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Pervasive Kidnapping In Nigeria: Symptom Of A Failing State?
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Jideofor Adibe, pcjadibe@yahoo.com (Last Update March 11, 2021)

Kidnapping - the taking away of a person against the person's will, usually for ransom or in furtherance of another crime - is becoming everyone's nightmare in our dear country. Daily, we read nightmarish stories of people being abducted as they go about their daily business. A criminal act, which first attracted national attention on 26 February 2006 when Niger Delta militants kidnapped foreign oil workers to press home their demand, kidnapping has since become ubiquitous and commercialised. It has spread from the Niger Delta to virtually all nooks and crannies of the country, with some states of course being hotspots. Similarly victims have changed from being predominantly foreign oil workers to Nigerians, including parents, grand parents, toddlers and about anyone who has a relative that could be blackmailed into coughing out a ransom. Those behind the recent wave of the despicable act have also changed from being exclusively Niger Delta militants to dodgy elements from different walks of life - armed robbers, the unemployed, students, professional 419ers, and at least one Catholic priest

There is no doubt that Nigeria is today one of the major kidnapping capitals of the world. This has obvious implications for investments, the country's development trajectory and even the quality of governance.

The common tendency is to blame the pervasive wave of kidnapping outside the Niger Delta exclusively on the unacceptable rate of unemployment in the country, an inefficient and corrupt police force that is ill-equipped to fight crime, and collusion between kidnappers and politicians. These factors however appear to be mere symptoms of a larger malaise, namely that pervasive kidnapping, is one of the major symptoms of both 'failed' and 'failing' states. Most of the countries where kidnapping has been pervasive have been either failed or failing states - Baghdad after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Columbia from the 1970s until about 2001, and Mexico between 2003 and 2007.

A 'failed state' is often used to designate a state which has become incapable of fulfilling the basic functions of a sovereign government. These functions include physical control of its territory, provision of security of life and property for its citizens, the monopoly of the use of legitimate physical force and ability to provide reasonable public services or to interact with other states as a full member of the international community. A "failing state" on the other hand denotes a state in transition to a failed state. Here, while the state remains nominally a sovereign and fulfils a modicum of the functions of a sovereign government, the central government has become so weak and ineffective that it has little practical control over much of its territory, leading to an upsurge in pervasive insecurity such as kidnapping, organised assassinations and robberies. A failing state is also characterised by a weakened ability to provide basic public services, and widespread corruption, as people think of themselves first, following the failure of the state to perform its traditional functions. Most of the countries in the developing world involved in civil wars or protracted internal conflicts could qualify as 'failing states'.

Following from the above, while Nigeria is not yet a 'failed state', it could arguably qualify as a 'failing state'. This, in essence, means that while addressing the problems of unemployment and an inefficient and corrupt police force could be good palliative measures in combating kidnapping, any lasting solution to the menace will inevitably have to address the key question of the nature of the Nigerian state, including why it has transited from a weak state to a 'failing state' and is rapidly gravitating towards being a failed state. I would recommend the following:

One, there is a need to restructure the Nigerian state to enthrone true federalism, including true fiscal federalism. Classically, federalism is regarded as a system of government in which the centre and the federating units are each, within a sphere, co-ordinate and equal. A true federalism cannot work in Nigeria under the present condition where the federating units are atomised into 36 unviable states (with the possible exception of two or three states), which are dependent on the centre for their survival. Instituting true federalism will require merging the present unwieldy number of states into about six to make them manageable and cost efficient. The federating units should be allowed to run their own police force and to take measures they deem fit, within the law, to protect the citizens within their territories. Each federating unit ought to have a database of people living in its territory, including what such people do.

Two, the cost and efficiency gains from the consolidation of the present 36-state structure could be channelled towards improved provision of public services and better quality of governance. A computerised national identity card scheme has become an imperative.

Three, states should invest in smart security, especially preventive security, which could involve phone tapping, extensive use of moles, and possible use of private armies and private military companies in protracted conflict areas. In this sense, the recent announceent by Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State that he would hold traditional rulers in the state in whose domain kidnapping takes place culpable, appears misplaced. Traditional rulers, especially in the South-eastern states, only have ornamental value and should therefore not be expected to be the chief security officers of their kingdoms. They are not paid security agents of the state, and should therefore not be expected to play the role of moles. There is however merit in the proposal that kidnapping should attract capital punishment.

Four, in the social contract theory that created the notion of sovereign (monarch or constituted national authority), a key argument is that prior to the creation of the sovereign, there was what the English political philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, called the 'state of nature'. This 'state of nature', he argued, was characterised by the 'war of all against all'. People agreed to the creation of this sovereign, and willingly gave up their right to self-help, because they were very eager to escape the conditions in this 'state of nature' where life was 'short, nasty and brutish'. This is the underlying philosophy of the social contract between the government and the governed. It could therefore be argued that pervasive insecurity is a key manifestation of the breach of this social contract by the government. This raises an interesting question of whether citizens should continue to be bound by this social contract when one of the parties - the state - is increasingly failing to keep its own side of the bargain. A state becomes a failed state when citizens and groups conclude that they too should no longer be bound by the terms of the social contract. In this scenario, the Hobbesian state of nature reigns.

Is Nigeria moving in this direction?

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