Saturday, 30 April 2016

PALAVER TREE COMMENTARY: ABDUCTION NATION: Despite Death Sentence, Kidnappings Thrive

These seven suspects reportedly confessed to be involved in kidnapping
Daily Trust checks show that an average of 25 Nigerians are kidnapped every month, while 278 Nigerians have been abducted between May 2015 and April 2016. Also, amounts ranging from ₦250,000 to millions of naira have been demanded as ransom, bringing the total sum to ₦3.3bn.

The rising wave of the crime across the country has left many more afraid of kidnappers than armed robbers or even insurgents. Gone are the days when only expatriates, wealthy individuals and petroleum industry workers were the main targets. Today, anyone can fall victim.

The failure of security agencies at resolving many cases has made matters worse, with many families caving in and agreeing to pay ransom. While there are instances where the police rescue victims without payment of ransoms, there are also many where huge amounts were paid to kidnappers.

There are also instances where the police claim credit for rescuing victims without ransom payments, only for the families of victims to counter the claims by publicly announcing how much they paid to secure the release of their loved ones.

According to reports, most of the kidnappers said they engaged in it because they needed money to solve personal problems as they have no job.

Victims suffer psychological trauma, lack of trust, fear, torture and in some cases even rape, among others.

The 14th April 2014 abduction of about 276 Chibok school girls in Maiduguri by the Boko Haram insurgents remains indelible even as it drew world attention including reactions from US President Barack Obama and other world leaders.

The scourge of kidnapping has forced many states to enact laws recommending capital punishment and long prison sentences for those convicted of kidnapping.

This month alone 32 cases of kidnapping were reported in Enugu, Kano, Cross River, Imo, Rivers, Kaduna, Abia, Kogi, FCT, Delta and Benue states. Since kidnapping is not contained on the exclusive list of the Nigerian Constitution, it is States Houses of Assembly that can enact laws on it.

Kidnapping was made a capital offence in 2009 in Abia, Akwa, Ibom, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo states to curtail the wave. No kidnapper has however faced the death penalty since the enactment of the laws.

Before the Cross River State Governor, Prof. Ben Ayade, signed into law a bill that prescribes death penalty for convicted kidnappers in the state, and before the Kogi State Executive Council under former Governor Idris Wada approved death penalty for kidnapping and other related criminal activities in the state, Governors Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa and Adams Oshiomhole of Edo states approved the death penalty for kidnappers in 2013. The Delta State House of Assembly also passed the Anti-Kidnapping Bill 2013, imposing a death sentence on any person convicted of kidnapping in the state, into law.

How Nigeria would tackle the menace remains to be seen in the face of other socio-economic and security challenges, even as the nation is held to ransom by kidnappers.
Most of the kidnappers said they engaged in it because they needed money to solve personal problems as they have no job

Deadly Kidnap Gang Holding Kano To Ransom
Daily Trust reports that the Southern part of Kano State has always been peaceful. Until now, when a gang of kidnappers have begun operation in earnest. Called ‘Garkuwa’, Daily Trust checks revealed that members of the gang are Fulani, from Senegal and Cameroon.

The group is organized to the point that they have an emblem, showing a gun and sword crossed, usually on a white flag. It was also gathered that they are in possession of sophisticated weapons, which they deploy during their activities.

The Garkuwa gang’s main targets are, ironically, Fulani resident in Kano State, especially those who own substantial numbers of cattle. Choosing to attack in the wee hours of the morning, about 2:00 to 3:00am, they arrive on motorbikes, and in large number. They always conduct thorough surveillance on targeted communities and victims before striking. Such operations, witnesses disclosed, are sometimes led by a female leader, also said to be non-Nigerian from her accent and mode of dressing.

The female leader, according to a local who encountered the group at Tarai village in Kibiya Local Government, is merciless.

Describing the group’s modus operandi, another source told Daily Trust that a number is given to a victim’s family member to communicate with the kidnappers, without police involvement. “This usually comes with a threat to harm - or even kill - the victim, if law enforcement agents are involved,” the source said.

The Garkuwa gang has been terrorizing various communities in Doguwa, Tudun-Wada, Sumaila, Rano and Kibiya local government areas. In the last three months, the gang has kidnapped about 100 people, among them nursing mothers, children, and the aged, according to the District Head of Tudun-Wada, Dankaden Kano, Dr. Bashir I. Muhammad.

The gang’s operations soon turned deadly, Daily Trust also gathered, as they killed three youths in Tudun-Wada, Kibiya and Sumaila in separate operations.

