By Mukhtar Ya’u Madobi
In recent years, there is quite unprecedented upsurge in the level of insecurity in Nigeria which has since reached an alarming rate, which obviously needs a whole-of-society approach in order to stem the rising tides.
It is obvious that a lot of security breaches including terror attacks have happened which have never been witnessed since the existence of the country as a corporate entity. As a result, many promising lives were cut short and sent to great beyond. Meanwhile, valuable properties were equally destroyed, thus putting the economy at a cross.
Nigeria have experienced a novel form of terror attack in October 2021 when bandit-terrorists used explosive devices and bombed the Abuja-Kaduna rail tracks. The passengers were fortunate to escape unhurt as the driver was able to maneuvered and found his destination to a nearby station. This worrisome development forced the Nigerian Railway Corporation, NRC, to suspend services for a few days, thereby allowing it to fix the damaged rail tracks.
Upon services restoration, movement of people between the two cities continued smoothly without any hitches, until recently when the criminal actors strucked again in another masterpiece style of terror attack on the same transportation route.
It can be recalled that, terrorists had on March 28 2022, attacked Abuja-Kaduna bound train with over 360 passengers onboard. Just like before, they used explosive devices, bombed the rail tracks which forced the derailment of the train.
Unlike before, this time around, the passengers were not fortunate to have escaped the terror attack as reports from multiple sources indicated that about eight people were murdered in their own pool of blood while twenty-six sustained various degrees of injuries due to either stampede or gun shots.
Adding more salt to the injury was how these terrorists abducted almost 68 passengers from that train. Up to now, these captives are still being held at the bandit-terrorists’ den with a slim hope of ever regaining freedom.
It was learnt that the captives and the abductors trekked for five days before arriving at the terrorists’ camp in a forest somewhere around Shiroro Local Government Area in Niger State.
The demographic of these victims cut across to include vulnerable children and women, males including those with older ages and ailing conditions. Alas, one pregnant woman has had to even deliver of a baby girl in that terrorists’ enclave under terrible and despicable condition that can easily consume her life.
But, it was gathered that the bandits have invited a doctor to take delivery of the baby, however, the picture of the mother was not released and no one knows her condition or state of health as of now.
As tradition goes, families and relatives of the victims have waited under uncertain conditions for the bandits to contact them for payment of ransom in order to secure the freedom of their loved ones. However, this time around, the situation has assumed a different dimension from what was previously known about how they (bandits) operate upon kidnap of victims.
However, these blood-sucking demons have publicly communicated their demands, claiming that the government is already crystal clear about what they want in exchange for the captives, adding that they are not after money as at present.
“It’s not about money. We can’t do this for money. The government knows what we want,” said the terrorists.
The bandits made this known in a video they made available via social media while featuring the Managing Director, Bank of Agriculture, Mr. Alwan Hassan, whom they claimed to release on special condition. According to them, this is in recognition of his older age and the good manner in which he conducted himself while in captivity.
Nonetheless, this claim by the terrorists was dead even before arrival, as several sources who confided in journalists revealed that, contrary to the bandits’ claim, Alwan’s family had to part with humongous sum of N100million in exchange for his freedom.
The person who appeared to be a leader in the video clip started talking by praying in Arabic, before saying in Hausa that they were responsible for the train attack. He claimed the responsibility of abducting the passengers and called on the government to negotiate with them or they kill the captives.
While narrating his ordeal, Alwan stated that he left behind many people at the terrorists’ camps who desperately need help.
In his words: “The government should contact the leaders of this group and negotiate their release because they are in a situation that needs immediate help.”
It is disheartening to learn that, up to now, the government is not doing enough in order to rescue or ensure the safe release of these abductees who continue to languish at the bandits’ hideouts under harsh weather conditions including scorching sun.
To that effect, after waiting for almost a month with a forlorn hope, the families and relatives of the captives have written a letter to the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), Babagana Monguno, a retired Major General, demanding for the unconditional release of their loved ones.
The letter which was signed by Alhaji Aliyu Mahmood, Idayat Yusuf, Aminu Othma and Dr. Baabs Muhammed on behalf of the victims’ families was transmitted to Munguno on April 25, 2022.
The letter reads in parts: “We write to express our concern that there is no representation from the government to communicate with us on the status of our loved ones.
“Even though we know the information may be of confidential nature, families need to be reassured and be carried along in a safe manner to ensure their release from captivity safely.
“We humbly request your facilitation to ensure that the Federal Government is in touch with the victims’ families.”
From the onset when the short video clip was released, many pundits predicted that something else like prisoner swap could be their primary concern, since they made it crystal clear that they are not after money.
In a recent message they communicated to the federal government through the Kaduna-based Publisher of Desert Herald Newspaper, Alhaji Tukur Mamu, they insisted that their children who are being held at an orphanage home in Yola, Adamawa state should be released as a condition for them to free some of the captives. Later the remaining ones will be equally set free upon prisoners’ exchange with their detained commanders.
Presently, there are strong indications that the Federal Government may concede to the demands of the terrorists by releasing some of their detained gangs’ commanders and sponsors in exchange for the abductees which they threatened to waste at any time.
It was learnt that negotiations with the terrorists were progressing but the government, it was gathered, had the option to capitulate to the gunmen’ demands or launch an all-out attack which is considered high risk.
This is because, the terrorists will not hesitate to eliminate the victims in their custody the moment they come under attack. This act of using humans as a shield by criminals has been making rescue operations by the security forces difficult in Nigeria.
Despite these impediments, President Muhammadu Buhari, while receiving citizens during a Sallah homage, assured families that efforts were ongoing to ensure safe return of all those being held by bandits, directing security agencies and the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) to provide more regular and detailed information to families.
“Let me assure Nigerians that the bandits are just pushing their luck, but this is only for a while before they are finally crushed. They are using civilians as human shields, thereby making it difficult to confront them directly,” he said.
According to the President, bandits and terrorists, unlike professional soldiers, don’t respect the rules of engagement and could resort to harming hostages when attacked.
“They don’t care about killing their hostages if they come under attack. It’s a delicate situation that requires wisdom, caution and also patience. Any rescue operation that results in the death of any hostage cannot be deemed a success.
“The government doesn’t want this kind of tragic outcome. It’s a complex situation that demands proper handling. The primary objective of any rescue operation is to free the hostages safely, unharmed and alive.
As noted by Buhari, Nigeria’s security challenges need multi stakeholders’ approach as criminals and other non-state actors have since evolved novel methods of carrying out nefarious activities. Residents should help security forces with credible intelligence aimed at exposing terrorists’ syndicates in order to surmount insecurity.
“Let me make it clear, however, that defeating the terrorists and bandits requires more than weapons; we also need human intelligence which is necessary to frustrate te rrorist plans. The people and community leaders should help our security officials with information about the activities or movements of criminal groups,” Buhari added.
Nonetheless, the time is long overdue for these captives and other victims being currently languishing in terrorists den to regain freedom. The time is now!
Mukhtar wrote in from Kano via firstname.lastname@example.org