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University staff kidnappings – Union calls for action by Tunde Fatunde

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Amid nationwide concerns over security, Nigeria’s academic community is experiencing ‘fear and anxiety’ after two recent kidnappings involving university academics in the country, one of which resulted in the abductee’s death.

According to local news reports, Edo Commissioner of Police Mohammed DanMallam confirmed on 19 May the killing of Kelvin Izevbekhai, a lecturer at Igbinedion University, Okada, near Benin, by suspected kidnappers. Izevbekhai was reportedly shot dead on the Benin-Lagos highway while attempting to escape from gunmen who kidnapped a busload of passengers, among them Izevbekhai.

On 5 May another academic, Professor Olayinka Adegbehingbe, who is an orthopaedic surgeon at Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, was dragged from his vehicle by kidnappers – allegedly Fulani herdsmen – while travelling on the Ife-Ibadan highway heading to Ife. He was eventually released after the kidnappers reportedly dropped their ransom demand from NGN30 million (US$83,000) to NGN6 million.

Writing in the Guardian on 11 May, Onyedika Agbedo said even areas hitherto regarded as safe in the country have succumbed to all kinds of violent crimes. “Day after day, reports of kidnapping, armed robbery, banditry, herders-farmers clashes and cult wars dominate the media space and Nigerians have more or less become sheep without a shepherd.”

Academic morale

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) branch, was quick to react to the Adegbehingbe abduction. In an interview granted to Punch newspaper, ASUU Chapter Chairman Dr Adeola Egbedokun said the development has thrown the university community into a state of fear and anxiety. 

“This incident is capable of lowering the morale of workers and destroying academic activities at this university.”

While noting that kidnapping was not new in the country, ASUU said it was worried by its expansion into areas previously regarded as safe.

“ASUU OAU equally observed that though the crime of kidnapping is not new in Nigeria, its upsurge and gradual incursion into Osun state, which is often celebrated as one of the most peaceful states in Nigeria, are issues to be seen as worrisome, and of serious concern.”

“I call upon the police and other security agencies to undertake everything in their powers to expose Professor Adegbehingbe’s abductors and the masterminds of this criminal act.”

Response from government

The two events involving academics and other abductions have also drawn a response from Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who is also the ‘Visitor’ of federal universities. 

Audu Ogbeh, the minister of agriculture, who declared that he was mandated to speak for Buhari on the subject, said the president was deeply worried by what is being regarded as a growing “industry” of kidnapping as a means to earn a living. 

“The mistakes of yesterday are causing us anxieties today. Our children are graduating from universities and polytechnics and they cannot find jobs. So our youths, our children have turned to a new ‘industry’ which is causing fear in the heart of all of us, namely kidnapping, abduction and all kinds of crimes including rustling of cattle. How long can we endure as a country under these circumstances? How can we survive when kidnapping is a new occupation and a new business?” 

Offering a solution, Ogbeh said: “We have to create jobs … and spread wealth.”

In an interview with Nigerian Television Authority aired on Monday, 27 May, Buhari blamed the country’s security forces.

“Those perpetrating this evil come from somewhere in Nigeria. Their neighbourhoods know them. The community leaders and also the police are in the front line. They [the police] were not given the position and uniforms to impress anybody but to secure the people. In this, I feel the community leadership and police to some extent have failed this country.”

Buhari also referred to a decline in the quality of the Nigerian military since his departure as military chief. 

“The security in relation to when I was in command has really gone down. I cannot claim to know what happened after I left the military … I am still expecting more,” he said.

The comments from and on behalf of Buhari elicited diverse comments from academics. 

Most of those interviewed by University World News noted that it was the first time since the kidnapping saga hit the university environment that the Visitor of universities had broken his silence on this subject. 

While they all welcome the need by the president to put in place financial incentives to grow the economy, reduce unemployment and make kidnapping less “attractive”, they are worried that these measures have not gone far enough to tackle the monster at its roots.

Social and economic problem

“Kidnapping is a social and economic problem that has crept into the university system,” said Dr Adewale Suenu from the department of international studies, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun state. “At the level of the economy, the government has diverted resources to what I call the non-productive sector which does not add employment value to cater for those who have no jobs,” he said.

Responding to Ogbeh’s comments on unemployment, Dr Christiana Usondu, manager of the New Age Vocational Centre in Lagos, said: “I completely agree with the Visitor that our university graduates do not have adequate skills to face the challenges confronting the labour market of this century.”

She said she had “argued passionately” in various fora for a new curriculum that would give university students the skills needed in a century of innovation, artificial intelligence and vocational skills. 

“Thus we may be able to produce a labour force that could turn its back on kidnapping,” she said, noting that a new syllabus with a backbone of vocational training needed to be supported by an increase in the annual budget on education and vocational training. “The current 9% in this year’s budget for education and vocational training is highly insufficient to cater for the needs of the new syllabus,” she said.

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