DR ABUBAKAR ALKALI
(Convener, Movement for a New Nigeria, MNN)

The current astronomical rise in cases of kidnapping across Nigeria through the use of mobile phones to negotiate ransom payment has confirmed the fact that the SIM-NIN policy has failed.
The SIM-NIN registration exercise launched late last year was meant to check the incessant cases of kidnapping and other criminal activities perpetrated through mobile phones in the country as the criminal kidnappers use mobile phones to negotiate ransom payment. 6 months on, cases of kidnapping have increased by 100% compared to figures before the policy was reintroduced (recall that the SIM-NIN policy actually started in 2014 but was reintroduced late last year).

After the gun, the next lethal weapon of the kidnapper is the mobile phone. To incapacitate these criminals and check growing insecurity, the use of mobile phones by these kidnappers must be stopped.

Sadly, our dear country Nigeria is arguably the only nation on planet earth where a kidnapper uses a mobile phone for several months to negotiate ransom payment yet he is never tracked and arrested. Are the communications authorities serious about demobilising and blocking the use of SIM cards used for criminal activities or is it another case of ‘This is Nigeria, so who cares?

Security is the irreducible minimum for any government worth its name. Without security, there is NO government.

Section 14 (2)(b) of the 1999 constitution (as altered) is clear, explicit and unambiguous that the security and welfare of citizens shall be the PRIMARY PURPOSE of government. To that extent, any government that cannot guarantee security has lost its legitimacy since it cannot guarantee the most basic ingredient of democracy.
A government under whose watch security has failed becomes all but an aberration.

The SIM-NIN policy was initially received with nostalgia, optimism and high expectations because the good people of Nigeria thought that it will bring down the rising cases of kidnapping currently ravaging our dear country. People stood along zigzagging stretches of queues under the scorching sun just to get their NIN and then link it to their SIM, often at a cost and thinking that it is all worth it. Alas, little did they know that the policy will fail as current high rate of insecurity has proven.

The minister of communications and digital economy Dr Isa Pantami even boasted in an interview on 2 June 2021 that the SIM-NIN policy has (in his own words) ‘drastically’ reduced the cases of kidnapping in the country since its introduction. This statement by Dr Pantami is false and sheer mischief as available and updated figures show that kidnapping cases are on an astronomical rise including but not limited to the abduction of innocent schoolchildren and students on at least FIVE occasions this year 2021 alone as follows:

  • GSS Kankara, Katsina State 300 male students
  • GGSS Jangebe, Zamfara State 279 Female students
  • Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation Kaduna State 39 male/female students
  • GSS Kagara, Niger State 38 Staff/students
  • FGC Yelwa-Yauri. Kebbi State 40 Students/Staff
  • Greenfield University, Kaduna State. 22 male/female students,
    5 Students and 1 staff killed.

Some of these innocent schoolchildren -girls and boys- are still in captivity.

Is someone playing politics with the lives of these innocent schoolchildren including teenage girls who left the comfort of their parents’ houses just to get educated and pursue their dreams by claiming that cases of kidnapping have ‘drastically’ reduced?

How could Dr Pantami (who should know better) insinuate that cases of kidnapping have reduced since September 2019 (when he was appointed the minister of communications) even in the face of the daily kidnapping and killing of innocent citizens by kidnappers including the 5 innocent students and 1 staff of Greenfield university Kaduna killed in April 2021 and tens of thousands of innocent victims killed by kidnappers?

Sani Jalingo a.k.a Balleri, a notorious kidnapper and leader of the gang that kidnapped the greenfield university students, killing 6 of them even bragged during an interview with the Voice of America (VOA) Hausa service that he has a DEDICATED SIM card which he uses to negotiate ransom payment for students only. He has a different SIM for the rest of his victims. He further swore that kidnapping has come to stay in Nigeria and the Nigerian government has failed. He said in Hausa language ‘Gwamnatin Nijeriya ta Kasa (The Nigerian government has failed).

Kidnapping and banditry are on the rise since the reintroduction of the SIM-NIN policy late last year.

Clearly the political will to make the SIM-NIN policy successful is lacking since it’s reintroduction last year. This was further proven by the almost endless extension of the deadline for subscribers to link their NIN to their SIM cards. The SIM-NIN policy has been extended 6 times so far by the federal ministry of communications. This endless extension is not good enough.

