Almost two weeks ago, Governor Seriake Dickson signed the 'Bayelsa State Kidnap and Allied Offences Bill 2013', underscoring the seriousness with which the crime is regarded in the state. The new law prescribes the death penalty for anyone convicted of the crime. In view of the recurrence and deadly cases of kidnapping being recorded in many parts of the country, the law, with all the reservations of the deterrence effect of capital punishment, is however the best answer to a growing problem.
Human Rights activists and others are opposed to the law on various grounds. But the crime of kidnapping has reached such epidemic proportions in Nigeria it would require the severest punishment as deterrent. Kidnappers have grown more daring, attacking and abducting their victims at will.
Regardless of age or nationality, victims are manhandled and generally taken to live in inhuman conditions while traumatised relatives are hounded for ransom. So very often, victims are killed during the kidnap attempt, or while in captivity, at the point of rescue, or even after ransom has been paid. More and more Nigerians are today afraid to travel home to their villages, out of fear that they might get kidnapped on the way.
In the face of apparent helplessness of the authorities, the kidnappers indulge in their nefarious activities, getting richer with each daring kidnap. They deliberately choose their victims: children of the wealthy or well-to-do individuals they believe would be capable of exchanging money for their life.
Some states, like Anambra, publicly demolish the homes and confiscate other property of known kidnappers. The deterrent effects of such measures have not been impressive. That is a harsher measure like the death penalty should be considered a painful but necessary one. That is the only way to stop them and deter others.
At a ceremony to sign the new law, Dickson noted, "It is morally indefensible for young people, for whatever reason, to go under the cover of darkness, armed with illegal weapons, to terrorise villages and old people in their homes, and then forcefully abduct and rough handle them and take them as articles of trade. It is obviously time to arrest this horrible phenomenon. It would be futile to treat such a growing national scourge with kid-gloves."
Even where the victims were able to return home safely, the trauma of having been in kidnappers' den is one that lingers for life. Many young children who had been rescued have had to suffer nightmares long after the incident. Any argument that kidnappers have not killed and must not be killed does not stand in face of facts because they often kill their victims.
The fact that they have been kidnapping foreigners has given the country another cause for unwelcomed scrutiny. The few foreign nationals that have been killed in attempted rescues have cost the nation dearly. This is not to talk of the many potential investors that may have been discouraged from venturing to do business in Nigeria.
Other countries also prescribe the death penalty for crimes other than murder, due to the harm the criminals inflict on the nation. In Saudi Arabia, drug-trafficking attracts the death penalty, in China high-level corruption is punishable by death, while in others trafficking in humans is also a capital offence. Kidnapping has become a crime of great national embarrassment and huge international implications.
The National Assembly may also consider a law similar to the Bayelsa's that would be applicable all over the country. It is time the authorities did whatever is and possible to stop the national menace of kidnapping.