The news of a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Olu Falae, coming home alive was good news to all of us, as it is not unusual to hear that kidnappers have killed their victims even when ransom is paid.
The act of kidnapping for ransom is now an all-too-common crime in Nigeria and in the case of Mr. Falae, as soon as the news of his kidnap reached the authorities, the police under the direct leadership of Nigeria’s Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, followed with immediate action. This instant action by the police was reportedly being carried out way before President Buhari ordered Mr. Arase to rescue Mr. Falae. To his professional credit the Inspector General of Police remained in the area as the police worked on the case.
Suddenly from out of nowhere, Mr. Falae showed up and the Inspector General of Police and his officers apparently rushed to the scene where Mr. Falae was present. Then something terrible happened—a fat and full blown lie was told about this case by the police, according to the media.
Mr. Arase, while with Mr. Falae who is a 77 year old man, already traumatized, in crisis, and very hungry, told the men and women of the Press that no ransom had been paid to Falae’s abductors and apparently spoke in a manner as if the police had rescued Mr. Falae.
To worsen this painful matter, the police knew nothing about his kidnap location and time of release until Mr. Falae, who had been a hostage for some days, was dropped off by the kidnappers on his farm. From there, he trekked several kilometers to the street where he met some policemen and introduced himself!
In other words, the police categorically did not rescue this man from the kidnappers and were not armed with details of the release at the time it went to the press.
Mr. Falae, on speaking about the abductors, in his own words stated, “They said they gave me until 3 pm and, if at 3pm they don’t get the money, they would execute me. I thank God that at 21 minutes to 3 pm, one of them came and said, ‘The money don complete’.” That is, the abductors got their ransom, and then released him back alive to his farm area.
This is not the first time the Nigerian police would twist stories of successful rescues from kidnappers, as in the recent case of Dr. Femi Omisore, a lecturer at the Obafemi Awolowo University Ile Ife, who was one of several persons kidnapped in Ekiti State. Seyi Olaoluwa, a daughter of Dr. Femi Omisore, reported to the world that the police lied to the public. She stated that ransom was paid for her father’s freedom.
Not long ago, there was the case of the formerly kidnapped Archbishop of the Niger Delta Province of the Anglican Communion, Ignatius Kattey, who, in his own words, stated, “The police did not rescue me. They were not the ones who rescued my wife, Beatrice. I saw the police for the first time two days ago since the incident.”
While it remains understandable that Nigeria is still a developing society with an emerging democracy, it is time for our all-too-wide police structure which, in fact, should have long been broken into state police system, to learn to practice common sense procedural behaviors when dealing with the media.
For the purpose of police excellence in communication with the press and the public, the Nigerian police should learn about press response, emergency media response especially.
It must learn and be ready to react quickly and honestly in terms of handling and adjusting to a hungry media by having a prepared honesty-based, fact-full response before going public, because when media handling goes wrong, the end product is a shame of mockery on the ailing institution, in this case, the Nigerian police.
No matter how urgently a leader wants to asset him or herself and gain instant name recognition and popularity, and no matter the nature of the circumstances in terms of emergency or non-crisis dealings, one should always give the facts correctly, learn to review the facts with one’s team and such facts must align fully with the central source, as in this case, Mr. Falae.
The media can always wait for a few minutes or hours for a proper and honest briefing by the police but when information is revealed from the points of sentimentality, a popularity contest and selfishness, major mistakes are made that could jeopardize one’s image, as in the case of the police leadership.
Certainly, Mr. Arase was attempting to be very proactive when he made statements about the end product of the kidnap matter. However, since he did not show patience to get the real facts, Mr. Falae’s later disclosures to the world crushed the police’s story in an overwhelming way.
By the police not understanding how to go about dealing with crisis communications in terms of responding to a hungry media, the police ended up hammering more devastating blows on a man who was already exhausted physically, emotionally and even financially, as money was paid to the fulani kidnappers.
To avoid future good deeds and efforts by the police turning from positive to negative, it will need updates and orientations on emergency media response. This writer, being the son to a veteran police officer, the late Samual Oshodi of Uromi, Edo State, is prepared at little or no remuneration to formulate a manual for the Nigerian police on response measures, crisis management and effective appearances in the media.
Again, the police might not take this offer, as it is not uncommon for our public institutions and leaders to seek out sizably-paid consultants for reasons best known to the leadership. All in all, the Inspector General of Police has for the most part impressed Nigeria as a 21st century leader, so let’s hope he takes this modest offer by this writer.
Dr. Oshodi is a Florida-based Forensic/Clinical Psychologist, a specialist in Prison/Police/Social Security matters and a former Secretary-General of the Nigeria Psychological Association. [email protected],drjohneoshodi.com