Opinion

Seun Kolade: Kidnap for ransom, ritual killings and the complete cycle of dehumanisation in Nigeria

By Seun Kolade

A few weeks ago a good friend of mine sent me a disturbing message: his four children had just had a lucky escape from a kidnapper somewhere in a Southwest Nigerian town. His wife was driving the family car one afternoon, with their four children in the car. She got stuck in a pothole in the middle of the road. She tried to wriggle the car out, but could not.

As she was struggling with the car, one “Good Samaritan” driving behind stopped and got out to help. He offered to help madam get the car out. In he went, and sped off- with all four children in the car! It reads like something out of a Hollywood horror script. The criminal didn’t care much for the jeep as he sped away, ready to hit anything that stood in the way. He was just a few kilometres away when he accidentally hit a pole by the roadside.

The car came to a halt, and the criminal ran off. The car was of course insurance write off, but the children, shaken and all, made it alive. In the early hours of Saturday 29th January, the Nigerian police arrested three boys who were alleged to have strangled a young woman reported to be in a relationship with one of them.

The criminals mutilated the girl’s body, cut off her head and were reportedly burning it in a pot. As traumatic as this story sounds, it is but one of many similar stories of incidents that have become worryingly frequent in recent years. Back in November, the police arrested one hotelier for alleged complicity in the ritual killing of a promising young professional who had lodged in the hotel overnight in preparation for a postgraduate exam in one of Nigeria’s leading universities. Nigerians, shaken by these tales of horror, have been scratching their heads to ask: how did we get to this point? Yet, the answer to this poser is not far away.

As a diaspora Nigerian, I have been struck by two deeply contrasting narratives in my interaction with Nigerians. I have spoken with young men and women who spoke of 50,000 Naira (less than £70) as a life-changing amount. One young man recently told us he had to resign his N12,000 (£16) a month job because his employers were adding too many additional tasks. Yet, the other day another Nigerian was asking if they could exchange the equivalent of £100,000 in Naira. Of course, I had to tell them that I don’t have such an amount to exchange! However, it was the casual way they spoke about the £100,000 that struck me! It was obvious, to this person, what Nigerians would call “chicken change”! So what you have is a society in which extreme poverty and ostentatious wealth exist in close contact and proximity, but that is not all.

For the most part, and I say that advisedly, the flaunted wealth is not associated with any known productive venture, industry or value creation. And for those who have this money, the real point, apparently, is to flaunt it: to rob it in the nose of those extremely poor people who would be grateful if only they can gather the scraps from the leftover of the “rich”.

The poor are treated to this dehumanising spectacle every day. So it is not just the condition of extreme poverty that is their lived reality, it is the double whammy of knowing this poverty is needless in the midst of so much flaunted wealth. Among those struggling for existential survival is the army of unemployed university graduates who have spent many years, often with interruptions of industrial strikes, in the hope they will find gainful employment upon graduation.

They have to settle for N12,000 (£16) a month job, and then watch while young men of similar age, who did not so much as complete their secondary education, flaunt obscene wealth. The horrific cycle of dehumanisation begins when the poor is beset not only by their desperate lack of basic necessities but also traumatised by ostentatious, unmerited wealth being flaunted all around them.

The cycle is not complete, however. For the poor, in this desperate state of lack, surrounded by plenty, soon loses their mind. Left to die in abject want, they become the “undead”, with little or no care for life- its meaning or dignity.

Now resigned to their fate, they have nothing to lose. It is in this pod that the criminal kidnapper and the ritual killer are forged. He would do anything to live the life of flaunted wealth for one day. He has no time for patient work because he is already resigned to die- and quite dead really, in so far as his humanity is concerned. In Nigeria, this army of the “undead” is growing by the numbers. They will, if left unchecked, be the death of society.

They are completing the cycle of dehumanisation which began with them as the victims. In the hell that is now unfolding, it is not just those who are wealthy by dubious means that will be the victims, but also men and women of just means and clean wealth. The “undead” has no facility for such distinctions. They are taking any and all with them in the frenzied march to hell.

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Seun Kolade, Associate Professor in Entrepreneurship and International Development, writes from Leicester UK.

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