Growing up in Ibadan, parents left no stones unturned in warning us about the menace of kidnapers – called gbomogbomo in Yoruba. Everyday stories of lucky survivors were told to our hearing to all the more underscore the need for us to be conscious of strangers and danger. Prayers were specially offered in religious gatherings by parents entrusting their kids into God’s hands lest one day any child got hypnotised by the diabolic touch of kidnappers and then led to their slaughter thickets for money-making rituals.
The kidnapper was more loathed than a villain in a gothic fiction. He, by reason of metaphor, was a paedophile who robbed children of their chaste innocence. No one compared with him in the love for filthy lucre. He was an epidemic whose morbidity rate was high among children.
As I reminisce on the many cases of kidnapping that form a trope in my childhood narrative, a particular instance comes with vivid remembrance. My brother and I were, in the wee hours of a Saturday, woken by the cacophony of an angry mob pursuing a man. The only thing he had on was an unbuttoned shirt billowing like a flag to the aerial whims of the wind whilst he ran. He had nothing else on. I surmised he had been caught in the very act of adultery but hours later, I heard he was a kidnapper. When he was eventually caught in some neighbourhood farther afield, was roasted by the angry mob.
Kidnapping within the last decade took a more brazen dimension all across the federation. From the fluvial habitats of the Niger Delta to the hubs of Lagos, many Nigerians of proletariat and aristocratic backgrounds have been kidnapped either to be held hostage until ransomed by moneyed relatives or to be killed for some mysterious money-making rites in some obscure thickets. I’ve oftentimes tried to understand how human blood can mint money; the type that is common in Nollywood blockbusters; but always failed to piece it all together. However, this money ritual culture is generally believed to be real, especially in the South West. The nouveaux riche are even sometimes sceptically stereotyped as money ritualists for no just cause. So is the extent to which people believe that a very fast way to wealth is the sacrificing of human life to some greedy gods.
On a recent visit to my uncle’s, I learnt that kidnapping has been taken to unprecedented heights in the city of Ibadan. People are said to be missing daily. In fact, my uncle had while I was travelling down called me repeatedly to tell me to take extra care in boarding any vehicle. On arrival he told stories upon stories of different persons saved in the nick of time before beheading for mammon. He spoke with a familial burden that proved something was indeed wrong in the society.
The question we perhaps should ask is: what has stoked the flames of kidnapping in the society today? What has destroyed the purported moral backdrop upon which our values are built? The simple answer is the love of money by the vast majority of the youngsters today. The fact is that the system has failed them and they think the only way around it is to resort to get-rich-quick schemes like kidnapping, cybercrime, robbery and other crimes, damning all consequences.
Nigeria has a culture that deifies the rich and so everyone is looking for quick wealth one way or another. Even in religious gatherings, people pray in stentorian tones to God, asking for money. There is a consensus among Pentecostal churches today that material riches serve as testament to God’s blessings and if anyone is poor, it only means he or she is yet to grasp the intricacies of dealing with God. Everything in Nigeria tells you, you just have to be rich. Who better understands it more than kidnappers?
By any stretch, I do not support a culture that worships ill-gotten wealth. Neither do I say people shouldn’t be rich. The undeniable truth is the dire need for value reorientation where the wealthy are not necessarily seen as the best among us; where money does not buy titles. Character should matter more than riches. For all the many things one can achieve with money, I believe, it cannot procure values. Our ethos as a people has been tinkered with a long time ago. Kidnapping is just a by-product of a faulty value system and should be addressed holistically. We may decry the stock-in-trade of Evans and his ilk but nothing changes if we do not decry the very culture that breeds them.
Olayemi is a poet and essayist. He wrote from Obafemi Awolowo University.