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Cheta Nwanze: Reversing the flourishing economy of kidnapping and banditry



At the end of May 2020, SBM Intelligence published a report which said that nearly $20m was spent by Nigerians in ransom payments to kidnappers between 2011 and 2020. What was very important in that report is that the bulk of that money was paid in the latter period, indicating an accelerating trend. It is important to stress that the above figure is only from official reports. Unofficial ransom payments by even the state such as the nearly a billion naira the government paid to Buharin Daji, a prominent militia leader who operated in Zamfara in the North West was not captured. Since that report was published, kidnaps have made the news over and over, and I have been forced to contribute money towards ransom payments in three cases already this year, for people that I know, who live in three different geopolitical zones of the country.

Nigeria’s current security crises are multifaceted, all of which add to the growth of a shadow economy that looks set to rival the country’s informal economy. The growth of Nigeria’s shadow economy disproves the maxim that crime does not pay. In our clime, it pays and it pays handsomely, which is why persons like Evans, Hamisu Bala Wadume, Gana amongst others are accorded a god-like status among those seeking to carve a share in this “national cake”.

Many things fuel the kidnap economy, chief of which are poverty, unemployment, and inequality. But ultimately, there are five pillars on which the kidnap industry thrives: ungoverned spaces, gang formation, weapons acquisition, communications, and collusion. All of these are issues that can be sorted if we are serious about solving the problem.

Ungoverned spaces could be in urban or rural areas, for example, Orile in Nigeria’s commercial capital is in reality, one huge ungoverned space. The absence of government means the presence of non-state actors competing with the government (NURTW as an example) to take over the roles of the state, and in turn, set up economies that rival the state. The issue of ungoverned spaces can be solved by genuinely bringing the government closer to the people. This could be achieved by identifying what each region needs, plugging these gaps and setting a target to improve the lives of the people. China had a target to eliminate extreme poverty. Within a generation, they lifted a hundred million people out of extreme poverty. They were able to do this by identifying the areas most vulnerable and by using data, they faced the problem head on by getting to work. Ungoverned spaces will not disappear overnight. However it is critical to tackle the issue of ungoverned spaces because they help in gang formation.

In the immediate, short term, the solution to the problem of gangs, is to invest in security. Between September 2020 and as recently as yesterday, there have been no fewer than three statements from senior government officials from the National Security Advisor to the Vice President, that the President is about to restructure or rejig the national security architecture. We’ve heard all that before. The absence of political will that has stifled innovation and exacerbated insecurity which members of the elite class are currently paying for with their lives and money. Equipping the security services to rise to the challenge goes beyond buying weapons. It calls for restructuring. Restructuring of the police force to ensure effective response to crime through creation of community-controlled policing initiatives. A situation as regularly obtains in South-East Nigeria, where a good number of the police are “foreigners” who don’t speak the language, lends itself to both ungoverned spaces, and gang formation.

Furthermore, investment in security means infrastructure. The National Identification Number is a good step in creating a database for Nigerians. However, its implementation has left a lot to be desired. You cannot resort to putting cameras on the highways (assuming the highways–where an intriguing number of kidnap incidents take place–are motorable) without being able to identify who exactly carried out the attack. The infrastructures are, and should be interlinked for optimisation.

Education that sets young people on the path to success in competing with their peers should be adopted alongside repealing legislation that stifles growth. The Ease of doing business is not worth the paper it is written on if its implementation is antithetical to its parent goals.

The economy has to work for all on the long term and this can’t be done through protectionism and state capture. Economic liberalisation and innovative solutions are among the surest ways to achieve growth for a population looking set to be among the world’s largest by the end of 2050.


Nwanze is a partner at SBM Intelligence


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