Friday, 1 October 2010

Kidnapped children released unharmed but kidnappings in the region are on the rise

Throughout the week there has been a huge public outcry about the kidnapping of 15 schoolchildren from Nigeria's south-eastern town of Aba. President Jonathan took charge, directing the new Inspector General of Police Hafiz Ringim and the heads of all other security agencies to collaborate in order to secure the immediate release of the children, condemning the kidnapping as “utterly callous and cruel”.

Fortunately, there was a happy ending to the story and on Friday 1st October, the children were rescued from a forest hideout in Ogwe-Asa by the security services. Police Commissioner Jonathan Johnson said that no arrests had been made and he was not aware that any ransom money had been paid. The children are in police custody and will be returned to their parents later today.

Around 5,000 extra soldiers have been deployed to the area to prevent the kidnappers from escaping and there are roadblocks in Aba city centre with many shops and businesses - which had shut down following the abduction fearing further attacks – remaining closed.

Kidnapping incidents in Abia State have risen sharply and the past few months have seen the targets shift from expatriates and wealthy public figures and their families, to ordinary citizens. Increased and improved security for the former has compelled kidnappers to resort to abducting ordinary middle class Nigerians who do not have such access to well-armed private security.

Until recently, kidnapping was largely confined to the Niger Delta militants who abducted expatriates as part of their campaign against the perceived injustice meted out by the government and the IOCs to indigent Niger Delta communities. Now, however, criminals in other parts of Nigeria have since largely abandoned armed robbery, which was the most prevalent criminal activity, and have taken to kidnapping instead, after observing the Niger Delta militants' success in obtaining more money from a single kidnapping incident than several robberies.

Abia State's Governor Theodore Orji has said that he is at his wits' end and at a loss as to how to stop the growing menace of kidnapping, especially because his offer of unconditional amnesty to stop their criminal activities yielded no results and has now been withdrawn. The Federal Government may soon have to declare a state of emergency in Abia State - especially in view of the forthcoming elections. It is currently unlikely that elections can be held there if the kidnappings go unchecked, because both politicians and the electorate are afraid of the menace of kidnappers and, therefore, there has been little or no election campaign activity in the State.

For more news and expert analysis about Nigeria, please see Nigeria Focus and Nigeria Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

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