The growing wave of kidnappings is worsening security issues in Nigeria, a country grappling with banditry and insurgency, particularly in the Northern region. Criminal elements have raided communities and schools to abduct villagers and schoolchildren in large numbers, demanding huge ransoms for their release.
Graduates participating in the mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme have also not been spared by kidnappers, with some even losing their lives in the process. The National Youth Service Corps was established by decree No.24 of 22nd May 1973, “with a view to the proper encouragement and development of common ties among the youths of Nigeria and the promotion of national unity”.
Fuelled by increasing youth unemployment and generating finances for terror groups, these instances of kidnapping for ransom have become a topical security issue. At least $18.34 million in ransom was paid to kidnappers between June 2011 and the end of March 2020, a Nigerian consulting firm, SBM Intelligence reports, with about $11 million of this figure paid out between January 2016 and March 2020, indicating an accelerating rise in kidnapping incidents in the country in recent times.
On Thursday, September 23, 2021, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) came under fire, after social media was flooded with pages from its handbook which advised corps members to be ready to pay ransom in the event of their kidnapping.
The NYSC advised corps members and staff travelling through certain routes it described as “high risk”, to fore-alert their “family members, friends and colleagues to have someone on hand to pay off the ransom that could be demanded” by their abductors.
As the document went viral on social media platforms – Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp, attracting thousands of engagements and reactions, many Nigerians lashed out on the management of the NYSC, accusing them of promoting ransom payment.
Reacting to the development, the management of the National Youth Service Corps hurriedly released a statement dismissing the viral document as “fake”.
“The attention of Management of the National Youth Sevice Corps has been drawn to a fake release making the rounds on the social media to the effect that Corps Members travelling on “high risk roads” should alert their families, friends and colleagues in order to have somebody to pay off the ransom that could be demanded in the event of being kidnapped,” the NYSC said on its official Facebook page.
“Management wishes to emphatically state that the clause quoted is not embedded in NYSC Security Tips pamphlet which was put together by a highly respected retired security expert.
“Management wishes to appeal to the general public to always clarify issues with the Scheme. Please, be wary of falling prey to the antics of mischief makers out to ridicule the Scheme.
“Management shall continue to prioritize the security and welfare of Corps Members and staff at all times.”
Despite the rebuttal by the management of the NYSC dismissing the viral claims as “antics of mischief makers”, Nigerians took to social media to criticize the NYSC authorities, describing their denial as “ridiculous and irresponsible”, in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence.
A journalist at HumAngle, Kabiru Adejumo described the security advisory by the NYSC in the handbook as a welcome development given the current security trends in the country.
“It is a wise decision to advise them on security procedures, in line with the ongoing trends. Organizations should be encouraged to do this,” he said.
However, Mr. Adejumo fired at the NYSC for denying the provisions of its handbook.
“But the sad reality is that the NYSC is ashamed and have now come out to deny the contents of their own handbook. It is ridiculous for them to have said so. It shows how irresponsible the director and every other person saddled with the responsibility of running the scheme,” he said.
“It clearly shows that they did not verify or fact-check the contents of the handbook before issuing it. It is a big shame for them to have said they don’t know the content of their own handbook.”
Following the massive social media backlash, authorities at the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) made a U-turn on their initial position on Friday, admitting that copies of its pamphlets containing security tips for staff and corps members contain the “embarrassing” clause that advises corps members to prepare for ransom payment if abducted, a Premium Times report said.
“The organization, however, noted that it realized that different copies of the pamphlets are in circulation with some containing the clause and others not.”
The NYSC spokesperson, Adenike Adeyemi, told PREMIUM TIMES that the organization was investigating the situation.
However, here are a few things to know about the controversial handbook
The handbook, titled; “Security Awareness and Education Handbook for Corps Members and Staff,” is produced by Watchcon Security Consultancy Services, a private security outfit, in conjunction with the headquarters of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).
The 60-page document contains safety tips on how staff and corps members can conduct themselves in the event of different security situations, including: hotel security, preventing sexual assault, local travel security within the city, violent crimes and management, fire and safety, safety tips for shopping and advisory tips to minimize being victims of kidnappers or hostage takers, action on being kidnapped, kidnapping and hostage situations, amongst others.
For instance, page 45 advises corps members and staff on points to be considered during intercity travels.
“When travelling inter-city, do not wear religious medals and use religious posters or other articles that might antagonize faithful of other religions.”
It also advised them to “always dress casually and largely in conformity with the dress code of the culture of the area you are visiting.”
On page 53, the NYSC also advises staff and corps members on conduct themselves in the event of being kidnapped.
“The situation has reached an alarming rate, such that corps members and staff should note the following tips to minimize being victims of kidnappers or if they are unfortunate to be kidnapped or taken hostage,” it stated.
“Do not antagonise your captors, be polite and operate with reasonable regards. Give reasonable cooperation to your abductors.
“Establish personal relationship with your abductors as soon as possible.
“The kidnappers may ask for contact persons, do not mention your place of work, but your close friends and parents. They will reach them to negotiate for your release.
“Advise your friends involved in the negotiations, they should be friendly with the captors.
“Take no risk by attempting to escape. DO NOT BE A HERO.
“Keep fit with mental exercise.
“Make no statement to the media after your release without official clearance but share your experience with close associates.”
Page 58 and 59 contained “Advisory Tips to Minimize Being Victims of Kidnapping or Hostage Takers” – including the controversial advisory that went viral. In this section, the NYSC advised both corps members and staff travelling on “high-risk” roads to alert their “family members, friends and colleagues to have someone on hand to pay off the ransom that could be demanded” in case they are kidnapped. It identified such routes to include “Abuja-Kaduna, Abuja-Lokoja-Okene, or Aba-Port Harcourt” roads.