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Original Kidnappers of Nigeria

Original Kidnappers of Nigeria

By Victor Chendekemen Yakubu

Abstract:

Despite the wealth Nigeria possesses, it has remained underdeveloped due largely to mismanagement. And recently a new wave of crime has gained popularity amongst the youth which is the kidnapping of citizens for ransom. Can we blame them for such an act when the original kidnappers have kidnapped the wealth of Nigeria and usurped their right to a better life? Who is the actual kidnapper?

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Original Kidnappers of Nigeria

By Victor Chendekemen Yakubu*

My birth four decades ago into a poor rural family of Echondom-Danladi-Kent village of Kubau Local Government Area of Kaduna State brought happiness, joy and hope. The kind of hope you see in the dazzling, fuzzy, capricious eyes of an infant. I am told that the women in the neighbourhood jubilated with my family; they danced, they prophesied, they ululated as is typical of African women with the cry of a baby at every birth. It wasn’t cheap either. They ate a whole goat which my father provided according to local custom, and more prophecies rolled out.

My parents loved me with a profound love so much so that I never wanted to leave their side. The warmth of my beloved mother was something beyond imagination. I have vivid memories of my childhood years with my mother playing a leading role. I remember one time we were both beaten in the heavy August rains. She had firewood on her head. I had nothing on my fat head. I trailed behind her giggling, laughing and feeling big telling her my childhood experiences with serious delight. She merely listened to my tales and wondered which planet I came from. We were soaked in the rains by the time we arrived home.

As I grew up, I began to realize that life has many pains, mysteries and disappointments. My village had no electricity, we used bush lamps. We had no tarred roads, we used bush paths. No clinic, hospital or maternity home, we used native herbs and traditional birth attendants. Pipe- borne water was only in stories. The women sang to the only river for a supply of fresh water. The only school we had, had no seats, no books or luxurious items like visuals to help us comprehend lessons quickly. It was almost in shambles. Security in the village was absent. No police post, no barracks nearby and no checkpoint anywhere. Security was mortgaged in the hands of witches and wizards. Everything negative was attributed to them. The fear of witches and wizards was not just the beginning of wisdom, but the beginning of a lifetime of misery, fear, uncertainty and depravation. This was akin to a lifetime of psychological kidnapping.

No wonder I now understand why my mother used to tell me never to accept food, drink or gifts from strangers. Strangers here represent other villagers other than my immediate family

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members. She warned me about coming home late at night. Her reason was strong. The fear was that evil, creepy, unseen ghosts, who controlled the darkness, would either kidnap me physically or render me useless for life with a spell. I never understood why this was important to my young life. Now I do. My problem was the psychological trauma this had on me, in my psyche.

True to God, I never saw any witch, wizard or evil spirits during my growing-up years. That did not mean they never existed. We lived in the same village, ate the same food, drank from the same dirty stream and cried when there was any calamity. I knew they were there and they knew

I was afraid of them. Growing up under such ineffectual conditions was like living in Auschwitz

with no inkling of what might happen the next minute. Numerous events in the village confirmed my fears. Every bad event was attributed to the evil machinations of witches and wizards. Cases of death, miscarriage, skin disease, cholera, diarrhea, whooping-cough and fever were amongst their many doings. The worst part of this drama was that nobody dared talk about this in public. It was wise to discuss this in low hushed tones. Nobody could pinpoint where these evil men and women were hiding. The effect of what they did was hazardous to the existence of every villager. It was a kidnapping. The fear alone sent shrilled, weird, unexplainable feelings into the soul which became second nature.

But you know what?! Many of those calamities could be explained. If only we had had better hygienic conditions, perhaps many could have been saved. If only we had had a clinic, cases of skin disease, whooping-cough or fever might have been healed. My villagers believed these to be spells from evil men and women and thus kidnapping caused every villager to believe that all events whether avoidable or unavoidable were attributed to their whimsical powers.

I recall one funny event. A man drank so much alcohol at a local celebration. It was free beer.

