05/07/2022 Nigeria (International Christian Concern) – Last month, the Nigerian Senate passed a bill criminalizing the families of kidnapped persons and threatening them with a minimum of fifteen years in prison for paying a ransom to rescue a kidnapping victim. The bill also imposed the death penalty for kidnappers in cases where the victim dies, though observers noted that this is a largely symbolic gesture given that kidnappers are rarely caught while parents of victims are invariably known to local authorities.
Though kidnapping has been an issue in Nigeria for many decades, mass kidnappings—especially children—can largely be traced back to the 2014 kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok. These girls were mostly Christians, and many are still missing. Kidnapping has increased rapidly since the Chibok incident, with Christian schools often the target though Muslim and state-run schools are also regularly targeted.
Kidnappers have extorted tens of millions of dollars from families in recent years, and the problem only seems to be getting worse. Proponents of the bill argue that families buying their sons and daughters back are the issue and that criminalizing ransom payments strikes at the root of the problem—without ransom payments, the argument goes, kidnappers will lose interest in the activity.
Opponents of the bill argue that the root of the issue is not ransom payments but a government that seems incapable of providing effective security for its people.
The Nigerian government has kept an inconsistent narrative on kidnappings and ransoms. Though it officially condemns the practice, it is widely known that the government regularly pays ransoms. Governor Nasir El Rufai of Kaduna State has even boasted publicly that he is in contact with certain Fulani militants and paid them to stop certain attacks. Whatever the truth of that claim, however, attacks have only increased under El Rufai’s governorship.
In a February 2021 tweet, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari took issue with state and local governments’ practice of paying ransoms and called on them to stop making ransom payments and to “play their part by being proactive in improving security in & around schools.”
The New York Times reports that, unfortunately, many perceive local authorities as corrupt, even getting paid off by kidnappers eager to continue their lucrative business.
Human rights watchdogs are also concerned that the bill is an easy, public way for the government to claim it is taking the issue seriously by making the families of kidnapping victims the scapegoat.
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