By Peter Duru, Dirisu Yakubu, & Ibrahim Hassan

Exactly 120  days after terrorists bombed the AK-9 train conveying hundreds of passengers from Abuja to Kaduna and kidnapped them, families of the remaining 41 persons still in captivity, yesterday, grounded activities at the Ministry of Transportation, protesting lack of decisive action to rescue their relations. 

As early as 8 am, family members of the victims besieged the Federal Ministry of Transportation headquarters, Abuja, preventing workers, including top management staff, from accessing their offices.

With mats spread at the entrance gate, they dared any staff of the ministry to cross the barricade and for over four hours, they kept faith with their threat.

Amid the protest, the Transportation Ministry said efforts were being made with security agencies to rescue the victims, disclosing that negotiators had been in the bush for three weeks over the issue.

A few hours after the protest, the terrorists released four more victims, including Gladys Brumen, Oluwatoyin Ojo, Hassan Lawal and Pastor Ayodeji Oyewumi, leaving the number of those in captivity at 38.

Meanwhile, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, foremost women activist and politician, Hajiya Naja’atu Mohammed, the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, and the Coalition of Northern Groups, CNG, have condemned the viral video of the terrorists flogging the Abuja-Kaduna train hostages, urging the Federal Government to wake up to its responsibility of protecting Nigerians.

Indeed, Ortom said the video and the threat by the bandits to kidnap President Muhammadu Buhari and other government functionaries were clear indications that there was no government in Nigeria.

Victims’ families’ protest

Families of the victims also slammed the First Lady and wife of President Muhammadu Buhari, Aisha Buhari, accusing her of abandoning her motherly role, unlike her predecessor, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, who rose to the occasion in similar circumstances a few years ago when Chibok schoolgirls were kidnapped.

Interjecting while the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Transportation, Dr. Magdalene Ajani, was addressing the protesters, a victims’ family member, Hajia Hadiza Mohammed, said Mrs. Aisha Buhari abandoned her motherly responsibility of empathy for politics at a time family members were grieving over the fate of their loved ones held captive by terrorists.

Recalling Mrs. Jonathan famous lamentation “Chai, there is God o,” when 276 school girls were kidnapped from Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, in 2014 by members of the Boko Haram sect, Mrs. Mohammed noted that the then First Lady earned applause for her motherly care, unlike her successor.

She said: “When Patience Jonathan was the First Lady of this country, she came out and she cried and her statement has now become a slogan in this country. What is our First Lady doing? Is she not a mother? Is she not a grandmother? For once, she has never come out to say anything to anybody.

“She has not done anything. She is there canvassing for women to come out and contest (elections). Half of the population that came out to vote in this country was women. She (Aisha) is there sitting wherever she is. She will come back to meet us here. Soldier come, soldier go, and barracks remain. My belief is that what goes around comes around.”

Mrs. Mohammed further noted that her little relatives were captured in the recent video released by the gunmen on Sunday, where they were seen flogging their victims.

“Madam (addressing the Permanent Secretary), do you know that those four little kids in the video that were running after their mothers when they were flogging their fathers, are my nephews and nieces? Do you know the trauma they will face when they get out of that place? Beating their fathers in their presence and teaching them how to be violent (it’s terrible),” she lamented

Also speaking, another family member of the abductees, Ahmed Ibrahim Aruwa, said the terrorists had reached out to the families demanding N100m each to release the victims.

With 41 members in their den, this brings the total sum of money being demanded to N4.1bn (Four billion, one hundred million naira only).”

‘Why we stormed Transportation Ministry’

Aruwa told newsmen the reason the families chose to storm the Transportation Ministry yesterday  morning.

“We are here to press for the release of our loved ones who are in captivity in the kidnappers’ den in the bush. There was a promise that government will get them released but up till this moment, it has been promises and nothing more.

“We came here because the Transportation Ministry is directly in charge of the train station where our loved ones boarded. The challenge is that they are undergoing tremendous difficulty, to the extent that their lives are being threatened. They are threatening to eliminate them. This is because they feel that nobody is talking on their behalf, especially the government.

“They (terrorists) told us that government has not done anything to address their demands. We are worried because they are asking for N100m on each person and there are 41 of them left. How can we raise N100m on each of these persons?

“That is why we are here to plead with the minister in charge to talk to the President. We know that if he talks to the President, they will come up with a formula to get our loved ones released,” he added.

In a separate chat with Vanguard, Isah Ibrahim, whose brother is one of those being held, tearfully recounted his ordeal.

“I was supposed to be with my brother in the train that day but I had an urgent thing to do in Abuja so he had to go. Unfortunately, for him and other persons, they were carted away. We have been to the ministry several times but information is not coming out.