Being drunk, he embarked on his journey home. As he was returning late, the moon was shining brightly. He saw the stump of a tree on his bush path and mistook it for an evil spirit. He ran for

dear life! He broke his leg and was found sleeping near the village stream, in the opposite direction of his home. By morning the alcohol was gone. A throng of sympathizers led him to where he saw the ghost. Low and behold, the stump of the tree was still there. He looked like a

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foolish man before everybody! The witches and wizards had nothing to do with his drunkenness. It took at least a month to tend to his fractured leg!

As I began to attend the Local Education Authority Primary School in my village, I noticed more mysteries. From my house to the school was a trek of twenty minutes barefooted. Other children were not as lucky as I was. Theirs was a trek of two hours or more crossing rivers, scaling hills, and other unnatural obstacles just to acquire elementary education. These children would wake up early, carry their few books under their arms, and start blowing the local flute continuously until they entered the school compound, many times with no food in their bellies. The flute served two purposes: first, as a consolation against their hunger; secondly, a reminder to wicked people that innocent pupils were on their way to school. It was a save-my-soul alarm. Either way, it worked for them. Or at least the evil spirits pitied these innocent souls.

I began to observe the problem with my village. I began to notice what was responsible for our

inhumane conditions. Politics and politicians were acting like the witches and wizards I knew as

a boy. I remember with some sense of pride my grandfather joining the local politics in the area.

Aspiring local politicians from neighbouring villages would approach him to organize our villagers for the next election. He was given the gift of a bicycle, some bags of rice, and tins of milk to mobilize his people. His political party was a popular party. He was a strong party

member with local influence. However, rival political parties parried him with more gifts to woo him to their side for the same reasons. Our poor house was stocked with these gifts. As for cash gifts, only my grandpa will account for what he received from those aspiring politicians. Presently at 96 years old, I doubt if he can account for the little change he collected from those ambitious, visionless and voracious politicians. Sometimes the way he smiled, laughed and giggled with us after seeing them off indicated how much he got. But don’t take my word for whether he got a higher sum or lower sum or none, I truly cannot say.

Let me allow my grandpa to enjoy his old age. But is it enjoyment, when his condition and that of his village is still the same? While visiting him, you must be prepared to hear stories of his encounter with old politicians of his age. What do you expect from a man who was used to trekking distances for political rallies, who suddenly got the gift of a bicycle? He increased his

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allegiance and loyalty to the party. He delivered our village to his party. How this happened is a story you can understand. I give him some credit for his political years. He had some wisdom in his political pursuit. He demanded certain things for the progress of the village. He wanted pipe- borne water, electricity, a hospital, a police post and books for the local school. He got a jester.

A certain local aspiring politician vying for the councillorship position of our ward, promised to not only bring pipe-borne water but would go further to supply one more pipe for milk, another for sugar, and another for fura, a local delicacy. Everybody laughed. It was comical. That was the end of it. He won the election to the local government council. He became the supervisory councilor of works, a portfolio that was very influential in allocating boreholes, wells and culverts to different villages. Throughout his tenure, his gift to my village was waving his hand from the window of his car. His way of exchanging pleasantries at any time he was passing the village, was that he would toot his horn to alert everybody he was driving by, put his hand out as if to say “I am victorious” and proceed without stopping. It shocked my villagers. At the end of his tenure, my village could not even get a culvert to drain water from any gutter. It was the last straw that broke the political back of my villagers. Then I knew that my village was under the kidnapping of local politicians. Subsequent politicians did not make any tangible change to warrant any mention here.

My poor rural village has remained semper idem. There is no pipe-borne water, no hospital or clinic, the tarred road is dotted with potholes and the condition of the school is an apology. The only bungalow building where I sat down and learnt the ABC’s is without desks. My little education is a miracle. The students now have to stand or lean against the wall to write. At the time of Gov. Ahmed Makarfi, former Governor of Kaduna State, cables of electricity bypassed my village. After complaints to the local government headquarters, they supplied electricity to my village. The joy is short-lived as vandals removed the cables three months after the commissioning ceremony with promissory speeches of better things to come by local politicians. Some of the cables are hanging without current and the poles are standing isolated waiting for the vandals’ return to finish what they started. The village is back to square one without fanfare, prestige or honour. The woes are many.

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In my short life, I have seen many terrible things in my village and heard many promises that only remain in speeches. What goodness can I pinpoint that my village has enjoyed from the politicians representing us? It has been one promise after another. And the promises are never in short supply. My village, like any other village, is under the kidnapping of witches and wizards on one hand and the politicians on the other.