It is imperative to note that the bandwagon extension of the SIM-NIN policy by the federal ministry of communications has served to take off the initial bite that accompanied the policy. If indeed there was the political will, passion and commitment to make the policy succeed, why continuously extending the deadline? Logic and common sense entail that the right course of action is to stop the registration at the end of the first deadline and block all unregistered SIM cards with the option for subscribers to register before they get their SIM activated. The SIM can be unblocked for anyone wishing to register after the expiration of the deadline.
Continuous extension will make people treat the policy as unserious and in a cavalier manner. If the authorities are always extending the deadline, why should anyone rush to do it? The deadline will be extended anyway so why bother?

DOCUMENTED EVIDENCE OF THE FAILURE OF SIM-NIN POLICY.
Verified figures of cases of kidnapping from the national security tracker (NST), indicate that between January – June 2021, there has been 2,943 cases of kidnapping across Nigeria in 6 months which represents an average of 16 kidnapping incidents per day.
Within the same period, there were 5,800 deaths from kidnapping. This translates to an average of 32 deaths per day from kidnapping incidents. Notably, only 5 deaths were attributed to Boko haram within the same period. Even Boko haram has been pushed to second place by these kidnappers in the ongoing harvest of deaths in Nigeria.

The highest number of deaths per month was in May 2021 when 1,045 innocent victims were killed by kidnappers/bandits across Nigeria. Typically, Zamfara state topped the chart with the highest number of deaths (862,523) from kidnapping incidents in the first half of 2021.
As a matter of fact, the total number of cases of kidnapping between January to June 2021 alone has surpassed the cases of kidnapping in the whole of 2018 and 2019.

These figures show a steady increase in kidnapping since the reintroduction of the SIM-NIN policy last year contrary to the insinuation by Dr Pantami that cases of kidnapping have ‘drastically’ reduced since September 2019 when he was appointed the communications minister.

Kidnapping is now a lucrative industry in Nigeria gradually competing with oil business mostly because these criminals can easily use mobile phones to negotiate ransom payment. These criminals are into kidnapping solely for money not religion or any form of ideology so if they are denied the luxury of using mobile phones to negotiate ransom payment, they will certainly think again and stop kidnapping.

In Kaduna, Nigeria’s capital of violence where not a day passes without someone being killed either through politically inspired ethno-religious crisis or kidnapping or both, 774 persons have been kidnapped in the last three months (1st April – 30th June 2021).
The turnover of deaths in Kaduna state is so high that it happens non-stop. While writing this article, I decided to switch attention and take some fresh air to check my messages on WhatsApp only to stumble on a video where two innocent travellers were killed by kidnappers on the notorious Kaduna-Abuja road in the evening of the previous day Saturday 17/7/21. May Allah (SWT) grant them Aljanna Firdaus Amin.

According to figures released by the NST, Niger state has taken the gold medal with the highest number of kidnapping incidents between January to June 2021 during which 795 innocent people were kidnapped in the state.
Zamfara state thought to be the headquarters of kidnapping in Nigeria came second with 523 kidnapping incidents (Jan – Jun 2021).
Katsina state, where Governor Aminu Masari’s only documented solution to kidnapping is to ask citizens to use CATAPULT to defend themselves against AK-47 and anti-aircraft (AA) ruthless wielding kidnappers, had a surprisingly lower 289 incidents of kidnapping in the last 3 months.

Other verified and authentic figures released by the civic media lab (CML) an NGO based in Lagos show that in June 2021 alone, 283 innocent people were killed by kidnappers in Nigeria of which Zamfara state, accounted for half the number. Curiously, Maradun local Government area, where the Zamfara state Governor, Bello Matawalle hails from, has the second highest number of victims killed by kidnappers in Nigeria -196- after Birnin Gwari LGA in Kaduna state (233) (Jan-Jun 2021). No thanks to the deceitful and so-called ‘amnesty programme’ offered to the criminal kidnappers by the Zamfara state Governor Matawalle which has only served to promote and institutionalise kidnapping and banditry not only in Zamfara state but Nigeria as a whole. It is good that the Zamfara state Governor Matawalle is retracing his path and now coming to terms albeit belatedly, with the fact that amnesty for criminal kidnappers will N.O.T work.
What will work for kidnappers is to deal with them in the language they understand.

WHY SHOULD NIGERIA ALLOW THE USE OF MOBILE PHONES BY KIDNAPPERS TO NEGOTIATE RANSOM PAYMENT?
It beggars belief as to how a criminal kidnapper will use a mobile phone over several months to negotiate ransom payment WITHIN NIGERIA’S BORDERS and still not be tracked and/or digitally demobilised. What are Nigeria’s communications experts doing that is more important than saving lives by stopping the use of mobile phones by kidnappers and terrorists to perpetrate crime?
Boko haram terrorists use mobile phones to pursue their terrorist agenda. IPOB secessionists not only use mobile phones but have floated a so-called radio Biafra which the federal ministry of communications has not been able to demobilise and block despite the N654 million approved by the federal executive council (FEC) to that effect during its meeting in October 2020.

KIDNAPPERS HAVE BUILT TERRITORIES AROUND ABUJA.
Kidnapping is on the rise in Abuja particulate around the suburbs unknown to many residents of the FCT. Between January and May 2021, 83 cases of kidnapping were recorded mostly in the surburbs: Abaji, Bwari, Gwagwalada, Kuje and Kwali Area Councils

The kidnappers are just few kilometres to the FCT on all 4 sides and it is only a matter of time before they import full scale kidnapping into the heart of the capital city unless something is done urgently.
Kidnappers have literally encircled Abuja: To the West of Abuja, there is the kidnapping spree in Niger State( Shiroro, Rafi LGA). To the North East of the city, there is the dreaded forest around Rijana town (where every household is said to have a representative in the kidnapping industry). The forest around Abaji at the border with Kogi state to the Southwest of the city and Nassarawa to the east of the city in Toto LGA (where the bandits are neighbours to Boko haram).

The special interest of kidnappers in Abuja is understandable: They feel rightly or otherwise: That’s where the money is.
The kidnappers in an unholy alliance of criminality with Boko haram, are now deeply rooted in Niger state and have taken over several towns and villages in the state forcing the state Governor Abubakar Sani Bello to alert the nation and ask for further assistance from the federal government. They have seized people’s wives and farmers in most parts of Shiroro and Rafi local government areas cannot go to farms or have to pay tax to the bandits before they can work on their farms. In Dansadau, Zamfara state, a lot of these innocent farmers are forced to work on the farm belonging to notorious kidnapper and cattle rustler Dogo Gide in lieu of tax before they can work on their own farms.

KUDOS TO OUR GALLANT MILITARY ON THE FRONT LINE
Our gallant soldiers are doing a GREAT job against the kidnappers and other terrorists using both the air and land components. However their gallant efforts are not complimented by Nigeria’s communications officials.
Much as the military and the police option have been used to decimate hundreds of kidnappers, it is critical to note that military solution alone cannot stop kidnapping. Information and communications Technology (ICT) is critical to fixing insecurity in Nigeria.

What will stop kidnapping is a combination of the following:
A. Military – Air strikes and land assaults, enhanced welfare packages for our soldiers
B. Use of Technology – Digitally demobilise the use of mobile phones by kidnappers to negotiate ransom payment
C. Local vigilante: Upgrade them to a trained force under community policing. Place them on salary
D. Reforms of the justice system through appropriate legislation to make kidnapping punishable with death by PUBLIC HANGING. Niger state has taken the lead and promulgated law making kidnapping punishable by public hanging. This is commendable, other states should follow suit.

POLITICAL WILL
The use of technology to break the back of bandits and stop kidnapping-for-ransom is sine qua none to checking the growing insecurity in Nigeria. It is possible if the political will is available.
In October 2020, US special forces SEAL team 6 successfully rescued Phillip Walton, a 27 year old American citizen kidnapped in Niger Republic and brought to Nigeria. The American was seized at Massalata village in Niger republic and brought across border to Nigeria. The American special forces used a combination of technology and force to launch a night time raid which left 6 of the 7 captors dead. Philip Walton was rescued unharmed.

Furthermore, sometimes last year, security operatives in Niger republic rescued a kidnapped boy by tracking the mobile number used by the kidnappers to negotiate ransom payment.

How could Nigeria with all its resources be held hostage by a gang of rag-tag bandits/kidnappers who are blackmailing the good name of Fulani people (both Fulanin Daji and Fulanin Zaure)?