“The government needs to tell us what they are doing. They have to relate with us. We have been seeking audience. We have come here as individual families, as collective families and as a group, yet no information till now, no credible information of where they are and when they will be reunited with us,” he noted.

Also speaking, Mohammed Garba, whose relative is in the terrorists’ custody, flayed the Buhari-led administration, saying “’no government should do this to its people, even if it is one person. We know how things happen all over the world.

“This is not right and we are here and will remain here today, tomorrow in sunshine and in rain. If you saw what happened in that video, I don’t think you would have been able to sleep.”

We’re working with security agencies — Ministry

Dr. Ajani, who succeeded in dousing tension before the arrival of the Minister of Transportation, told the grieving families that the ministry was in close collaboration with the security agencies to ensure the safe release of the 41 persons still in captivity.

She said: “I am part of this and I feel the pain that you people feel because I know what it means to have your relatives in the bush. We are working with the security people. Even up to the weekend, the minister still spoke to me, I mean the new Minister.

“The old ones had a lot of interactions while they were there. For the first release, they were there in Kaduna to see them before they were brought to re-unite with their family members. We are in dialogue with them. The government has not forgotten us.

“This morning (yesterday) when they told me what was happening; I called the minister who lost his brother. I know you people have read it in the papers. I plead with you. I am going through this pain with you and I am not talking as Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Transportation. I am talking about the fact that my sister is there.”

She was later reminded that the said sister has regained her freedom.

The Permanent Secretary assured the families of government’s commitment to the release of the victims as soon as possible.

“The negotiators have been in the bush for three weeks. We are in touch with the security agencies,” she added.

In spite of pleadings by Dr. Ajani, the protesters stuck to their guns until the minister, Mu’azu Jaji Sambo, arrived to personally interface with them.

Dressed in all white, Sambo, whose younger brother, Ja’afaru died last week, pleaded with the families to give him time to settle down in office and take briefings from the relevant quarters.

“I can assure you that we will stop at nothing until the last person is released. I have not received any briefing, so how can I give you a time frame with which this issue will be over? When I get the briefing, I should be able to tell you ‘give me so-so time.’ I am pleading with you to give me a chance. I have to go and contact the security agencies,” he pleaded.

Speaking on behalf of the entire families, Imran Ahmed told the minister that though their intention was to completely ground activities in the Ministry, his intervention and assurances persuaded  them to give him a chance.

“We came to sit here until our family members are released. After due consultation, we have decided to give you some breathing space. I hope and believe that we won’t have cause to come here again,” he said.

Terrorists release 4 more kidnapped passengers

Barely 24 hours after a video was released showing how the remaining kidnapped train passengers were being flogged and de-humanised by the terrorists, reports yesterday afternoon indicated that three more kidnapped passengers were released.

According to a BBC Hausa report, a relative of one of the kidnapped victims released, told the BBC, that those released included two men and two ladies.

While disclosing the news to the BBC, the relative said the released victims were on the way to a health facility for medical examination.

At press time last night, there was no detailed explanation on the condition of the victims before they were released.

We were thoroughly beaten, I pity those still in captivity -says Hassan, freed train victim

One of the kidnapped victims of the Abuja-Kaduna train attack, Hassan Uthman, re;eased yesterday by the terrorists, said he pitied those still in captivity because of the thorough beating they received from the terrorists  weekend.

Speaking in an interview with BBC HAUSA Service, Uthman thanked Almighty Allah for regaining freedom.

He said last Friday, their relations attempted to rescue them but the government did not allow them to proceed on the journey.

According to him, his relations made a second attempt on Monday and were successful in rescuing three of them from captivity. 

“ The government has failed in providing security for life and property. It has failed to rescue us.  I don’t know whether ransom was paid to rescue us,” he said.

He recalled that they were initially sleeping on the bare ground in the thick forest before they were provided mats.

Uthman added:  ‘When the rain started; they erected makeshift shelters for us.  They fed us according to their capacity .At times, they even slaughtered cattle and sheep for us.  Even yesterday, they slaughtered a cow and we ate; we thank Allah.

“ Because of the government’s attitude, they were angered and they thoroughly beat us.  We were severely flogged and that was just the beginning. This makes me to pity those that are still with them in the forest.’’

Uthman said he couldn’t locate the forest they were taken, adding that since the federal government had failed to rescue them for the past four months, the international community should come in and rescue the remaining victims who were in a pitiable condition in the forest.

Security agencies not doing enough — Naja’atu Mohammed

Foremost woman activist and politician, Hajiya Naja’atu Mohammed, also yesterday accused the Nigerian military and other security agencies of not wanting the crisis bedeviling the country to end, alleging that they were benefiting  from the crisis at the detriment of other Nigerians.

