There have been a few high profile cases of late, perhaps the last of which is the kidnapping of the father of the writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This has sent me down memory lane to reproduce excerpt from an article that first appeared here on December 8, 2008 under the title ‘The kidnappers in Igboland’. After reading through, you may judge for yourself what has changed. Or how what started in the Niger-Delta is now a thriving business in the South-east.
“Stereotyping works on the premise of overgeneralisation and could, therefore, be a dangerous affair. But this has not been sufficient reason to discourage it…Stereotypes could provide helpful explanations for and be indicators of certain character traits but, as I have mentioned, they could also be misleading for the very fact of their being prone to overgeneralisation. And in a multi-ethnic environment like Nigeria where ethnic and religious suspicions…run high, one cannot be too sensitive to the ethnic pride of others.
But this has not stopped us from harbouring stereotypes, however misleading, about one another, sometimes in complete disregard of one another’s feelings. The burgeoning tribe of Nigerian comedians, immune by the nature of their trade from the suspicion of fanning ethnic tension, are making apparently easy money, weaving course jokes out of such stereotypes. And rather than incur the ire of those the jokes are on the sharp barbs of the jokes are laughed away in the light mood of the moment.
Perhaps the most enduring stereotype of a Nigerian ethnic group is that of the Igbo as grasping lovers of money. The extension of this stereotype is that the Igbo person would do anything to have money.
This, like most stereotypes, is too much of an overgeneralisation. But stereotypes don’t have to be hundred percent correct to be valid or be thought so: that is why they are stereotypes- it’s also the reason they could be misleading and therefore injurious. A pattern only needs to be established to make them, for some, valid indicators of group behaviour. Such patterns are most often than not consequent upon the action of a sizeable minority. This, after much rambling, brings me to the heart of my discourse, namely, the new tribe of kidnappers in Igboland. The first questions to ask are: Who are these people and what do they want?
Framed differently the question is, What are their grievance(s)? The criminal act of kidnapping, now glamourised for several reasons including the (once upon a time) genuinely political, has assumed a new dimension in Nigeria. It was not always so. As a child growing up in Lagos kidnappers were among the most odious criminals parents warned their children about. There were times in those days of the late 70s when Lagos would be taken over by rumours of kidnappers on the prowl. We were warned not to keep late nights, walk alone from or to school or accept gifts or assistance from unknown persons. Many were the cases of children lost to such kidnappers. There were and still are cases, even, of missing adults believed to have fallen victims of kidnappers.
At about this period of the late seventies I speak of, an aunt, several months pregnant, left home to visit a family member and has since never been seen, except she returns tomorrow. The point I’m making is that kidnapping was truly a serious crime: a traumatic experience for both the victim(s) and their family. In recent times kidnapping has assumed a glamorous status. It started as a genuine, some might say misguided, instrument of negotiation and an attention-getting device by militants in the Niger-Delta.
Nigerians, especially foreigners working in the oil sector of the Niger-Delta were fair game for hostage-taking by the militants determined to chase the oil multi-nationals away from the region. The strategy seemed to have worked like fire and soon the militants started demanding huge sums of money before such kidnapped workers were released.
The evil that money represented in such a struggle would lead to other fringe groups, hired hands in the pay of politicians, without any coherent political agenda, joining the bandwagon. Such venal groups and merchants of pain acted for purely pecuniary reasons and the peculiar politics of their sponsors. But the mercantilist thinking behind their action was veiled by the genuine struggle for redress going on in the area.
They could therefore play the part of freedom fighters. But even they would spoil their act with serious bits of overreaching when they resorted to kidnapping children and other well-heeled persons in return for huge sums of money.
All of this happened in the Niger-Delta- at least in the South-south of it. But soon action would shift to the South-east with criminal elements kidnapping others for no apparent reason. Unlike the kidnappers in the Niger- Delta, the kidnappers in Igboland have neither presented nor articulated a meaningful agenda, political or otherwise.
Yet, they’ve continued to kidnap, it’s getting clear, for the monetary gain of it, leading to threats by some states in the region to enact stiff laws to punish persons caught in the act. Aside concerns of political marginalisation, there are environmental challenges such as the devastating consequences of erosion in parts of the South-east. But these cannot explain the criminal act of kidnapping that is becoming rife in this part of the country.
Why in any case should one Igbo man want to kidnap another in order to attract attention for some perceived federal neglect- if at all that is the reason for all this? It makes no sense at all. Thus the only explanation is that these criminals in the East are driven by purely monetary gains.
This would be lending dangerous credence to the Nigerian stereotyping of the Igbo person as someone ready to do anything for money. Kidnapping for money doesn’t seem a good way to make money. However, it can only lead to the demonisation of a whole people. Which is why all must support the tough action being proposed by some states in the East. Better to act now than allow the monster to grow out of proportion.”
What, if one may ask, has happened to the anti-kidnapping laws proposed by South-east leaders? Could failure in the South-east case be reason kidnapping as a money-making business is spreading to other parts of Nigeria?