According to the District Head of Sumaila, Danruwatan Kano, Alhaji Ibrahim Ado Bayero, about 15 persons were kidnapped there. He spoke through a representative, Alhaji Ibrahim Ci-Gari, saying: “Last week Saturday, April 16, the kidnappers stormed Matigwi village and took two persons. They also returned to the same village two days later and grabbed the father of a former member of Kano State House of Assembly, Alhaji Zubairu Masu.

“The most disheartening part is that the kidnappers have informants in most of our communities. That’s our major constraint,” he said, adding that the trend is growing to alarming proportions.

In Tudun Wada local government, 17 people were kidnapped from Dariya, Nata’ala, Burum-Burum, Karafa and Gazobi villages, Dr. Muhammad has confirmed. He said four people have so far paid ransoms to secure release, but the rest remain with their captors.

Also, the Garkuwa gang demands for protection money, sometimes as high as two million naira, so they will not be kidnapped.

Dr. Muhammad also told Daily Trust that the kidnappers recently sent letters to five people in his constituency, warning them to either pay ₦2.5m each or be kidnapped. “Their victims include farmers, tea sellers and all kinds of people,” he said, adding: “This is how the gang has been terrorizing us on a daily basis.” He said people in his domain have resorted to prayer, because the situation was a helpless one.

In Doguwa local government, the stepmother of a serving lawmaker in the State House of Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Ibrahim Riruwai was kidnapped sometime in March this year. “They were so bold, and told me that since I am an influential figure in the state, I should pay sixty million naira ransom.” He later paid ₦2 million before she was released.

Riruwai said kidnapping has become rife in the Southern part of Kano recently, and until something urgent is done, it will continue.

Also in early April, a nursing mother and her baby were picked in Yar-Labi, while a pregnant woman in Burum-Burum village, both in Tudun Wada local government. 

The gang, led by their female commander, stormed Kibiya town in Kibiya local government two weeks ago and kidnapped three persons, including the wife of an ex-member of Kano State House of Assembly, Alhaji Garba Shehu Famar. The two others, a mother and her son were later released while the wife of the ex-lawmaker remains in captivity.

Last week, the kidnappers sent letters to five people in Tudun Wada town ordering them to either pay ₦2.5 million each or be kidnapped, the chairman, Kano state chapter of Fulafulbe Development Association of Nigeria (FULDAN), Alhaji Sanusi Baffa Dawakin-Tofa, confirmed. He added that also in Diwa village, five people were kidnapped within the space of 48 hours.

Dawakin-Tofa added: “From what we gather, the kidnappers aren’t Nigerians. They have collected so much ransom money from people in the various communities they have attacked.”

The District Head of Doguwa local government, Alhaji Aliyu Harazimi, said the Fulani residing in Falgore Forest have now started relocating to Doguwa town, due to persistent kidnappings. “My people have now resorted to self-defence. When the bandits stormed Kudara village recently and kidnapped three, the residents resisted and engaged the kidnappers until they ran for their lives. The trend has now subsided in Doguwa but we are still praying,” he said.

Aliyu Isa Kibiya said the kidnappers are heartless. “They ride in on motorbikes wielding sophisticated weapons. Even if you flee, they would chase you and grab you,” he said, adding that apart from kidnapping, the gang also steals motorcycles.

Another resident of Sumaila local government, Kabiru Idi Gomo, said the menace of kidnapping is massive in the area. “We’re living in fears, as the gang operates almost on a daily basis,” he said.

Also on Thursday, April 28, five more suspected kidnappers, among them a notorious armed robber who has been trailed by the police for two years, were arrested in Nata’ala village, Tudun Wada local government.

However, State Police Commissioner, Alhaji Maigari A. Dikko said although he was recently deployed to Kano, police records of people kidnapped in the Southern part of the state is less than the 100 claimed by some locals. He said they recorded only 21 cases from February to date, and 12 of them have been rescued. He also said 14 people were arrested in connection with kidnaps, with six of them confessing their participation.

The commissioner explained to Daily Trust that four of the confessed kidnappers were arrested in Doguwa, one each in Kibiya and Sumaila and Tudun Wada local government areas. He said: “The kidnappers operate a syndicate and from our findings some of them are from Niger, Kaduna and Bauchi states. They only come to Kano on invitation whenever there is an operation. We have deployed men to the affected places to end the problem.”

