Kidnapping can be defined in different ways. According to Okwuagbala, it refers to the abduction and captivity of a person, typically to obtain a ransom. More so, it is the unlawful act of taking people forcefully against their will and holding them captive to obtain money for their release. It is a global phenomenon and is highly prevalent in Nigeria. Kidnapping for ransom is one of the biggest, organised and gang crime in Nigeria and it is seen as a national security challenge. In fact, from a social menace, it has metamorphosed into an illegal business for those who make so much profit from it. Currently in Nigeria, armed bandits and Fulani herdsmen, members of terrorist groups, indigenes, and other criminal elements now target innocent road users and travelers, public schools, farms, and local communities to lay siege and kidnap people at random, demanding a ransom for their release. Possible targets of kidnapping cut across people of different classes from children to women, the rich and the poor, students, lecturers, religious men and women, political, and traditional leaders, security agents and so forth.
In January 2020, Jesusegun Alagbe of the Punch newspaper, reported in one of their editions with the caption; “Nigeria’s 10 unforgettable kidnapping cases”. Notable among them was the report that in 2014, there was the incident of the kidnap of about 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Bornu State. Till date, some of the girls are yet to regain their freedom. In 2018, 110 schoolgirls were kidnapped in Dapchi, Yobe state. Five of them died on the very day, and after about a month, the rest regained their freedom, except one of them, Leah Sharibu, a Christian girl who was never released for whatever reasons. In December 2020, 344 students in Kankara, Katsina state were kidnapped. They regained their freedom after six days. In February 2021, about 317 schoolgirls were kidnapped in Jangebe, Zamfara State. We have had cases of the kidnap of a Catholic Bishop in the south-eastern part of the country, several priests, pastors, religious men and women, deacons, seminarians, and lay people as well. The list is endless. The Punch Newspaper of 10 January 2021 stated that SB Morgen in 2020 gave a report that between 2011 and 2020, over $18m (N6.9bn) was paid as ransom to kidnappers by their victims.
From this figure, it was stated that around $11m (N4.2bn) was paid between 2016 and 2020, making it clear that kidnapping has become a highly lucrative business in Nigeria. Could this be the reason why the crime remains unabated despite all the promises and efforts made to combat it? Kidnapping is carried out for several reasons. It could be for political, religious, economic, and sundry reasons. It was John Uzie who observed that kidnapping is done for the purpose of “rituals, illegal adoption, forced marriages, and collecting ransom”. Most often, the way and manner the kidnappers launch their attack on unsuspecting victims could be so brutal, aggressive, shocking, and to say the least, breathtaking, that upon release, the lives of the victims may never remain the same again. They are the ones who can tell the story of their traumatic experiences themselves. It must be a crucible moment in their lives. I have been privileged to listen passionately to the accounts of some persons who have fallen victims, and it is not one you will wish for yourself, talk more of an enemy.
The experience is horrible and reprehensible. It is the last experience any person would want to go through in the hands of another person also created in the image and likeness of God. Sometimes one imagines, how could people contrive such heinous crimes in their minds, and subject fellow brothers and sisters to such inhuman treatment all in the name of money? Imagine the harrowing experiences of sleeping, trekking, running, and panting, sometimes on empty stomachs, in the thick forest, soaked by torrential rains and scorched by the sun. Imagine the sleepless nights and the discomfort of those with underlying ailments. This is not without the unfriendly invasion and bites of insects, reptiles, and possible threats from the original occupiers of the habitat. Traumatic, is the best way one can describe such an experience. Some victims never come out alive, like the case of our beloved Prince Denis Eloniye Abudah, who on his way back to the US was kidnapped and died. How he died, only time will tell. Like Dele Giwa, we may as well ask, who killed Prince Abudah? Others get mercilessly brutalized and battered that their bodies never remain the same again.
Women are the most vulnerable, because sometimes they get raped and assaulted, a pain they will live to remember and bear always. Some are killed and their corpses fed to the ever-hungry beasts of the forests, while others are fortunate to get their corpses retrieved for a painful burial. The family members and friends of the kidnapped victim go through the “rigours of a near-death and gate-of-hell” situation, negotiating the release of their loved ones. Some are able to raise the complete ransom while others are not that fortunate. Some pay and get their loved ones handed over to another group, while some pay and never see their loved ones again, or get them back alive. One can only imagine the state of mind and mental health of the victims of kidnapping during and after the events. The verbal and physical assaults they suffer, the torture they go through in the hands of such stern looking, blood-thirsty die-hards, villainous, rapacious money-mongers, who care less about human life and dignity. There are stories of the charms, assorted arms, weapons, and dangerous objects in their possession that they wield and brandish before their victims. It can only be imagined how such traumatic experiences leave the victims dissociated, depressed, disorganized, dishevelled, panicky, moody, extremely anxious, despondent, and depersonalized.
The question arises; what can we do to make these our brothers and sisters become normal again? How can we show to them that we understand their pains and trauma? How can they be reintegrated into the mainstream of family, social, and religious systems of care and love? How can they deal with their feelings of fears, lack of trust and confidence, poor self-worth, battered dignity, and threatened vivacity? These are real issues that cannot be ignored or underestimated. In the first place, they need to be shown love, care, understanding, and empathy. They need to feel understood, accepted, and respected when they share their stories and feel unsafe. Listening to them in an empathetic manner is surely the way to go and not to blame them because of the circumstances surrounding the ugly incident. It may even worsen their trauma and pains. They need to be shown love and care towards their physical, psychological, social, and spiritual needs. Secondly, they need the urgent services of professional psychologists, counsellors, medical practitioners, and spiritual directors, to help them deal immediately with their post-trauma stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety disorder, physiological and spiritual needs, and worse still, fears.
These situations are very crucial and delicate and must be attended to as soon as possible, so as not to allow their mental, physical, spiritual, and psychological conditions degenerate beyond intervention. For all the school children, girls, and women (including religious women), boys and men (including seminarians, deacons, priests, and bishops), who have suffered the brunt of kidnapping, they should as a matter of urgency and emergency visit any of the above-mentioned care givers for some help and timely intervention before it is too late. Such professionals know what to do to rehabilitate and reintegrate them. Third, they need a change of environment. Living extremely near or not too far away from where the kidnapping incident occurred, may be a regular trigger and reminder to the person of the harrowing experience. And this could prolong the trauma. It would not be a wise decision on the part of an employer and in the best interest or safety of an employee to remain within the immediate environment where he or she was kidnapped without going for therapy. Such a decision would only be a costly mistake that will in no distant time impinge on the over-all mental health and wellbeing of the person.
Such a person, after therapy and recovery could be transferred to another place, or could take a vacation, break, or visit family members and friends in another location just to de-stress. Fourth, the family members of the victim of kidnapping also have a huge role to play in helping them heal and recover quickly. Not judging or blaming them would be of tremendous help. The presence of spouse, children, extended family members, and friends would register in the person’s mind the healing and consoling power of familial bond and relationship in times of distress and disaster. If they have some religious inclination or orientation, it behooves on the religious leaders and members of their religious community to support them with prayers, visits, words of encouragement, and other spiritual resources that would be beneficial to their holistic recovery. Fifth, they need to trust and hope in God for help and healing in such moments of pain, grief, suffering and agony.
They should realise that however horrible, haunting, humiliating, sorrowful, and torturous their experience may be, it is not the end of life. Good things always come out of terrible situations just as good can always come out of suffering. The sufferings of Christ brought about salvation and a message of hope. It was transformative. So also, the sufferings they experience can become transformative and redemptive. There will then find peace, rest, and strength. Like Jesus says, “come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30). Finally, it is important to note here that while we hope and vigorously pray that various levels and organs of government, and security agencies, saddled with the responsibility of securing the lives and property of the people entrusted to their care, would passionately, fruitfully, and effectively discharge their responsibilities and duties, and bring to book all those perpetrating such wicked, heinous, malevolent, and dastardly act, and restore sanity, security, and safety back to the nation, kidnapping, kidnappers and their sponsors (whether for economic, political or religious purposes) must not be treated with kid gloves.
We pray and hope the perpetrators repent or face the law. We cannot wait to see and hear that kidnapping has become a “once upon a time” phenomenon in our nation. A time when people can travel safely and peacefully without any fear of kidnapping by armed bandits, Fulani herdsmen and indigenes. A time when farmers can go to their farms without fear of harassment and intimidation by same social outlaws. A time when people would cease having nightmares from their excruciating and agonizing ‘Gethsemanic’ experiences. A time when people can sleep peacefully while at home or travelling. We pray and hope the victims heal and recover fully. Only in this way will there be hope of recovery for the victims of kidnapping and many who dread to wear such ‘sorrowful, shameful shoes.’
• Fr. Valentine Anaweokhai [email protected]