Over the past week, newspapers and online platforms have been abuzz with news of the arrest of kidnapping kingpin, Evans, and his gang. The epoch-making arrest is great news for the police, who oftentimes find themselves at the other end of public sentiments; the media, who are currently having their Anini moment with all the dramatic confessions coming out of the case; and the public, especially well-to-do residents of Lagos, who are undoubtedly excited and relieved at the capture of one of their tormentors-in-chief.
As with every story, the tale of Evans and his band of kidnappers has many perspectives. Right from the anguish and untold miseries that the hoodlums have wrought on families, to the inexcusable carnage of their deliberate actions. There’s also the role of desperation and the dearth of legitimate economic opportunities in the country, which, not excusing barbarity of their crimes, cannot be avoided in any conversation on the fundamental causes of their criminality. That part of the story is what this article is about.
Not much is thus far known about Evans’s economic background story, except that he has been an active criminal for the past fourteen years. But, 34 year old Chukwuma Kingsley, his gang member, went in and out of legal jobs. So also did Ike, Victor, and Nnamdi, all of whom – per Chukwuma’s confession – had shops in Alaba International Market. The confession of their abominable actions is interspersed with accounts of their legitimate hustles.
“I ventured into crime in 2012 after I lost my job at the company where I worked as a security man,” said Chukwuma in his confession. “I am married with four children. I travelled to Indonesia with the little money I saved from my salary. When I got there, I fell ill and I returned back to the country. Things became very difficult for me and my family. While I was searching for help, I met one Ike, who was an old friend and I asked for assistance. He told me that he was into car vandalism and I could join him if I had the guts. For the fact that I could barely fend for my wife and four children, I decided to join him.” Ike, Chukwuma would later mention, had a business in Alaba which he retreated to when the climate became too hot for their criminal activities.
Nnamdi was another Alaba trader whose business was also struggling. “I came to Lagos in 2006 from Okene, Kogi State. I came to Lagos with N90,000 and I was selling used phones at Alaba International market. After a while, I ventured into musical instruments with the money I made from selling used phones.” Years later, Nnamdi would fall for the lure of quick, big money that crime promised. He got into a robbery operation from which he made N59 million. “I built a house and bought a Sports Utility Vehicle with part of the money. I then invested the remaining into my business and travelled to Japan and started importing musical instruments. People were surprised by my sudden wealth but they didn’t know how I made it. The first set of importations I did went well but the last one didn’t go well. There lots of debts so, I stopped importing. Later on, my business folded up and I went back into robbery.”
As Nnamdi notes, people were surprised by his sudden wealth. Who wouldn’t be? In Nigeria, success, after a long life of legitimate hard work and due diligence, is uncommon. Take the millions of pensioners who live in abject poverty, the mass of traders for who one trip to the doctor, by them or any member of their family, could mean a wipe off of all their earnings, and the middle-aged white collar worker who lives from pay check to pay check and cannot start to think of owning a home. In this society, it is an exception, not a norm, to work hard and right, and make it in life. Growing up in such a society sadly leads many young people into believing that hard work does not pay, and that the only way to make it is either through criminal schemes, phoney enterprises and corrupt politics, amongst others.
In Chukwuma and Nnamdi’s confessions, one can see their despicable greed and the wicked heartlessness of their actions, and one can also see the economic desperation that, in part, drove their evil deeds. It is an aged and indisputable connection; poverty and lack of economic opportunity leads to crime. In its recent report, the National Bureau of Statistics has Lagos as the state with the highest incidence of crime, more than double that of FCT Abuja which comes in second. It’s not surprising why Lagos, where both criminals are based, is gaping with income inequality, filled with workers whose earnings cannot make a decent living, surfeit of jobless youth on the streets, and littered with beggars in highways. All of which are probably creating new Chukwumas and Nnamdis on a daily basis.
Other states are not any better, if not much worse. With state governments irresponsibly inept at paying their workers and creating new jobs, it’s no surprise that we are seeing the rise of, not just kidnapping and armed robbery, but also fascist anarchism and xenophobic expressions. Curbing these criminal activities is as much a security issue as it is an economic one. Thus, Evans, Nnamdi, Victor and Ike should all face the full weight of the law for their horrific and inexcusable crimes. However, it is also high time our governments took the link between economic desperation and criminality more seriously, and sought to address it accordingly.