Lest We Forget

a commentary on socio-political developments and institutional policies

The Gbomogbomo Economy

I remember decades ago when I was an elementary pupil of African Church Primary School, Igbore in Abeokuta. It was early sixties. That was when the famous Baptist Boys High School perched gloriously and majestically on Egunya hill (Oke Egunya). Egunya hill on the other hand was notorious for preventing decrepit vehicles with weak engine from climbing it. Even at gear one, your vehicle was likely to fail Oke Egunya test by developing coughs, spurt, jerks, and eventually stop before making the last100 metre dash to the entrance of BBHS.

There was a piece of  land lying between the two schools that prevented them from sharing a common boundary, back to back. That parcel of land was always bushy leaving a narrow footpath to connect the schools. Unfortunately, the footpath also connected to some residential areas on Oke Egunya. It was this connection to residential areas that made the footpath notorious in those days. It was, as alleged by our parents, gbomogbomo’s red spots. Some pupils would swear that they saw a shadowy man with a black sack standing afar off along the notorios “Gbomogbomo’s route”. Since we did not want to end up in one Gbomogbomo’s black sack, being small enough to fit into  his sack, we usually warned ourselves from taking the path.Not even in groups did we ever venture to tread that path-to-hell after school hours.

Those were the days when “gbomogbomo” was indeed a kidnapper – as they actually went out to nab or “nap” kids. Then it was notably for ritual purposes by blood-sucking vampires desperate to make money through human sacrifice. The warning then was not to talk to strangers or be enticed by their offer of child-irresistible candies and cookies. If you were not kidnapped as a kid the chances that you could ever be kidnapped as a teenager or adult was zero. It was tidier for them than attempting to kidnap an adult who may not only successfully resist but expose the kidnapper for the public to apprehend. But that was then. Things have changed. Kids are no more endangered than adults. I mean real adults. If you are sixty-five and above you have entered the landmines you miraculously escaped earlier in life. Especially, if you have a high social or political visibility, you are of high economic value to the 21st century kidnappers. The ritual process of pounding flesh and bone, and mixing same with blood and some other herbs is not only satanic but protracted, messy and traumatic, even for the get-rich-quick desperados. A new method had to be devised. Enter ransom kidnapping.

With ransom kidnapping you can be stupendously rich in under one week. A new industry has come to town, very lucrative.  In the twinkle of an eye the business has so blossomed that hardly will a week pass without a case of kidnapping. It was initially a fad in the Niger Delta when the militants kidnapped foreigners and expatriates for ransom. Now like a dreaded contagion the malaise has gone viral. I remember the highly publicised case of the mother of the former Minister for Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who was kidnapped in 2014, and for whom an undisclosed ransom was paid to secure her release. Before and after, however, several hundreds have been abducted, many of them unreported. And till date, the incident of kidnapping has remained unabated.

In the first three weeks of September 2015 alone, there was the abduction of the Chairman of Cometstar Manufacturing Company, Sir James Uzochukwu Uduji in Lagos with an obstinate demand for a humongous ransom of N220 million. So also was  Archbishop Ignatius Kattey who was kidnapped in Port Harcourt. And yet, 70 year old Reverend Japhet Obafemi of Apostolic Faith church, Ilepa, in Ikare Akoko was reported kinapped with a ransom demand of N16 million, coming at the heels of the dramatized release of Chief Olu Falae who was earlier abducted by Fulani herdsmen in the same Ondo State with a demand ransom of N100 million. Also from Rivers came the report  of the abduction of two ministers of God, Venerable J.B Lawson and Venerable Isobo Dokubo of the African Church with a joint ransom of N25 million. The list is almost endless. 

One of the characteristics of a developing nation is the slow and tardy reaction to social malaise. It takes eons to formulate policies and statutes to counter novel antisocial or criminal phenomenon. Our jurisprudential mechanism is abysmally archaic, reactive and insular. There is a pathetic disconnect between societal experience and legislation. The legislature, the policing system and the courts are not consummative of societal aspirations and expectations. Is there a department in our Ministry of Justice that liaises with the various intelligence departments of the police and other security agencies with the objective of synthesizing intelligence information and forwarding same to government through the office of the Attorney General periodically with recommendations on how to fine tune extant legislation to meet nascent criminological issues emanating from the various intelligence gatherings? Hell, no!

This hiatus makes our laws to be late and lame in the face of festering ingenious criminality.  Because we are a Third World nation, new crime runs haywire before egregious law begins a feeble attempt to arrest it. By the time a solution is found the issue has already become gargantuan and monstrous with a reproductive life of its own. And the solution becomes antiquated and inadequate.  So was the issue of Boko Haram. So is the issue of kidnapping. Unfortunately, we seem helpless. The abductors smile to the bank, the victims, also, smile to various worship places, at least to thank God for living to tell the traumatic story. Every economy is named after its most visible and influential elements.  We had agricultural economy before independence, oil-boom economy until now. Can we afford to have “gbomogbomo economy”?  Businessinsider.com  placed Nigeria 5th on the global index of kidnapping risk. Except something is done, urgently and ruthlessly too, Nigeria may soon become number one nation in the world in abduction and kidnapping crime. That is not good for an economy in dire need of direct foreign investment. We should not allow insecurity to kidnap the economy. Every form of insecurity must be decisively dealt with. Security is not a luxury item. It is a basic necessity.

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