Thursday, 21 April 2016

PALAVER TREE COMMENTARY: The President As Chief Diplomat — Reuben Abati

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr Reuben Abati was a Senior Special Adviser on Media to former President Goodluck Jonathan. Dr Abati, in this piece, gives an “Insider’s point of view” leadership and management issues affecting the role of the Nigerian President in foreign policy and on why Nigeria is considered the “Begin Again” country whereas other countries build cumulatively toward their strategic objectives. Dr Abati appraises Nigeria’ foreign policy scene and observes “We [Nigerian leaders] may have thus reduced foreign policy to individual heroism, which is sad, but institutions and human capital within this arena are critical. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, once a glorious institution is a shadow of its old self. The politicization of that Ministry has done great damage.    . . . Foreign Affairs Ministry officials who want to be seen to be doing something will always try to convince the President to embark on all trips. The dream of every Ambassador on foreign posting is also to have his President visit, even if once during his or her tenure. The resident Ambassador is happy, the Foreign Affairs folks get quality eye-time with the President but the hosts look at us and wonder what is wrong with our country signing the same agreements with the emergence of every President and not being able to act.”
President Muhammadu Buhari speaking at an event at the Presidential Villa, Abuja. Photo: Philip Ojisua
By Reuben Abati (The Guardian, Nigeria)
I read an interesting article recently in which the author, objecting to President Muhammadu Buhari’s frequent travels abroad pointed out that Presidential spokespersons since 1999, including this writer, have always justified such trips using essentially the same arguments. The fellow quoted copiously and derisively from my State House press statements and an article by me titled “The Gains of Jonathan’s Diplomacy”.

Those who object to Presidential travels abroad do so for a number of reasons: (a) the cost on the grounds of frequency and size of estacode-collecting delegation, with multiple officers performing the same function tagging along on every trip, (b) the need to make better use of diplomats in foreign missions and Foreign Ministry officials who can act in delegated capacity; (c) the failure to see the immediate and long-term gains of Presidential junket, thus creating the impression of a jamboree or mindless tourism, and (d) the conviction that the President needs to stay at home to address urgent domestic challenges, rather than live out of a suitcase, in the air. While these reasons may seem understandable, arising as they are from anxieties about reducing wastage and increasing governmental efficiency for the people’s benefit, I still insist that Presidential trips are important, and that by travelling abroad, the President is performing a perfectly normal function.

We may, however, complain about abuses and the reduction of an important function to tourism for after all, in eight years, President Bill Clinton of the United States travelled only 54 times – only by Nigerian standards, but we must also admit that the President is the country’s chief diplomat. In our constitutional democracy, he is the main articulator and implementer of the country’s foreign policy. He appoints ambassadors who function in their various posts as his representatives. He also receives other country’s ambassadors. Emissaries from other countries or multilateral organizations consider their visits incomplete without an audience with the President, and it is his message that they take back home.

He visits other Presidents and he also gets visited by other world leaders; an interaction that provides him an opportunity to give effect to Section 19 of the 1999 Constitution which defines the objectives of Nigeria’s Foreign Policy. In doing this, he is expected to strengthen relationships with other countries, at government to government and people to people levels in the national interest.

The President is also the country’s chief spokesperson, and that is why what he says, or what he does when he is negotiating within the international arena on Nigeria’s behalf is of great consequence, and this is particularly why on at least two occasions recently, Nigerians were inconsolably upset when their President chose a foreign stage to put down his own country, and people. This clarification of the role of the President as the country’s chief diplomat may sound didactic, and I apologize if it comes across as pedantic, but this is necessary for the benefit of those who may be tempted to assume that the job of a President is to sit in one place at home and act as a mechanic and ambulance chaser. The concerns that have been expressed however point to something far more complex, and I seek to now problematize aspects of it.

One of the concerns often expressed is that the trips that have been made by our Presidents since 1999 look too much alike. It is as if every President that shows up, embarks on exactly the same junket to the same locations, for the same reasons: foreign direct investment, agriculture, security, co-operation, etc. etc. accompanied by a large retinue that includes many of the same officials who travelled with the former President and had prepared the same MOUs that will be signed again, with the new spokespersons telling us the same story all over again.

Nigerians are therefore not impressed with the seeming conversion of the country’s foreign policy process into a money-guzzling ritual. This, I think, is the crux of the matter. Whereas our foreign policy objective talks about national interest, what constitutes that national interest has been blurry and chameleonic in the last 55 years and more so since the return to civilian rule in 1999. National interest has been replaced majorly by personal interest and it is the worst tragedy that can befall a country’s foreign policy process. We run a begin-again foreign relations framework because every new President wants to make his own mark. The second point is that he is compelled to do so because in any case, we do not have a strong institution to follow up on existing agreements. The international community knows this quite well, and more serious nations being more strategic and determined in the pursuit of their own interests will bombard a new Nigerian President with invitations to visit. They also know that a new President in Nigeria is likely to cancel or suspend existing agreements or contracts being executed by their nationals. The uncertainty that prevails in Nigeria is so well known, such that the gains recorded by one administration are not necessarily institutionalized.

