A new bill in Nigeria would punish those who pay ransoms to kidnappers with jail terms of at least 15 years. Open Doors experts believe this won’t deter kidnappers, and will penalise the wrong people.
A new bill in Nigeria will impose jail terms of at least 15 years on those who pay ransoms to kidnappers. The new bill has been passed by the Nigerian Senate and will now be debated by the Lower House before being sent to the president to sign. Commentators are concerned that it will target victims of Islamic extremists in the country, who are already suffering so much.
This bill is one of the amendments to Nigeria’s Terrorism Prevention Act. Another will make the crime of abduction punishable by the death penalty, if victims die.
Some of the abductions make international headlines – like the kidnapping of the Chibok schoolgirls in April 2014, of whom more than 100 remain missing – but these are the tip of the iceberg. Abduction is a common persecution tactic used by different Islamic militant groups in the north and Middle Belt of Nigeria, and thousands of people have been kidnapped in the past few years. These militant groups include Boko Haram, Fulani militants and the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), and they particularly target Christians and Christian communities. Abduction is used because it doesn’t just harm individual believers – it destabilises communities, and acts as a threat against a whole church.
Opeyemi Bamidele, chairman of the Senate’s judiciary, human rights and legal committee, told the Senate that making ransom payments punishable with lengthy jail sentences would ‘discourage the rising spate of kidnapping and abduction for ransom in Nigeria, which is fast spreading across the country’. But Illia Djadi, Open Doors’ senior analyst on freedom of religion and belief in sub-Saharan Africa, disagrees.
"This bill is a cruel blow to victims of abductions and their families." Illia Djadi, Open Doors
“This bill is a cruel blow to victims of abductions and their families,” Djadi says. “It won’t stop the kidnapping. Instead, it will add to the anguish of people who are already traumatised. The legislation will leave them with no way of getting their loved ones back.
“The Nigerian government has lost its grip on security in the country and is making the victims of abductions by extremists take the hit. Security or the lack of it has become a huge issue in Nigeria and that’s what has fuelled these attacks. They have become endemic.
“It’s a growing and lucrative business - anybody could be the next target.”
Rather than punishing desperate loved ones, George Williams, director of Open Doors’ work in Africa, calls for more help for those who are traumatised by their family member being abducted.
"The government needs to form a channel of clear communication, informing and assisting families traumatised by abductions." George Williams, Open Doors
“We cannot imagine the difficult position of families of those who have been held hostage,” Williams says. “They are put in the indescribable situation of trying everything to save their loved ones with limited resource or recourse.
“These families experience repeated trauma and are often treated like afterthoughts – we must rally around them. The government needs to form a channel of clear communication, informing and assisting families traumatised by abductions.
“We encourage the government to walk closely with these families to explore all appropriate options to ensure the safe recovery of their loved ones.”
Please keep praying for the families and friends of Christians who’ve been abducted in Nigeria, and for the Nigerian Government as they continue to explore responses to this worsening persecution. Nigeria has moved up to number seven on Open Doors’ World Watch List, and Christians face more violence in Nigeria than in the rest of the world. Our brothers and sister there urgently need our prayers.
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