If not for the efforts of non-governmental organizations identifying poor communities, many poor rural communities would continue to live under inhumane conditions. The first clinic in my village is courtesy of the Catholic Church. The primary school I attended was also built by the Church. It was taken over by the government in 1972 in the general take-over of schools. This to me was a kidnapping of other people’s efforts, but it never improved the school system, rather it sent it years back. No thanks to over-ambitious politicians who made unfathomable promises to help the school system, it ended up being destroyed it.

All the fortunes of my village primary school have evaporated with nothing substantial to show for over fifty years of existence than tales of woe surrounding the pupils who study with no desks, no books and no windows and no hope. After many years of absence, I visited the school to refresh my memory. What I saw was a group of children learning under the very tree we used to bless with our urine. I laughed and the poor children laughed with me. How could I have told them that that was the very spot we used to urinate? I remained quiet.

The Catholic Church, through its human development agency affected positively the life of my village. We had boreholes drilled in different locations. The women were the happiest. It brought an end to long treks to the river for fresh water. My grandfather was given a loan by a church agency to acquire a corn grinding machine for the village. The old man was everywhere; in Church and in Politics. Upon seeing the efforts of the Church, the government later drilled a borehole but the villagers never believed it was meant for them. To confirm their fears, the engine supplying water to the main tank disappeared a few months after installation. The villagers knew it would happen. Were it not for the push of those church agencies probably some communities wouldn’t have water to drink, a clinic to treat their wounds and a midwife to deliver their babies.

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I have been told in some workshops that the Catholic Church and other NGOs complement the work of the government in terms of the development of rural communities. I totally agree. But I usually laugh at this deposition. If the government wants so assist the rural communities to get the basic things of life, they should fund the NGOs adequately. My reasoning is that accountability is better under them than those government parastatals and agencies with unending bureaucratic bottlenecks. We have a rural electrification board in Nigeria. How many villages have electricity? We have a poverty alleviation agency. How many rural communities are rescued from poverty? For nearly fifty years after independence, there have been promises and no fulfillment.

The rural communities are tired of politicians and their promises of better things to come. No wonder the villagers have their ways of dealing with them. When they arrive to campaign for elective offices, they merely watch them like they watch a James Bond movie. They laugh when they speak, they clap when they make promises, they dance for them to show them what they have, they feed them with local produce, and wish them a safe journey to where they came from. As they depart in their flashy cars, they sprinkle native liquor asking the gods to take away their bad promises. Rural people have been kidnapped for many years by the system that promises them heaven and earth and since they have no option, they have devised a means of living with it. They live their lives according to local means and allow the politicians to continue to fool themselves that all is well with the rural communities of our country.

With all the kidnappings in Nigeria today, we ask the important questions: What has propelled kidnappings during this time in the checkered history of our country? Why do kidnappers continue with their trade? Why hasn’t the government brought some kidnappers to book and show Nigerians the face of kidnappers? These questions may not solve our problems but at least we would know that the people undertaking kidnappings are full-blooded Nigerians conversant with the politics, gimmicks and brouhaha of government bureaucratic inefficiency. They know that checks and balances, ingredients of democratic principles are lacking in Nigeria. The rule of law is only in principle as court orders are violated. Fundamental human rights of communities are infringed upon by the same government that professes to improve their conditions.

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The Niger-Delta area is the richest part of Nigeria. The Federal Government of Nigeria derives its wealth from the land from which the sale of crude oil is made. But the destruction of the environment through gas flaring and oil spills renders the communities susceptible to illness and disease. This gave rise to militant activities in defense of their land and a demand of part of the revenue derived from their lands. Unfortunately, many have died in this clash from both sides - the militants and the Joint Task Force set up by government.

A new dimension has entered the scene with devastating consequences. There is a progression from militancy to kidnappings or hostage taking of important personalities ranging from school children of rich parents to old men with rich children. What do you think necessitated those young men to surrender their weapons to the Federal Government recently with smiles beaming from their faces? My answer is that they have found another method of fighting for their cause without shedding blood. A subtle way to collect what belongs to them from the rich, the well- placed and the politicians. For the first time, we saw sophisticated weapons being surrendered by a group of militants. Only a fool surrenders his weapons completely without considering his security. These young men are no fools, believe me.

The government should not be quick to praise its effort in bringing peace to the Niger-Delta. The government has a date with high-profile kidnappings to contend with. At least kidnappings or hostage taking is less dangerous than fighting in the creeks. It’s the same boys who were militants that have transformed into kidnappers. Can’t you read the signs? Money is the basis necessitated by poor living conditions. With a single gun, a battalion of youth can take a hostage and make brisk money from the ransom. The fight of the militants has shifted to second gear which is just a change of method and not a change of intention to which the Federal Government wants them to change. Total repentance from evil deeds is a far cry from bringing peace to the Niger-Delta region and by extension to Nigeria.

My reason for this position is that from the Niger-Delta region, the youth have understood that militancy does not pay as much as hostage taking. This has metamorphosed into an acceptable

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trade among evil men and women from all over the country who kidnap whosoever they perceive will give them big wads of currency.

Those who kidnapped the Secretary to the State Government of Kaduna State are yet to be arrested to account for their deeds. Months ago it was Julie Mulligan, a Canadian woman on a visit to Kaduna who was kidnapped. A sitting governor was kidnapped in Anambra State and no explanation is conclusive as to who was responsible. Now the father of the former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Prof. Charles Chukwuma Soludo is kidnapped in the same political confusion of Anambra State.

An old man of 78-years waiting for his final journey to his Maker has become a target of political ping-pong. I call this an oldnap because the old man is not a kid to say he was kidnapped. He can snap and die any moment as a hostage of these kidnappers, I should say oldnappers. What a curse it would be before God and man. Pa Soludo has nothing to do with his son’s ambition to become governor of Anambra State, yet he is kidnapped with a ransom of N500m dangling on his head. Now they have renegotiated to N300m. Another group is asking for a ransom in dollars. How many groups kidnapped Pa. Soludo? It’s funny, laughable yet worrisome for Nigeria’s image at home and abroad. This may not be the last we shall be hearing of hostage takers, kidnappers, I should say old-nappers, man-nappers and evil people.

Nigeria’s poor have been living as hostages for decades. They live in fear, act in fear and sleep in fear while their kidnappers are enjoying their ransoms of heavy government budgets that never get implemented. Politicians and office holders have kidnapped, vandalized, usurped, and misappropriated the resources of this country to a stage of accepting ill-gotten wealth as a sign of success. Since the three tiers of government do not carry out their statutory duties of checking and balancing the acts of the other, every arm behaves as if it is independent of the other. That a whole budget scheduled to improve the lives of Nigerians can disappear into thin air, is to say the least an act of recklessness against the Nigerian poor.

The primary school in my village is suffering the kidnapping of the budget meant to supply

along with the return of a building

books and desks, the return of a roof already dilapidated

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already ramshackled and decrepit. Furthermore, let us not ask for the luxury of cement and paint. This is one amongst many thousands of schools across the country that doesn’t get any attention from the government, yet we have supervisors of schools, directors of education, heads of education departments and other high officers at the education ministry. My village has no clinic because the budget made to supply these facilities has been kidnapped by those who sit in air- conditioned offices and determine where the money should go. The only time we see politicians or government representatives is when they are looking for votes or harassing people to pay their taxes.

Just like the psychological fear the families of kidnapped victims experience, our politicians have subjected us to a life of endless waiting for things that may not come, a life of hoping against hope. Nobody is sure when we are going to be released from this psychological trauma, and yet we see a brazen display of wealth all around us by those who pledge to represent our common interest, the bonum commune. Many politicians have pocketed the budgets meant for enhancing the lives of their communities from the local government level to the highest level in the country. This is kidnapping!

The harm that kidnappers visit on their hostages’ psychology is the same whether political kidnappers of budgets or generic kidnappers of defenseless citizens including old men, women and innocent children. What differentiates them is the mode and method. A friend of mine who was visited by armed robbers is still frightened with a tap on the door. His eyes are always looking out until you mention your name at the door before they return to normalcy. The armed robbers are cousins to kidnappers. This is what the armed robbers, kidnappers, hostage takers and evil men have subjected our people to – a life of perpetual fear. This is a return to the life my mother warned me about. The witches and wizards share a common base with the kidnappers, politicians and armed robbers of today. We live in the same town with them, breathe the same air, pray in the same churches and mosques and glorify them when we see their ill-gotten wealth on display. We hardly discuss how their wealth is acquired lest they use the same wealth to throw us in jail. We talk in low tones.

