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Senate seeks 15-year jail term for Nigerians paying ransoms to kidnappers

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THE Senate is seeking a 15-year jail term for any Nigerian who pays ransom to free a kidnapped victim.

This is contained in a bill seeking to amend the Terrorism Prevention (Amendment) Act, 2013, sponsored by senator representing Imo East District Ezenwa Francis Onyewuchi, during Wednesday’s plenary.

The bill, which has scaled second reading, seeks to prohibit the payment and receipt of ransom for the release of any person kidnapped, imprisoned or wrongfully confined in the country.

According to Onyewuchi, the bill essentially sought to substitute for Section 14 of the Principal Act, which read: “Anyone who transfers funds, makes payment or colludes with an abductor, kidnapper or terrorist to receive any ransom for the release of any person who has been wrongfully confined, imprisoned or kidnapped is guilty of a felony and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment of not less than 15 years.”

While expressing concern over the alarming rate of insecurity in virtually all sections of the country, Onyewuchi noted that kidnapping had become the most pervasive and intractable violent crime among ‘unemployed youths’ in the country.

He lamented that kidnapping was on the increase in Nigeria and prevalent across all the geopolitical zones.

“Some blame the rise of this criminal activity on poverty, religion, politics, deficiency of existing laws, unemployment, connivance of security agents, corruption, and greed among others,” he said.

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“Our unemployed youths are also turning to kidnapping to get money (ransom) as a survival strategy.

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“Whatever the reason, it is most obvious that kidnapping in Nigeria puts everyone at risk, the rich and the poor, old and young, male and female, foreigner or indigene, expatriate or non-expatriate, traditional rulers and religious leaders, among others.”

He noted that the reason behind payments of ransom was rooted in the fact that people easily identified with individual suffering.

Onyewuchi, however, said that history had shown that even when ransom was proven to have been paid, the life or safe return of a kidnapped victim might not be guaranteed.

The lawmaker called on government to provide adequate security, strengthen the nation’s economy as a matter of urgency, and accelerate its poverty alleviation programmes.

He also called for employment opportunities targeting youths who were mostly involved in abductions and kidnappings, strengthen law enforcement agencies while providing necessary support to end the menace of kidnapping.

At least $18 million was paid to kidnappers between June 2011 and March 2020, according to a report by Nigerian intelligence platform SB Morgen (SBM) Intelligence. The report entitled, ‘The Economics of the Kidnap Industry in Nigeria,’ found that the majority of that figure (nearly $11 million) was paid out from 2016 to March 2020, indicating that kidnapping was becoming more lucrative in the country.

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