were allegedly abducted across Nigeria with 564 others killed or maimed in the process. As recently as 2023, statistics show that 4,243 people were reportedly kidnapped.

A breakdown of the figures revealed that 3, 387 civilians, 200 Soldiers, 116 police officers, 106 Vigilantes and 17 Civil Defense Corps members were involved. Other victims include 4 private security guards, 4 VIO officers, 3 Customs officers, 2 Immigration officers, 1 NDLEA officer and 1 Prison Warder were reportedly killed during the period under review.

Therefore, the pertinent question agitating the minds of well-meaning and right-thinking people all over Nigeria is: what is the most appropriate and the best, suitable and ideal punishment, to be meted out to kidnappers so as to forestall further occurrence and to serve as deterrent to others. For certain serious situations deserved more drastic measures to curb them.

Bekewei Lemmy a Lagos-based author/freelance journalist writes from 36, Tunkarimu Street, Ajegunle, Apapa, Lagos. He can be reached on Phone: 08167899923, Email: [email protected]

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