The unabated cases of ransom payments to kidnappers and terrorists despite the passage of a Bill criminalizing same by the Senate have elicited deep concerns among some senior lawyers. The lawyers while querying the rationale behind the passage of the Bill, carpeted the lawmakers, saying they ought to know that such legislation will be observed in breach considering the precarious situation of things in the country. They opined that the only way to discourage people from engaging in ransom payment is for government at all levels to be alive to their responsibilities of protecting lives and property of Nigerians as enshrined in Section 14 (2) (b) of the Constitution.
The Senate had on the 27th of April, 2022, after passing a Bill seeking to amend the Terrorism (Prevention) Act, 2013, prohibited ransom payment to kidnappers and terrorists in the country. The legislation, Terrorism (Prevention) Act 2013 (Amendment) Bill, 2022, was passed after the lawmakers considered a report by the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights, and Legal Matters. The report was considered after it was laid by the Committee’s Chairman, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele (APC, Ekiti Central). Presenting the report, Senator Bamidele told his colleagues that the Bill seeks to outlaw payment of ransom to abductors, kidnappers and terrorists for the release of any person who has been wrongfully confined, imprisoned or kidnapped. He said the proposed repeal and enactment Bill was geared toward improving the effectiveness of countermeasures against terrorism, terrorism financing, and proliferation financing. The senator noted that the National Task Force on improving Nigeria’s Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) regime in Nigeria proposed improvement on the Act in order to address the deficiencies noted in its provisions so as to align with the required standard as obtainable in other jurisdictions. He added that the amendment to the Terrorism Act would set standards and regulatory system intended to prevent terrorist groups from laundering money through the banking system and other financial networks. “The overall import of this Bill is to discourage the rising spate of kidnapping and abduction for ransom In Nigeria, which is fast spreading across the country. “Having policies in place to combat financing of terrorism will surely reduce or eliminate privacy and anonymity in financial and other sundry transactions as it relates to the subject in our society.
“The need to comprehensively review the Terrorism Prevention Act arose from the unfavorable ratings of Financial Act Task Force (FATF) recommendations of Nigeria’s Mutual Evaluation Report and consequent placement of Nigeria in FATF’S International Cooperation and Review Group Process with its impending sanctions on Nigeria’s economy. “The passage of this Bill will save Nigeria from being included among countries in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) Grey List with its attendant negative consequences, which might ultimately result in international sanctions that would affect the image of the country in the comity of nations*, Bamidele stated further. In his remarks following the passage of the Bill, the then Senate’s President, Ahmad Lawan, expressed his hope that the legislation would complement the Federal Government’s efforts in the fight against insecurity when signed into law by the president. Lawan said: “It is our belief here in the Senate, that this Bill, by the time signed into an Act by Mr. President, will enhance the efforts of this government in the fight against terrorism, kidnapping and other associated and related vices. “This is one piece of legislation that can turn around not only the security situation in Nigeria, but even the economic fortunes of our country. “We have done so much as a government, in terms of infrastructural development across all parts of this country, but because the security situation is not the kind of situation that we all want, this tends to overshadow all the tremendous and massive developments in our country. “I believe that the Executive will waste no time in signing this bill into law, and it is our hope that this additional piece of legislation will achieve the purpose for which it has been worked upon by the Senate, and, indeed, the National Assembly and, for the reason for which it would also be signed by Mr. President. “Let me make it very clear here, that the fight against insecurity, whether it is kidnapping, terrorism, or whatsoever, is not the sole role of a government. “The contribution and support by citizens are essential because our security agencies need vital and critical information against terrorism and other things that make life difficult for us”.
