I discouraged payment of ransom until I was kidnapped —Ex-DSS Director, Ejiofor

A former Director of the Department of State Services, DSS, Mr Mike Ejiofor, in this interview, gives reasons for the escalation of kidnapping in the country, stating interim and long-term measures the government can embrace.

Ejiofor, who is also a kidnap victim, reveals why payment of ransom is the only available option to victims and their loved ones.

Many think insecurity has spiralled out of control with the turn of events in the country. What do you think?

It is not out of control but people are worried. I am worried. The issue is that we have not deployed sufficient resources to tackle the problem. No one should be blaming the government now because this issue has been festering for a long time. The largest we have in the budget is for the security sub-sector. There should be proper oversight to ensure the funds are properly deployed. We have to ensure the monies are not diverted by the leadership of security agencies. They shouldn’t live luxurious lifestyles.

You can see what is going on in the country, with people having parties and displaying affluence when the masses are suffering. People in leadership positions should change their lifestyles because of the masses. They can’t be in leadership positions forever. One day, they will leave office and become ordinary people like the masses.

The thinking in some quarters is that there is economic dimension to kidnapping and banditry in the country and that police or military action alone may be insufficient to address the challenge. Do you share the perspective?
They now see it as an industry. Everybody is getting involved because of economic hardship. The economy is partly responsible for the escalation of criminality. People are suffering. You can’t attack people’s houses and see cash. You can’t break into a shop to collect things because you will be arrested. The quickest way to make money now is through payment of ransom.

What was your immediate reaction when news broke that some traditional rulers were killed by suspected kidnappers in Ekiti and about 24 hours later some school children were abducted?

The targeting of traditional rulers calls for concern because they are targeting the fabric of our traditional institution. It is to make the government very unpopular and possibly destabilise the government. That is why government needs to act very fast.

How can schoolchildren be protected from kidnappers in light of what just happened in Ekiti?

It boils down to vigilance on the part of the schools’ management, parents and society. You cannot say the police should be deployed to schools because they don’t have adequate personnel. For the traditional rulers, you cannot tell them not to move around their domains. The situation calls for consciousness on the part of everyone. Security measures should be observed in whatever you are doing. For example, one of the monarchs that was killed, I learnt had asked his driver to stop, thinking his vehicle was faulty. In such an area, no matter what, you don’t need to stop. You have to keep moving until you get to a place you consider safe. We should learn the tricks these people are using on the highways and find the best way to counter them.

Sometimes people wonder where kidnappers and bandits get the arms they use in the face of reports that security agencies mop up arms from time to time…

I was in support of liberalisation of arms, but after each discussion, people call to say it would be abused by Nigerians. They always say we are not ripe for it and that it could lead to anarchy. I now felt that if this is the popular opinion, fine. I believe that if I am allowed to carry arms and people know I carry arms, they can’t just come to my house and attack me. But in the interim, our private guards and vigilantes should be allowed to carry arms, but they have to be regulated and supervised by the police. They have to be supervised and regulated because if it is left open, it is subject to abuse. And if you establish state police, they should be able to carry arms. How do you explain that people from Maiduguri are posted to Bayelsa or someone from Bayelsa is taken to Maiduguri? With cultural difference, religious difference, and language barrier, how can intelligence be gathered? In the interim, police management can consider posting the rank and file to their various geopolitical zones while the senior officers who head the commands can come from anywhere. Knowing the locality will help.

Reports say some kidnappers still go ahead to kill their captives despite collecting ransom from their family members. Why do you think these criminals go to this extreme?

It has been happening before and it becoming rampant for them to kill even after collecting ransom. All these are aimed at bringing government to disrepute. There are so many issues that are not meant for public consumption. That is why I said government must intervene to ensure that these people are stopped. If they continue to make advance into Federal Capital Territory, FCT, and they get into the metropolis, of course, they would be seen to have embarrassed government. And everyone would say since Abuja is no longer safe, nowhere in Nigeria. From the way the attacks are taking place now, it seems nowhere is safe anymore. They were restricted to the North-West and North- Central before, but it is happening everywhere now. We saw what happened in Ekiti, Oyo, Ondo and other places. It has become an industry and must be rooted out.

In terms of payment of ransom, government recently discouraged it. Do you think non-payment of ransom could be helpful?

Before I became a victim, I had often said people shouldn’t pay ransom. But that notion changed after I became a victim. He who feels it knows it. Unless you are not involved, you will do everything possible including payment of ransom to release your relative. Of course, government will always discourage people from paying ransom. For me, I believe in the saying that he who fights and runs away lives to fight another day. If you secure yourself, if government cannot secure you, that’s fine.

Another option could have been for government to supervise the payment of ransom to get information. But victims do not cooperate with police. For example, when the wife of former Central Bank Governor, Emefiele, was kidnapped, money used for ransom was marked and the suspects were later arrested. But victims’ families are always impatient. You don’t blame them because they want their loved ones safe. If police or government is telling you not to pay ransom, it is expected. But until you are affected, you will know whether to pay ransom or not.

Some state governments prescribed capital punishment for kidnapping. And one of the reasons kidnapping has become an epidemic is the failure to bring perpetrators to book. Would you suggest that irrespective of moratorium on capital punishment, it should be applied to kidnappers this time?

I don’t think capital punishment would deter them from doing what they are doing. What we should do is to reform our judicial process so that people found guilty are tried. If you go to Correctional Service, 80 percent of the persons there are awaiting trial. If you have a timeline for electoral offences, why don’t you enact laws to make kidnapping cases last for six months?

A special tribunal can also be set up for kidnapping cases to serve as a deterrent. If they are behind bars, they may not commit any offence, but their people also organise jailbreak to release them. If they are tried and convicted, it would serve as a deterrent. Our government should be circumspect in releasing some of these people because some are granted amnesty. They go back to society to commit more heinous crimes. Death penalty won’t serve any purpose.We should be making progress.

What measures do you think government should use in arresting the situation?

We have short term and long-term solutions. The question is: what do we do to curb this menace that is threatening the fabric of our national security. In the interim, we have to start mobilising the police. I expected that by now the directive given by the President to the Inspector-General of Police, IGP, that policemen be withdrawn from VIPs would be complied with.

But up until this moment, it hasn’t been complied with. We need to withdraw all these people to enable the police to have manpower and confront this threat. The police force is inadequately staffed to confront the security challenges we are facing. It is not their fault. But the little we have should be adequately utilised. There is a need for more collaboration. In security, we have three circles. In the outside circle in the remote areas, policemen should be deployed there.

The military should be deployed to the outskirts where their presence will be felt. Members of the public have a major role to play in giving information to security agencies. Security agents are no magicians to have information. The people carrying out these dastardly acts live with the people.

Those are the immediate things I think we should do. I have always advocated for the creation of state police. This is the time for the National Assembly, NASS, to take the bull by the horns.

They should amend our laws to accommodate state police. Virtually every state has one form of security outfit or the other. Zamfara launched its own yesterday.

Culled from Vanguard