We may have thus reduced foreign policy to individual heroism, which is sad, but institutions and human capital within this arena are critical. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, once a glorious institution is a shadow of its old self. The politicization of that Ministry has done great damage. When a President visits a country, and enters into agreements that result in Memoranda of Understanding, it is expected that there will be follow up action to be taken by officials either through Bilateral Commissions (where they exist between Nigeria and the respective country) or the issuance of instruments of ratification, leading to due implementation. Nigeria signs all kinds of documents but so many details and agreements are left unattended to. There is too much politics in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and too much rivalry between career foreign affairs personnel and the politicians who do not allow them to function as professionals. This has to stop, otherwise every new President has to start again and embark on trips that should have been taken care of at the level of bilateral commissions or the ministry.

Career foreign affairs personnel are critical to the shaping of foreign policy. They are the agents through which states communicate with each other, negotiate, and sustain relationships. The only thing they complain about in that Ministry is lack of money. It is the same with the Missions abroad. Give them money, but there is always a greater need for professionalism, which makes the diplomats of Nigeria’s golden era so sad. The foreign policy process also works better when there is Inter-Ministerial and Intra-governmental collaboration. The tendency in Nigeria is for every department of government to operate as an independent foreign policy unit. Government officials get invited to functions by foreign embassies, without clearance from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and they just troop there to eat free food, but they never keep their mouths shut. Nigerian officials are probably the most talkative in the world and with foreigners, they will offer their mother’s life history to make them appear important. That is not how to run foreign relations. There must be control, co-ordination, discipline, clarity and sanctions.

Every world leader wants to meet the Nigerian President. Nigeria is a strategic market and a very cheap one too, a source of raw materials and a dumping ground for finished products, with a consumptive population. Our balance sheet in all our relationships is unbalanced even in Africa, which we once described as the centerpiece of our foreign policy. We have toyed with many slogans: dynamic diplomacy, economic diplomacy, concentric circles of medium powers, citizen diplomacy, transformational diplomacy, what else/- the Buharideens are yet to come up with their own, but you wait, they will soon come up with something- really, the truth is that Nigeria’s foreign policy process is not strategic or competitive enough.

Within Africa, it is driven by too much kindness rather than enlightened self-interest, or deliberate search for sustainable advantages. A Donatus mentality has seen Nigeria over the years looking out for its African neighbours, donating money, supporting their causes, but Nigeria has gained little from this charity-driven diplomacy. Many of the countries we have helped to build openly despise us at international meetings, they struggle for positions with Nigeria, they humiliate our citizens in diaspora, and when they return later to beg for vehicles, or money to pay their civil servants or run elections, we still oblige them. The attempt in recent years to review all of this, and be more strategic should be sustained.

We must wield the carrot and the stick more often. American Presidents don’t just visit other countries, they make statements and often alter the course of history with their mere presence as Kennedy did with his visit to Berlin in 1963, Nixon in China in 1972, Jimmy Carter going to Iran in 1977, George Bush, visiting Mexico in 2001, and Obama in Cuba in 2016. In the international arena, we give the impression that we are ready to jump at any and every invitation in order to be seen to be friendly, but we tend to overdo this. Foreign Affairs Ministry officials who want to be seen to be doing something will always try to convince the President to embark on all trips. The dream of every Ambassador on foreign posting is also to have his President visit, even if once during his or her tenure. The resident Ambassador is happy, the Foreign Affairs folks get quality eye-time with the President but the hosts look at us and wonder what is wrong with our country signing the same agreements with the emergence of every President and not being able to act.

It does not help either that with every new President, we talk about reviewing Nigeria’s Foreign Policy. We are probably the only country in the world that is always reviewing Foreign Policy and informing the whole world. That should be the routine work of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs, with inputs from the Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), the Nigeria Intelligence Agency (NIA), and the Presidential Advisory Committee on Foreign Affairs.

We must never lose sight of a necessary linkage between domestic policy and foreign policy. What exactly is in it for the average Nigerian, for the Nigerian economy and for Nigeria? Do we have the capacity to maximize gains from foreign interactions? Always, the real challenge lies in getting our acts together and tying up the loose ends in terms of sustainable policy choices, infrastructure, culture, leadership, and strategic engagement.

Originally published in The Guardian under the "CROSSROADS" Column