Ransom payment continues
Some days after the Senate’s passage of the Bill prohibiting ransom payment, indications that it may not achieve the intended purpose emerged following reports that a whopping N100 million was paid by the Methodist Church in Nigeria to secure the release of its Prelate, His Eminence Samuel Kanu-Uche and two others from kidnappers’ den. The Prelate was kidnapped alongside his Chaplain, Very Rev. Abidemi Shittu and the Methodist Bishop of Owerri, Rt. Rev. Dennis Mark, while they were returning from a programme in the Umunneochi Local Government Area of Abia State. They however regained freedom 24 hours after their abduction. Following their release, the Prelate addressed a press conference where he broke the news of the ransom payment. Kanu-Uche told journalists that he and his team were on their way to the Airport when they were abducted. His words: “In order to catch up with my flight at 4pm, we took off by 2pm to go to the airport, oblivious of the fact that kidnappers were waiting on the road. As we were descending to Ileru in Abia State, they came out from the bush and divided themselves into three groups. “Some were at the back, some at the centre. Then, there was another group in front to make sure we did not run away. They fired shots at our vehicle and eventually abducted three of us. The communication man of the church and the driver escaped. “They took us into the bush and tortured us. In the process of the torture, I hit my right eye on a tree and even when blood was flowing and was soaking my handkerchief, they did not feel like anything happened. All they said was that we should follow them. “The eight-man gang was made up of Fulani boys who claimed to be against the government. Only one of the hoodlums understood English, while others spoke Fulfulde. They even said that if they get Buhari, they will chew him to pieces because he had disappointed them. “I observed that military men were around the place where the hoodlums operated, while their cows were also around the vicinity. “We were taken into the bush and we trekked up to 15 kilometres. Eventually at 11pm, they said we should negotiate and each of us should pay N50 million, making N150 million. They later pegged the ransom at N100 million. “They pointed their guns at us. They threatened that if we involved the DSS, police or Army, they would kill us. They said down there, there is a gully of seven decomposing bodies and we cut off their heads. We also perceived the odour of killed human beings. “Their leader asked for five Ghana-Must-Go bags for the N100 million. He also said Lagos is on their radar. “The Methodist church sent N100 million for the three of us who were kidnapped. The money came from members of the Methodist Church of Nigeria. The Nigerian Army is complicit in the kidnapping”.
FG’s opposition to ransom payment
The Federal Government, had in the meantime, cautioned Nigerians against engaging in ‘crowdfunding’ to pay ransom for kidnapped victims, in order not to further worsen the already tensed spate of kidnappings across the country. Minister of Defence, Abubakar Badaru, made the plea in a chat with journalists, amidst reports that Nigerians have raised over N50 million through crowdfunding to pay the ransom for the release of the remaining five daughters of Mansoor Al-Kadriya. Speaking on the issue, Badaru while expressing government concerns over the high level of abductions, said paying ransoms through public donations will further worsen the problem. He said: “We all know there’s an existing law against payment of ransom. So, it is very sad for people to go over the internet and radio asking for donations to pay ransom. This will only worsen the situation; it will not help”. It would be recalled that AlKadriya’s six daughters were kidnapped from their father’s house in Bwari Council, Abuja, on December 26, 2023, alongside their father. Although, their father was later released to go and raise the ransom, the kidnappers killed one of his daughters, Nabeeha, after the man failed to raise the said ransom.
Some senior lawyers have called on the Federal Government to be alive to its responsibility of protecting lives and property of Nigerians. The lawyers spoke at the weekend on the heels of the rising tide of ransom payments to kidnappers and terrorists despite the existence of a Bill criminalising same. They maintained that the Bill is destined to fail as long as the security situation in the country continue to deteriorate. Speaking while reacting to the continued payment of ransom to kidnappers two years after it had been criminalized by the Senate, a Professor of Law and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Awa Kalu, who posited that self-preservation is the first law of nature, maintained that, “I don’t think there is any right-thinking Nigerian whose child, whether boy or girl has been kidnapped or whose husband or wife has been kidnapped, or whose grandfather or grandmother has been kidnapped that would go and lie down and trust the police or trust anybody in uniform to rescue whoever has been abducted. “To answer the questions altogether, the primary business of government is the security of lives and property of citizens. If the government shows fairly that security forces anywhere in the world can safeguard the lives and property of its citizens, then, there may be no need to pay ransom. “Criminalizing ransom payment is not the answer and can never be the answer. The answer is in securing the people by those who are in uniform, even if they are vigilante groups. If citizens are convinced that when someone is kidnapped, he or she will be rescued, then, there would be no need to pay ransom. But if you are left on your own, as long as it is impossible to secure release, in most circumstances, then people would continue to pay ransom.” For Chief Solo Akuma (SAN), the only thing that could be done to end the era of ransom payment is for security operatives in the country to be alive to their responsibilities. In stating that the spate of kidnapping in Nigeria is dangerous for the polity, he, said, “Whenever there is a report of somebody being kidnapped, the security forces should intervene immediately without any form of delay to rescue the person or persons that have been kidnapped.
