Nigeria’s Tinubu says country will no longer pay ransom to armed gangs

Abuja, Nigeria — Nigeria will no longer pay ransom to armed gangs that have plagued the country with kidnapping and extortion, President Bola Tinubu said in an opinion piece published Monday.

He made the statement as activists commemorated the 10th anniversary of the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok. Acknowledging that “legitimate concerns” over kidnappings persist, Tinubu said Nigeria must address the root causes of poverty, inequality, and a lack of opportunity if it hopes to eradicate the threat posed by criminal gangs.

In the Newsweek magazine piece, titled “Ten Years Since Chibok – Nigeria Will No Longer Pay the Price,” Tinubu said ransom payments to gangs only encouraged gangs to commit more crimes and said, “the extortion racket must be squeezed out of existence.” 

The president said instead of ransom, perpetrators of the violence will receive the security services’ counter actions. 

He cited the recent rescue of 137 school students kidnapped in Kaduna state. Their abductors had demanded $600,000 in ransom, but the president said no ransom was paid. 

Ndu Nwokolo, managing partner at Nextier, a public advisory firm with focus on security and economic issues, agreed that ransom payment emboldens perpetrators, but said Nigeria is not ready to take such a stance. 

“The Nigerian state is obviously very weak to do those things it says it wants to do. If you’re someone, you have your [relative] kidnapped and you know that the state security agents can’t do anything,” Nwokolo said. “How come you were able to retrieve those numbers of kids without shooting a gun, and we know that those guys demanded ransom? The entire thing shows that there’s no honesty, there’s no transparency.” 

Tinubu said the government’s response to the Chibok abduction in 2014 was slow. 

But, the president said, Nigeria must recognize the changing nature of the threat. He said criminal gangs behind more recent kidnappings are primarily after cash rewards, unlike Boko Haram, which sought to impose Islamist rule. 

In 2022 Tinubu’s predecessor, Muhammadu Buhari, tried to criminalize ransom payments to kidnappers, but the decision was met with resistance from activists and the families of victims.  

Security analyst Senator Iroegbu said lack of accountability from authorities is the main concern. 

“There will not be ransoms in the first place if measures are on ground to prevent it,” Iroegbu said. “Why is it easy for kidnappers to kidnap Nigerians and keep them for long? Ten years after Chibok girls, why are the cases still rising? It’s not trying to blame victims who are desperate to do everything they can to rescue their loved ones. For citizens, that may be their last resort.” 

Tinubu said Nigeria must ultimately address the triggers for insecurity, including poverty, inequality and lack of opportunity. 

In the article, Tinubu also talked about his economic reforms. The Nigerian president said they were necessary to save public finances and encourage foreign investment.  

Tinubu scrapped fuel subsidies for the public and floated the naira just days after assuming office last year. The decisions sent prices soaring and were widely criticized, but have not been reversed.  

Tinubu said previous governments had failed to boost the economy, and 63 percent of Nigerians are multi-dimensionally poor. 

Iroegbu said blaming predecessors will not solve Tinubu’s problems. 

“This mentality of trying to blame past administrations, thinking you’re better while you’re not actually doing something different, needs to stop until there’s a result that Nigerians can see and testify,” Iroegbu said. 

The Nigerian president ended his article by saying, “there will be no more ransoms paid to kidnappers nor towards policies which have trapped our people economically.”

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