She said in an interview that even though President Buhari had given them enough funds and resources to execute the war on terrorism, the President was not monitoring them to ensure that the right thing was done to nip the crisis in the bud.

She described as unfortunate, the situation Nigerians have found themselves and called on the relevant authorities to  do the needful  against terrorist attacks and other crisis situations in the country.

ACF, CNG angry as terrorists flog abductees

The pan-Northern socio-political organisation, Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF,  and the Coalition of Northern Groups, CNG, also condemned the viral video of the terrorists flogging hostages of the AK-9 Abuja-Kaduna train, urging the Federal Government to wake up to its responsibility of protecting Nigerians.

While saying that the incident was unfortunate, the ACF through its Secretary-General, Malam Murtala Aliyu, described the flogging of the hostages as “nasty.”

The ACF urged the government to wake up to its responsibility of saving the lives of the abductees as well as other Nigerians.

Murtala said: “The issue of flogging or threat by the terrorists was quite unfortunate. We have made statements on this before and we are not going to say anything different. The government must be pragmatic in saving the lives of Nigerians as well as protecting them. It is the responsibility of government to act quickly on this.’’

Similarly, the CNG, a coalition of over 50 groups in the North, urged Nigerians to rise and defend themselves in the apparent failure of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to protect them.

Spokesman of the CNG, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, noted with regrets that terrorists are now exploiting  the failure of the government to torment Nigerians.

He expressed concern over the trending video of the terrorists flogging the hostages, describing it as “disturbing,” adding that the government had continued to live in self-denial.

 “We have viewed the video clip and assessed the contents and find it disturbing to realise that Nigeria has finally come to terms with the reality that it has completely lost control of its forests, land borders, highways and to some extent, the airways and seas to insane bandits and insurgents in the North, deadly armed separatist armies in the East, pirates and other assortments of criminal gangs in the far South and the West.

“The audacious violence shown in the video released by the terrorists and the open threats to abduct the President and sitting governor prove the extent to which the country has lost out to the bandits,” Abdul’aziz said.

Threat to Buhari, el-Rufai, sign Nigeria has no govt — Ortom

On his part, Governor  Samuel Ortom of Benue State said the recently circulated video showing bandits whipping the kidnapped victims of the Abuja train attack and the threat by the bandits to kidnap President Buhari and other government functionaries were clear indications that there was no government in Nigeria.

The governor lamented that the All Progressives Congress-led Federal Government has plunged Nigerians into unimaginable suffering, saying the economic and social life of Nigerians as well as the security of the people had all collapsed under the watch of the government.

The governor, who spoke Monday while addressing an expanded Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, stakeholders meeting in Makurdi, observed:  “Today, bandits are threatening to kidnap our President and others and we are all relaxed; if they can threaten our President, who is safe?

“I had raised the alarm before now, warning that if we do not take decisive action against these bandits and terrorists, they might one day attack the seat of power like it happened in Afghanistan and they resorted to abusing me. But we all can see what is happening now.

“We must note that ISWAP, Boko Haram, ISIS and herdsmen are all the same thing and they are being sponsored, let no one deceive us. How can you explain to me that the Federal Government does not have the might to tackle these terrorists?

“I saw the video of how the abducted train passengers, including women and children, were being whipped and I wept. What is their sin? This should not be happening in my generation. What is happening to our country?

“Are you telling me that there are no military or security agencies to rescue these people? Where has this type of thing happened in the entire world? In America, they will not allow their own to remain in the hands of kidnappers just as they did in Niger, they went and rescued their own, why can’t we do the same thing for our own people?”

Rescue train victims or forget elections’ – Youth group

Also, a group, Arewa Youth Assembly, warned that unless the remaining 38 train passengers abducted by terrorists on March 28 were released, the 2023 general election would not hold in the North.

The group, which noted that it shares the pains and agony the families of victims of the train attack were going through, also warned the authority against treating its threat with levity.

AYA, which comprises youths drawn from the 19 northern states and Abuja, also called for the immediate sack of the National Security Adviser, Major-General Babagana Monguno, retd., saying  he has run out of ideas.

This was as the Assembly through its Speaker, Mohammed Danlami, in a statement issued in Kaduna on Monday, called for the probe of all military spending in the war against terrorism and banditry across the country.

The statement read in part: “As the victims of the ill-fated Abuja-Kaduna bound train marked 120 days in captivity, which was celebrated by the terrorists through a released video depicting how they are being molested, the Arewa Youth Assembly shares in the pain and agony of the immediate families and friends of those in captivity. We pray God to intervene through His supernatural power and set them free.

“The Assembly make bold to state that our youths won’t participate in activities in the build-up to 2023 General Election and the election proper if our brothers and sisters in captivity are not released.”

