What is Africa Eye?
Africa Eye is a unit of BBC Africa which basically investigates stories that are hardly told in hard to reach places in Africa. It focuses on investigations that authorities would rather keep hidden. It also focuses on stories that would bring about change in Africa.
Recently, you investigated the kidnapping menace in Nigeria. Tell us about it.
As you know, kidnapping is a big issue in Nigeria at the moment. Anybody, whether rich or poor, can be a victim. Some years ago, the Nigeria Police Force established the Intelligence Response Team (IRT) which is saddled with the responsibility of investigating cases of kidnapping and armed robbery using the latest technology. I had an opportunity to embed with the unit for three weeks which granted me access to see how they operate.
Basically, I also realised the fact that there are many challenges facing this unit of the Police Force which makes it impossible for them to solve all cases.
How long has the IRT been operating?
It was established in 2015.
Why did you choose this topic?
I think it is the best time to do this. Right now, everybody is afraid of kidnapping. Before noe, kidnapping was limited to the northeast and some other parts of Nigeria. Right now, it is obvious that no matter where you are in Nigeria, you cannot say that you are totally immune to kidnapping. We needed to tell that story and let people understand how these things happen.
You know we live in a country where there is little accountability with regards to operations of the armed forces of police. A lot of people are afraid right now and we needed to show them how this war is been fought and what unit is involved. We also needed to tell people the stories of victims.
Do you think the IRT is the answer to Nigeria's kidnap crisis?
When I embedded with the unit for three weeks, I noticed that the unit is seriously under resourced and as such, it can't solve all cases. I met with two guys, Paul and Spencer, who I interviewed in the documentary. They were kidnapped on a major highway and released just about a week before our meeting. The told me how they were tortured while speaking with family members on the phone in order to get the money they demanded. They paid one million naira each before they were released. When I met them, it was clear that they were seriously trumatised. I believe that’s his a lot of Nigerians would feel.
Have questions been raised about the method of handling these cases?
Yes. There are some human right activists I Need Nigeria who have accused the unit of torture and abuse of power. When we started out, we knew that there a two angles to this fight against kidnapping and with the IRT at the center of it. There are lots of Nigerians who see the IRT as hero due to the success they have recorded with tracking some of the most high profile cases in the country like the arrest of some Boko Haram suspects responsible for the kidnap of the Chibok girls.
But, there are people who have also accused of police brutality. We can’t say that they are totally heroes. However, the IRT guys are doing their best within a broken system. We also had to tell the story of those who see themselves as victims of the police unit also.
What has been the reaction since you published the documentary?
It has been amazing. For me, it has largely achieved exactly what we needed to achieved which is the fact that a lot of Nigerians now see the war against kidnapping in a different light. It has also been an eye opener to most Nigerians. Nigerians now understand the dynamics involved. Even people in position of authority who one would assume would criticise the documentary because of it was critical of the unit have given positive remarks about it.
This story took about a year for us to shoot. It took even longer to get access to the unit because it is coming at a time when there is the #EndSARS campaign. It is also coming at a time when there is this sort of anger against the police. A lot of people feel that the police need to be reformed because of cases of abuse and so so.
What do you think the government should do to in terms of supporting the unit to perform even better.
The government needs to fund this unit and provide the logistics and resources needed for it to perform even better. The government also need to put a lot more people with adequate training into that unit. As it stands, there is no better time to fund the IRT and expend it’s operations than now. Since no State is immune to kidnapping right now, why not have an adequately funded and resourced sub unit of the IRT in all states in such a way that they are coordinated using technology? The unit has a good leader and an equally motivated staff, that is what has kept the, going for a while.
Watch the documentary below: