Rightly, President Muhammad Buhari warned against payment of ransom for hostages to kidnapers and criminals to free victims. According to the president, paying ransom is causing the crime to flourish in the country.
The president spoke in a statement issued on his behalf in Abuja to celebrate the release of the abducted Jangebe, (Zamfara State) female students.
“Ransom payments will continue to prosper kidnapping,” he warned and ordered security agencies to go after kidnappers and bring them to justice.The president expressed his joy with release of the abducted female students and said: “I join the families and people of Zamfara State in welcoming and celebrating the release of these traumatised female students.”
The president said he was excited that their ordeal came to a happy end without any incident. He said that “being held in captivity is an agonising experience not only for the victims, but also their families and all of us.”The president called for greater vigilance on the side of the people and quick collection and sharing of intelligence among the country’s security agencies in order to foil plans of criminals in the bud.
Of course, like the president, many people feel happy with the release of the Jangebe girls. There is no doubt whatsoever that the girls are brave and resilient, considering the ordeal they went, even if it was short. They now deserve time to come to terms with their newfound freedom.
Thankfully, the girls were released, but, in Nigeria, especially in the northern part alone, there are many captives whose families wait anxiously for their return. Many of these people have limited resources on which to draw while they wait for the return of their loved ones.
Again, like the president has said, hostage-taking, regardless of the takers, is an act of criminality because hostage taking is done for ransom. In fact, it is conducted by criminal gangs’ intent on profiting, illegally, financially from their activities.
Today, in Nigeria, most hostage-taking is conducted with criminal intent when payment for release is demanded. This raises the thorny question of ransom payment.
The Buhari-led government, quite rightly, takes the position that it will not pay for the release of captives. If people and the government pay ransoms, doing so would lead to further hostage-taking and encourage further breach of the law.
However, I can understand the agonies faced by a family where a ransom is demanded and appears to be the only means of obtaining release of loved ones. However, it is necessary to recognise that hostage-taking, normally, rises from deeper roots.
In the case of Nigeria, laws are barely obeyed in areas where hostage-taking is rampant and arrest of criminals is something very rarely done there while people are, largely, excluded from economic and political activities, leading to a situation where criminal gangs rule the day.
Although, in some cases, people can be taken as hostage for political reasons, hostage-taking with political motives frequently descends into hostage-taking with criminal intent. Nigeria, which leads the global stakes on hostage-taking, is a case in point.
Originally, most of the hostage-taking activities were political, centred around environmental issues and directed against oil companies in the Niger-Delta area in an effort to challenge environmental pollution.
That quickly changed, and hostage-taking for ransom is now predominant.The vast majority of hostage cases in Nigeria are concluded within a matter of days and go unreported, but substantial sums change hands – a great environment for the flourishing hostage-insurance industry. Some people, especially among politicians, some governors included, will argue that ransom payment does not lead to further abductions.
But, the truth is, it does – hostage-taking encourages the crime. And, it is on this note that the recent order of the president against payment of ransom should be appreciated because, if left in the hands of some governors, politicians and families, hostage-taking will continue to be a major problem that does not appear to be diminished considerably in the near future.
For now, even though the number of individuals taken is considerable and the Buhari-led administration is working hard to reduce chances of being abducted in all parts of the country, still caution needs to be exercised by people who may wish to travel to areas earmarked as dangerous parts of Nigeria.
Nigerian economy poises for stable growth
The recent exit of the Nigerian economy from recession indicates its readiness for stable and consistent growth.
The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, stated the readiness of the economy for development, saying that the federal government’s diversification efforts have started yielding dividends while the government vigorously implements the Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP).
The minister said exiting recession in the 4th quarter of 2020 was the fastest in time the country did so, pointing out that despite the recession, the country recorded some positives in many sectors of the economy.
“This is one of the shortest-lived recessions we have witnessed in the country, despite the impact of the COVID-19, but I must say that the result of this exit is as a result of the fiscal policies, the monetary policies and the Economic Sustainability Plan that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has been implementing,” she said.
Yet, even without the minister saying so, the exit from recession, without doubt, is a surprise that sends a positive message to the international community, especially the multilateral institutions, rating services and investment banks, that the Nigerian economy is resilient and has capacity to withstand shocks.
This development would, certainly, enhance the country’s credit standing internationally and boost its profile.
The exit will, hopefully, trigger an upward revision in growth forecasts made for Nigeria in 2021 by the IMF and the Fitch which had projected weak growth rates of 1.5% and 1.7%, respectively.
It is instructive to note that favourable news about any economy can influence increased flow of foreign investments.
But there are other lessons associated to the quick recession exit. Firstly, the Nigerian economy has shown that it can actually survive without the oil sector. The growth rate in Q4 2020 was powered by the non-oil sector which recorded a positive growth of 1.69%, despite a deep contraction in the oil sector by as much as over 19%. Information and communications, agriculture and real estate sectors were among the top performers.
Second lesson is that the agriculture sector remains a game changer, contributing over 24% to real GDP and posting a growth rate of 3.42% from about 1.3% in the previous quarter.
This is remarkable and largely reflects the increased interventions in this area, especially by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). This should be sustained and possibly improved up.
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Thirdly, agreed that crude oil output is critical to the oil sector’s performance.
However, relatively higher crude oil prices in Q4 2020, the sector’s performance was dismal due largely to the declining trend in average crude oil production from over 2 million barrels per day in the first quarter of 2020 down to 1.56 million barrels per day in the last quarter.
Going forward, now that the economy has exited recession, Nigeria should focus on achieving strong growth that is inclusive. By implication, more attention should be focused on jobs and reducing the high rate of unemployment and poverty.
This will require, among others, an aggressive approach to increasing food output by facilitating access to credit to farmers and SMEs, collaborating with states’ governments to address rural infrastructure deficit and comprehensively fighting insecurity.