Nigerian Senate Outlaws Ransom Payments and Raises Punishments for Kidnapping

On Wednesday, after much discussion, the Nigerian Senate passed the Terrorism Act. Reforming previous laws regarding kidnapping-terrorism, the new legislation outlines stricter punishments for those involved in kidnapping and those who pay ransom. The death penalty was made mandatory for all those convicted of kidnapping in cases involving the death of the abducted victim. Life sentences will be imposed on those convicted for less lethal results. More controversially, those who pay any ransom to kidnappers can be sentenced for up to 15 years. 

Nigeria, like numerous other African countries, struggles with regional armed gangs who kidnap to force families into submission; communities live in constant fear of their family members being abducted. With little central government action against these gangs, most families have to resort to collecting money and taking out loans in hopes of seeing their loved ones again. As the issue of kidnapping has escalated in magnitude, the new changes to the Terrorism Act were made to stop the incentives for criminals. Opeyemi Bamidele, the chairman of the Senate’s judiciary and human rights and legal committee, stated during legal discussions on the Senate floor that the new laws would, “discourage the rising spate of kidnapping and abduction for ransom in Nigeria, which is fast spreading across the country.” The intentions of the new policies are to help those who fear abduction by trying to remove the financial motives. However, placing punishments upon those who are trying to bring their family home safely has been received with mixed signals by Nigerians. 

In Nigeria, those with loved ones at risk fear that without larger efforts to combat regional gangs from the government, the root problem of terrorism will not end. The new policies are aggressive, but disregard the lives of those who will still be kidnapped and their families who still wish to bring them home safely. By arresting and jailing those who pay ransoms for kidnapping, Nigerians throughout the country will be placed between a rock and a hard place: sacrifice their abducted loved one or risk arrest.

VOA News interviewed Paul Mshelia, a Nigerian father whose children had been abducted for ransom in March 2021. Mshelia expressed great displeasure and mistrust for the new mandates, explaining how unlikely it is that anyone would not try to pay ransoms to have safe returns for their family. Drawing from his own experience, Mshelia described how terrifying it was to hear his children had been taken by gang members, and even after the central Nigerian government advised against it, he was able to negotiate a ransom of $100,000, and his children were returned safely. He states: “To me, it’s out of context because I don’t think it’s going to solve any problem… Even if you jail somebody today and this kidnapping continues, people will still go out of their way to pay.”

Throughout Nigeria, many have expressed similar concerns, speculating how likely the heightened risks will affect abductions. The new bill still must pass through the lower parliament and get presidential approval. Kidnapping, abduction, and trafficking have been an exponentially growing problem around the globe due to minimal central government action against the perpetrators. While the Terrorism Act in Nigeria is controversial, it is a new step towards a possible solution to the ongoing issue. Countries throughout the world should watch future Nigerian policy, not only to criticize its possible blind spots and weaknesses but to consider new solutions to this globally traumatizing dilemma.