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With all the stupendous wealth displayed by thieving politicians in the midst of raging poverty, the youth are left in total confusion as to how their future should be. I am surprised at our sense of patriotism which to me is lacking in grandeur and colour. The dictum by the 39 th President of the United States, President JF Kennedy is never respected in Nigeria. He said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Many office holders put personal interests above the national interest of making Nigeria one of the best economies of sub-Saharan Africa and the world. The corruption bug is so widespread that it cannot be cleansed in a hurry. Nonetheless, efforts must be made to begin from somewhere, for the journey of a thousand kilometres begins with one step.

For lack of who to vent their anger on, local people like the thinking of my mother, attribute everything to witches and wizards. If a man hits and injures his leg against a stone, they will interpret it as bad luck. If the wound becomes septic and full of puss, and the man is rendered immobile; they will say the witches and wizards are at it again. When he eventually dies, his days have been terminated by the same old culprits. Nobody blames a lack of healthcare as responsible for such a death. Nobody can trace their lack of healthcare facilities to the budget kidnappers who sit in air-conditioned offices at state capitals to deny them social services. Every year it is movement without motion. Speeches with little action. Victimization of communities with no justifiable reasons. Promises without fulfillment. Gimmickry, trickery and abracadabra of brazen order. Patience without end. Within a lifetime, a poor man keeps his hope alert for better things to come and ends up passing the alert bug on to his children who will wait for goodies to come day and night and what a wait! It becomes a vicious circle.

When will these poor rural people be affected positively by the endless promises of these elites? Everything of government is in the pipeline. Supplies of electricity, water, hospitals and schools are all in the pipeline of government. From 1960 to the present time, the pipeline has refused to deliver anything tangible to my village. Fifty years of waiting, wailing and watching the pipelines draining away our wealth to private pockets. When is it going to flow out of the pipeline into improving my village at least within my lifetime?

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My grandfather’s wrecked bicycle, a possession of inestimable value for nearly forty years, still bedecks his room. This is the eternal souvenir he garnered from ambitious politicians thinking they changed his fortune. Rather they marred his opportunities of a better life using uncanny ways. His life did not change much. He has only a dilapidated cycle to handover to his son, my father. My father would like to keep it and hand it over to me as a priceless family possession. When the time arrives, I shall refuse such an inheritance. I am serious. I don’t blame my grandfather for whatever earthly possessions the family has. The world in which he found himself was full of surprises. Grandpa, welcome to the 21 st century!

During his political days, my grandfather told me of the visit of the late Premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, to a nearby town. Local politicians assembled in their best regalia. The premier arrived amidst jubilation and great expectations. When he arrived, he made a speech urging the local community to embrace western education by sending their children to school. He admonished them to be law-abiding and respectful of the Nigerian constitution. He solicited farmers' cooperation in terms of dedication to their farms. Today, my grandfather remembers these things with tears because the legacy of the late premier has been bastardized by ethnicity, religious favouritism, grandiose affluent living and personal enrichment by those that are supposed to know better. This too is kidnapping. Many times, farmers receive promises of fertilizers and never see it at government prices. This affects the yield of individual farmers. Are these unseen forces not kidnappers?

Concerning education in Northern Nigeria, the legacy of the late premier is only remembered in speeches by politicians. The recent Memorial Foundation in his memory may be marred by segregation, victimization and gross neglect of the children of the poor. It will be kidnapped by the same old crooks that have mismanaged education in the north and thrown the children into the streets.

Many children in the north are out of school, walking barefooted begging pittance from motorists and passersby instead of being tutored in the best schools around. Yet the same politicians will sing the eulogies of the premier in the media and acclaim him as a hero while they hide under his

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philosophy to deceive people. The premier would be unhappy to see children of poor rural communities of the north still begging for hand-outs in a country so blessed by God with wealth.