“Anything apart from that, it would be difficult for anybody to prevent payment of ransom by the relatives of the victims, because if they do not make the payment of ransom, the likelihood of killing the person or persons abducted is very high. “As a result, the said law that the National Assembly passed criminalizing the payment of ransom would no doubt be ignored by the relatives of the kidnap victim and there is little they can do. Everything depends on the assurance of the security apparatus in the country.” On his part, Professor Mike Ozekhome (SAN), who has been a victim of kidnappers maintained that “I have said it before even when those laws were passed imposing death sentence, I made the point that It is not the laws that are failing us, we have loads of laws especially on every subject in Nigeria. “It is the enforcers of the law and the systemic decay in Nigeria’s polity that ensure that the laws do not work. “When you prohibit kidnapping, and you impose a death sentence, meanwhile, you have not made the environment conducive and enabling to the vast majority of our teaming jobless youths, widows and destitute, to thrive, to live, to earn a living wage and to exist like human beings, no number of laws you pass can effectively tackle such an issue. “A person who is kidnapped, and I was once, for twenty-one days, between August 23, 2013 and September 12, 2013. The experience at the kidnappers’ den at that time was between life and death, it was an experience which could be described as death by instalment, one suffers from a neurotic fear of death, and then you are speaking English to that victim and the loving parents and dependants and associates who want him alive by telling them they should not pay ransom because paying ransom is a criminal offence, you must be joking and cracking a heavy joke”. While asking as to what the government has done to ensure that the Nigerian roads, forest paths and farms are safe from these kidnappers, Professor Ozekhome equally queried how much work the security forces have done to comb areas that are potentially high flights in terms of kidnapping which are very well known?.
The SAN added: “Have we not seen kidnappers in this country and armed bandits having helicopters flying food to them and then the helicopters lowering money in Dollars to them, giving them foodstuff, and even arms and ammunition? “The helicopter is not a cigarette that is a small object, it flies through airspace and lands at a specific place. “Where are our security agencies, where are the DSS, Army, Navy, Air force, and the Police to get such people arrested promptly? Have we not seen that kidnapping and armed banditry are two of the most thriving businesses in Nigeria, apart from the BDC industry which is sponsored by those heavily monied people who have captured the Nigerian state” The senior lawyer charged the Federal Government to go back to the drawing board to re-engineer its template and determine how to go forward, adding that Nigeria is like an aircraft without a compass on a journey to no specific destination. “Things are terrible in this country and I pity Nigeria,” he posited. Speaking on the issue, a former Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Adekunle Ojo (SAN), disclosed that it is only when people are no longer being kidnapped that ransom payment will stop. Ojo said: “Passing this kind of Bill at this point in time amounts to a misplaced priority. What should be paramount is how do we stop people from being kidnapped by kidnappers and terrorists. You can’t dictate to a man who is in a ditch how to save his life. “In essence, the law is bound to fail and will be counted among the obsolete laws in circulation. Before a law is passed, lawmakers are expected to think about the prevailing circumstances in which the law will operate. What social value will this law serve? What is the essence of passing a law that would be observed in breach? “A cleric in one of the orthodox churches was kidnapped recently and upon his release, he spoke on how a whopping sum of N100 million was paid by his church for his release. How can you criminalize ransom payment under such atmosphere?. I think it amounts to idleness on the part of the senators to come up with this kind of legislation. “People are being kidnapped on a daily basis and security operatives were even reported to be complicit in some of the cases and the only thing our lawmakers believed could end the menace is to criminalize ransom payment. This is ridiculous to say the least”.