THE SOLUTION
If the federal government is to stop kidnapping in Nigeria, it must develop a conceptual design to restrict the use of mobile phones to negotiate ransom payment by criminal kidnappers.
This conceptual design is as follows:

  1. BLOCK ALL UNREGISTERED SIM CARDS URGENTLY:
    The federal ministry of communications through the National communications commission (NCC) must immediately block all SIM cards/mobile numbers that are not registered such that any mobile number that a kidnapper used to negotiate ransom payment could be detected, tracked and traced to the registered user.
    If the kidnappers used the victims phone number to reach out to his loved ones for ransom payment, the federal ministry of communications should be able to track such numbers and work with the security agencies to work out a realistic rescue operation.
    Night time rescue operations are highly recommended.
    The federal ministry of communications should issue a directive to ALL network providers such as MTN, GLO etc to develop a digital model through which they can demobilise any calls for ransom payment from kidnappers. These network providers must keep a database of all calls from the criminals for ransom payment.
  2. DATABASE OF CALLS FOR RANSOM PAYMENT
    The federal ministry of communications should keep a data base of all calls made to negotiate ransom payment and provide such information to the security agencies.
    The Nigeria police should not be in charge of digital tracking equipment because they are not ICT experts. The federal ministry of communications should handle digital tracking equipment and collaborate with the police authorities to track kidnappers.
  3. ONE SIM CARD PER HEAD: The issuance of SIM cards should be frozen to ONE per person such that every eligible Nigerian should have only ONE SIM CARD in order to stop the arbitrary use of multiple SIM cards. This multiple use of SIM cards without doubt, aids and abets the use of mobile phones in kidnapping.
    Any network provider that allows the use of multiple SIM cards should have their licences withdrawn.
  4. SHUT DOWN NETWORK COVERAGE AT ALL FORESTS USED BY KIDNAPPERS: The federal ministry of communications should direct ALL network providers MTN, GLO etc to shut down network coverage within the precinct of the forests and flash points where the criminal kidnappers operate. It is alleged that some of the forests used by kidnappers enjoy better and more effective network coverage than some cities, towns and villages. This is utterly unacceptable.
  5. COVER ALL FORESTS WITH SATELLITE:
    The NIGCOMSAT under the federal ministry of communications and the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) under the federal ministry of science and technology should work together to ensure that all forests used by kidnappers and other flash points of kidnapping are covered by satellites 24/7. These satellites will monitor movements of these criminals to support precision air strikes and other security operations in addition to the air surveillance capacity of the Nigeria Air Force.
  6. MTN, GLO etc must demobilise any calls by criminal kidnappers for ransom payment using their network or risk the seizure of their licences.
  7. DRONES: The federal ministry of communications should work with the security agencies for the use of drones in real time surveillance/security operations on forests and other flash points used by kidnappers.

DETACH DIGITAL ECONOMY FROM THE FEDERAL MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS
There is a need to reform the federal ministry of communications to enable it make the required contribution to the preservation of national security amid growing insecurity. To this end, the aspect of web or digital economy should be detached from the federal ministry of communications and transferred to the federal ministry of ECONOMIC PLANNING or create one for that purpose.

Indeed, merging digital economy with communications in the same ministry has served as a needless distraction with no recorded impact to the National economy thus far.
Alternatively, a MINISTER OF STATE with in-depth knowledge of digital economy and online trading should be appointed to oversee the building of a strong portfolio and network of online trading through MSMEs. This is the way to go.

If the federal ministry of transport and aviation has a minister for transportation and a minister of state overseeing aviation, the federal ministry of communications should have a minister of state to handle the digital economy unit.

Business transactions and economic development are being shaped globally through information and communications technology (ICT) including online trading. Hence the earlier our dear country gets serious about the digital economy the better.
How else to build a good foundation and key into the digital business era for a strong National economy than to appoint fresh competent, passionate, committed and knowledgeable ICT experts/operators with the requisite skills to build a strong digital economy portfolio for Nigeria?

CONCLUSION:
The federal government under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari is doing something about insecurity but more needs to be done because incidents of kidnapping are increasing daily.
To stop kidnapping in Nigeria, the use of mobile phones to negotiate ransom payment by kidnappers must be stopped through the use of information and communications technology (ICT).

The other tiers of government- local and state- have a big role to play as well in tackling insecurity particularly on intelligence gathering at the grassroots. If the farmers cannot go to farms, security has collapsed. If people cannot travel from point A to B without putting their hands on their chest, security has collapsed. If children cannot peacefully go to school and/or study in a boarding school, security has collapsed. The government needs to do something and urgently too before these criminal kidnappers force an unconstitutional change of government, a civil war or even take our dear country to an Armageddon.