A bill against kidnappers and hostage takers has presently passed the second reading on the floor of Nigeria’s House of Representatives. It is sponsored by Rep. Friday Itulah [PDP, Edo State]. When it is passed, the bill recommends life imprisonment for kidnappers. Part of the bill reads, “On hostage taking, any person who seizes or detains and threatens to kill, to injure, or to continue to detain another person in order to compel a third person or a governmental organization to do or abstain from doing any act as an explicit or implicit condition for the release of the person detained, or attempts or conspires to do so, commit an offence and is liable on conviction to life imprisonment.”

Like any official document in the Nigerian officialdom, this bill is vindictive, verbose and defensive of the privileged class who kidnap the resources of this country to Europe, the Americas and the Middle East. I hope this Bill applies to kidnappers of government budgets. I must commend the efforts of Hon. Itulah for sponsoring this Bill. By the time it passes through the House, it will send a signal to the kidnappers that the government is serious about the security and welfare of its citizens. The only defect will be implementation.

Another section of the proposed Bill reads, “As from the commencement of this Act any person who seizes, confines, entices, decoys, abducts, conceals, kidnaps or carries away another person by any means whatsoever with intent to hold or detain, or who holds or detains that person for ransom, reward or to commit extortion or to exact from another any money or valuable things or any person who aids or abets any such act, commits an offense and is liable on conviction to life imprisonment.”

When you analyze this part of the bill you will discover that this is exactly what the politicians of Nigeria have done to dear Nigeria. If only the budget meant for roads, hospitals, schools, welfare services and maintenance of law and order is spent the right way, Nigeria would be better for it. Imagine the deaths we record annually on the roads, as a result of potholes and a lack of maintenance. The rot from quack doctors who fleece the unsuspecting poor people with

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high charges and butcher them on the operating tables. Nobody gives a hoot about rescuing their dignity with needed welfare services. Almost every journey is embarked upon after prayer and fasting, casting and binding of the devil hiding on the roads. Yet the passengers have not recognized that a combination of reckless driving, bad roads and weather conditions can cause terrible accidents on our roads. Evil forces are blamed when we have not first of all made the roads user-friendly for travelling. We are in the ember months, only God knows the kind of carnage our roads will record. Any news of road accidents is attributed to the work of witches and wizards who hide to suck human blood as vampires. Yet the politician who connived with the contractor to misappropriate the road budget is never blamed for directly causing their deaths.

That things can never work well in Nigeria, is the kind of stereotyped minds our people have come to inherit for generations on end. My poor mum is amongst many in this group whose psyche has been kidnapped by fear of vampires, witches and wizards on one hand; and the inefficiency of government, politicians and office holders on the other. Instead of attacking the root cause, we blame the symptoms for causing discomfort to our system. The sickness in our Nigerian society is corruption and lack of checks and balances by the three arms of government:

the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.

The arbitrary manipulation to unduly cheat, manipulate and embezzle public funds meant for development of Nigeria’s society is kidnapping of social development of the poor communities of our land. This cannot be far from the truth. This cannot continue if politicians and their acolytes are patriotic at heart, rethinking why they are put in such privileged positions by God. Those who physically kidnap fellow Nigerians for ransom are not ghosts from Mars but Nigerians whom the security forces are ill-equipped to trace or arrest. All the noise about arresting criminals is just pure propaganda to create the impression that the police are working. But the lack of releasing of funds to fight criminals like armed robbers, kidnappers, hostage takers and thieving politicians remains a mirage.

The only open option is to blame the witches and wizards for things that we can change without costing us a life. While I dread the kidnapping of high profile officials of government and poor

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innocent Nigerians, I equally dread the treatment of the poor masses of this nation held hostage

for the past decades by politicians, the high and the mighty. I am affected by the lack of

sensitivity of the politicians and different office holders who have made promises to my village

and have failed consistently during my lifetime. With no electricity, ill-equipped schools and

absent essential services, you don’t expect me to clap for them four decades after my birth. My

resolve like that of my fellow villagers and other Nigerians is to watch events and hope that

kidnappers and hostage takers make a change whether they are physical or psychological

kidnappers. Nothing can be greater news to my heart than to hear that the hyena has changed its

spots.

*Yakubu, former Director Media Service Centre Kaduna, is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Zaria, working in the Diocese of Phoenix, Arizona, USA

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