Six months into the abduction of train passengers along the Abuja-Kaduna road by terrorists, 23 of the victims are still held captive, Daily Trust reports.
This is in spite of a strong assurance of securing their release from President Muhammadu Buhari when he played host to relatives of the victims at the Presidential Villa in August.
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In the wake of the attack, the president had also directed security chiefs to hunt down the terrorists and rescue those abducted.
Daily Trust reports that armed terrorists had on March 28 ambushed the train heading for Kaduna from the nation’s capital city after bombing its rail track.
The attack, which was attributed to the failure of the authorities to act on intelligence reports occurred only a couple of days after unidentified gunmen invaded the Kaduna Airport, killing an official on the runway.
In the train attack, at least eight passengers were reportedly killed, while 168 others were kidnapped or declared missing.
It was the second time the rail line between Abuja and Kaduna would be the target of attack.
Less than 24 hours after the attack on the train, some Nigerian government officials visited the scene of the incident to ascertain the level of damages.
Prominent amongst them were the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, ex-Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, Chief of Defence staff, Lucky Irabor, and Chief of Army Staff, Faruk Yahaya.
Others who also visited the scene were the Inspector General of Police, Usman Alkali, and officials of the Nigerian Railway Cooperation (NRC).
Following his visit to the scene, Amaechi had told journalists that the attack would have been averted if surveillance equipment he proposed to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) had been installed.
The former minister reportedly said he had proposed to the FEC the need to procure the equipment to forestall attacks on the infrastructure but it was rejected by his colleagues.
President Muhammadu Buhari, while reacting to the incident, described it as ‘callous’ and a matter of grave concern while also directing security chiefs to hunt down the terrorists and rescue those abducted.
A few days after the attack, the Managing Director of the Nigerian Bank for Agriculture, Alwan Hassan, was released alongside others.
Although Hassan, who was seen in a video released by the bandits, said he was freed on compassionate grounds, there were reports that a ransom of N100 million was paid to secure his release.
Also, two weeks after the incident, relatives of the kidnapped victims accused the federal government of insensitivity towards the plight of the victims.
Consequently, the relatives handed down a 72-hour ultimatum to the federal government to ensure the safe rescue of their beloved ones from the den of the terrorists. They said failure to listen to them would force them to decide on how to rescue their loved ones.
Still in the wilderness
Exactly six months into the abduction, Daily Trust reports that of the over 60 people abducted in March, 23 victims whose relatives cannot afford the ransom demand of the terrorists are still held in the forest.
Some of those taken into the forest by the kidnappers have been released in batches after ransom payments by their families.
Tukur Mamu, the negotiator between the kidnappers and the families, was arrested by the Department of State Services (DSS) for allegedly collecting over N2 billion from families of victims of the Abuja-Kaduna train attack and taking same to terrorists in exchange for kidnapped victims.
A source had informed Daily Trust that there were many allegations against the negotiator around the ransom paid to secure the release of the train passengers.
“There are reported inconsistencies between monies paid and what was actually remitted to the kidnappers. He is also seen as pandering too much to the side of the terrorists than the people and government.
“What pained us was the recent move to pay N25 million to secure the release of the remaining 23 persons but at the last minute, he thwarted the arrangement insisting on a much higher figure,” the source had said.
Buhari should redeem his pledge – Families
A spokesperson for the families of the victims, Mohammed Sabiu Barau, told Daily Trust in a telephone interview that they were still anxiously waiting for President Buhari to fulfil the promise he made.
“Our hope is the safe return of the remaining 23 victims,” he said.
Barau who led the delegation of the victim’s family members that visited Buhari at the Presidential Villa in August said the federal government has the capacity and wherewithal to secure the release of the remaining victims.
“Like you rightly noted, during our visit, we were given full assurance by Mr President that our relatives and loved ones would be rescued to reunite with us. Similar promises were also made on different occasions by the Chief of Defence Staff and the Chief of Army Staff. Right now, we are at a loss because the promises are yet to be fulfilled.
“We are therefore appealing to the federal government to do the needful because the situation is still critical and we are in agony and pains,” said Sabiu whose younger brother is among the victims still held in captivity by the terrorists.
Speaking in the same vein, Usman Habib Katungu, whose son is still with the terrorists, described the situation as sad and painful. “The federal government promised us that our relatives would be released soon but we are yet to see them. How can poor parents like us raise the kind of money being demanded to pay a ransom?”
Katungu also appealed to the federal government to live up to its promise saying: “We won’t get tired of making appeals.”
The presidential promise
President Buhari had during a meeting with representatives of the victims of the Kaduna train abduction assured them that the federal government was doing everything within its powers to ensure the safe return of the remaining captives.
But despite the assurance coupled with an earlier directive, he handed on to security chiefs to hunt down the terrorists and rescue those abducted, 23 of the victims are still held captive by the terrorists in the forests.
In a statement, presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina quoted Buhari as saying, ‘‘I have been informed that at last count, there remain about 31 people in the hands of the kidnappers, and our determination is to work towards returning these 31 people to their families.
“It is understandable that emotions typically run high, we have received several suggestions about the deployment of lethal military force in extracting those still being held in captivity,” he said.
On his instruction to security and law enforcement agencies to bring an end to inhumane action against innocent Nigerians, the president said: “Judging by the available reports to me and news that have begun emerging in the last few days, I will say they have heard this instruction and are responding appropriately.
“We must take the fight to the terrorists and demonstrate that there is no hiding place for them within the borders of our country. Each one of them will be hunted, and pursued and spoken to in the language that they understand,” Buhari said.
How the remaining captives can be rescued-Retired AIG
A retired Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG), Wilson Inalegwu said the remaining victims of the Kaduna train attack still in captivity can be rescued through intensive intelligence gathering and sharing among the security agencies.
Inalegwu who spoke with Daily Trust on telephone said such intelligence should be obtained from the local communities by making contacts with local food sellers to obtain information on suspicious persons who come to patronise them.
While averring that the payment of ransom should be discouraged, the ex-AIG said: “Negotiations should continue but the security operatives can look at the weaknesses of the terrorists and intensify efforts at inter-agency collaboration.
“Nigerians should be confident in the president’s assurance. Service providers must also help by making it more difficult for kidnapping to thrive. Above all, security agencies should not sleep; they should do everything possible to bring back the remaining captives alive,” Inalegwu said.