Lagos: Abducted school kids’ 40 days in captivity

AFTER the initial anxiety over the kidnap of pupils of the Lagos State Model College, Igbonla, Epe, the main worry has now shifted to their safety and when they are likely to regain their freedom. It is a shame that the kids have already spent more than five weeks in captivity and no one is in a position to make an authentic statement about their wellbeing and how to reunite them with their families. Yesterday marked their 40th day in kidnappers’ den.

Parents, who had sent their children out to school to acquire knowledge so as to become useful citizens in future, are now left to rue the day they took that decision. Why should children not be safe within the confines of a state-owned boarding school? What concrete steps did the school authorities take to secure the lives of those innocent children that were entrusted to their care, especially when it has been revealed that the criminals gave sufficient notice, in writing, of their intending visit before breaking into the hostels to pick up their victims?

It is an act of criminal negligence to have allowed such bestiality to happen. If at all schoolchildren were to be kidnapped, it should not be those of the Model College, Igbonla, which had suffered a similar fate in October last year. That first strike, which saw the criminals make away with four pupils and the vice-principal, should have been enough to ensure that a sound security system was in place to protect the children. But the fact that the hoodlums had time to profile their 10 victims before making away with six, which they were sure would fetch them a king’s ransom, means that available security was short of expectations.

There is a sense in which what is happening with these children bears an uncanny resemblance to the mass kidnap of close to 300 schoolgirls in a secondary school in Chibok in Borno State. There is that same feeling of helplessness by the state to protect the lives of its most vulnerable citizens. When the girls were taken on April 14, 2014, people thought it would just be a matter of time before the might of the state would free and bring them back to complete their examinations. Unfortunately, more than three years after, about 100 girls remain in captivity.

What kind of a country would allow its youths, its future leaders, to go through this type of harrowing experience so early in their lives? Just like the case of the Chibok girls, time is ticking away; days have rapidly turned to weeks, and weeks to more than a month. Should the government be sitting pretty while non-state actors continue to have their way? A government, it is often said, exists to foster the welfare and security of the citizens. When will the Nigerian government start living up to that responsibility?

The ordeal of the school kids is merely a reflection of the extent of security breakdown in the country as a whole, and Lagos State in particular. After what initially looked like an effective, well-oiled crime-fighting machine, built and funded through the state security trust fund, security in Lagos has once again sunk to its nadir; the state is now vying for the infamous position of the uncontestable headquarters of kidnappers. A place like Ikorodu, for example, has become a den of ritual killers, where families are serially wiped out by a notorious cult group referred to as Badoo. How can a state fulfil its lofty developmental targets under such a condition?

This is an age of technology, where hitherto impossible tasks are made to look very easy. The police need a high-tech crime laboratory in fighting crime. In many countries, cutting-edge technology is helping put criminals behind bars. It will save the police wasting a lot of time doing things that are not really necessary. For instance, while sophisticated instruments are deployed in analysing the DNA samples collected at crime scenes, laser scanning is helping security agencies around the world reconstruct crime scenes. So far, security in the country has been reactive, rather than preemptive. Under an effective security system, the Commissioner, Lagos State Police Command, Fatai Owoseni, should be able to deploy technology to stop robbers, ritual killers and kidnappers before they strike.

This can only be effectively accomplished through intelligence-led policing, which relies on information gathering, evaluation, analyses and sharing among security agents. It emphasises the need for intelligence units to process information to guide immediate and long term operations. There is always a better chance of success when intelligence is correct and rightly applied, according to a document prepared for the United States Department of Justice by the International Association of Chiefs of Police after the 9/11 terror attacks of 2001.

Besides, the police should be able to tell Nigerians when kidnapping will be brought to the barest minimum, if not stopped entirely. Why should every crime that comes into the country become acceptable on a permanent basis? One of the ways of stopping kidnapping is to stop the payment of ransom; but there has to be an effective way of tackling the criminals before coming up with that option. If the state is stalling on the payment of ransom to rescue the children, then there should be other ways of rescuing the victims from the criminals.

Beyond just arresting kidnappers and armed robbers, another way to stop the crime is to enforce the extant laws. In many parts of the country, laws have been promulgated, prescribing the death sentence for kidnappers. One of such states is Lagos. The laws have to be enforced to serve as a deterrent to criminals. The Inspector-General of Police Special Unit should be decentralised to be able to effectively cover the length and breadth of the country.

Such strategic changes will not only prevent the occurrence of abductions such as the one in Epe, but will lead to faster arrest of the culprits and freedom of the hostages. Punch

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