Everyone, even govt, benefits from insecurity— Abu Sani, bandit ingpin

Meanwhile, Abu Sani, a self-confessed bandit kingpin, has said that insecurity has become a business everyone benefits from Sanni, who said he helped mastermind the abduction of students of Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe, Zamfara, was interviewed by BBC Africa Eye in a forest in Zamfara.

The 50-minute documentary titled: ‘The Bandit warlords of Zamfara’ was undertaken by Yusuf Anka, a journalist who criss-crossed remote bandits’ enclaves in the state.

Zamfara is one of the worst-hit states by banditry. The BBC documentary sheds light on the mindset of bandit leaders, the booming nature of the kidnap-for-ransom business, and how insecurity in Zamfara may have been triggered by ethnic conflict between Hausa and Fulani groups.

Why we kidnapped Jangebe schoolgirls

On February 27 2021, Nigerians woke up to the heart-rending news that bandits had invaded Jangebe in Talata-Mafara LGA of Zamfara and kidnapped 279 schoolchildren. Some weeks later, they were released by their captors.

Sani said the schoolgirls were kidnapped by his gang as revenge against the government for sending the military after them. He said his gang demanded N300 million from government for release of the schoolgirls but N60 million was paid.

“When the rainy season ended, they sent the military after us. We decided to show the government they should not interfere in our problems. We went to Jangebe and took the students. We wanted to get the government angry.  We demanded N300 million but after negotiations, N60 million was paid for their release,” he said.

The self-confessed bandit kingpin said insecurity has become a lucrative business, adding that everyone, including the government, was benefitting from the violent attacks “because it has become a business. Everyone wants money. That is why things are deteriorating, from the top to the bottom. They say when there is insecurity, the government gets money. Everyone is benefitting. We also get money. Though for our money, blood is spilt, so it continues.”

I only kill, I don’t kidnap — Aleru

Ado Aleru, a suspected bandit leader recently turbaned as Sarkin Fulani in Zamfara, was also featured in the documentary. Aleru was given a chieftaincy title despite being on the police’s wanted list since 2019.

The chieftaincy title sparked sharp criticism – a development which prompted Bello Matawalle, governor of Zamfara, to suspend the emir who awarded the title to Aleru. Speaking in the documentary, Aleru said his gang invades villages as a form of protest against the government.

“We only protest with guns. We know no journalists. We don’t know where to protest. Our protest is to take up arms and storm villages,” he said.

The bandit kingpin said he does not kidnap people, adding that he only kills those who have been kidnapped by his gang members.

“I have never kidnapped anyone myself. My men do that. I only go and kill them,” he said, noting that he has lost count of the number of people he has killed.

One of Aleru’s allies, who was not named, said the bandits resorted to violence due to the alleged marginalisation of the Fulani. “Tell me, where can we rear our animals? In your investigation, are the cattle routes still there? In the rainy season, you have to carry the cows on your head,” he told the reporter.

“You must walk on roads or take them on rocky paths where they fall and die. Even in the forest, warplanes chase us and kill our animals. How have the Fulani become so worthless in Nigeria? There is no veterinary hospital. We have nowhere for them (the cattle) to drink.

“Don’t cows have any value? Everyone needs meat. Everyone needs milk. Many Fulani have university degrees, the government never considers them. I swear, if 1,000 Hausas sit for an exam alongside a single Fulani man, they will pass all the Hausas and fail the Fulani man.”

Killings in Zamfara clearly tribal war

Hassan Dantawaye, identified as one of the first bandit warlords to import AK-47 rifles into Zamfara, said the alleged injustice against Fulani triggered retaliatory attacks against the Hausa in the state.

Dantawaye, a former beneficiary of an amnesty programme, said: “Everyone, the Fulani and the Hausa, have done something wrong. For the Fulani, retaliation is their major problem. While the Hausa don’t investigate who is guilty or innocent.

“We have policemen, soldiers, governors, chairmen, even councillors, no one is stopping this situation.

“It is only when we launch an attack they will say we (referring to Fulani people) are wrong because they don’t see what is done to us.”

A few months after he spoke with the BBC, Dantawaye’s house was burnt down — an incident that made him pick up arms again.

He alleged that soldiers supporting the Hausa were responsible for the attack on his residence, adding that the conflict is a “tribal war.”

“This was done by soldiers, not vigilantes,” he said.

“How can (there be) peace with these transgressions? There is one thing with us whenever we are called for dialogue; we honour it but later our opinions are disregarded.

“In the whole world, nobody cares about our concerns. What is done to us is not fair and must stop.”

Asked if the violent attacks are fueled by a tribal war between Hausa and Fulani, he responded:  “Of course. If not, how can someone pass other settlements but burn down the Fulani ones? It is obvious it is tribal. Why would a Fulani kill an innocent Hausa? Clearly, it is a tribal conflict,” he said.

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