By Nurudeen Akewushola, Oluwatobi Enitan and Fatunbi Olayinka
On March 28, terrorists ambushed a train heading for Kaduna from the nation’s capital city after bombing its rail track.
The attack, which occurred at Dutse forest in Chikun local council, left many people dead, and 61 persons held hostage.
The ICIR reports the tales of captives who were released after spending several days in the kidnappers’ den.
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“I spent 75 days in the camp, and it was really traumatising, disheartening,” said Peace Aboy, one of the released abductees, while narrating her experience.
I spent 75 days in the camp, and it was really traumatising, disheartening
“I don’t know! It’s somehow overwhelming me due to no freedom, no proper hygiene or good nutrition, and we have to deal with reptiles and all,” she explained.
Aboy and her sister, Ashofa were among the many passengers journeying from Abuja to Kaduna that fateful night when the gunmen invaded the train and started shooting sporadically.
“That night around 7:53 pm, a bomb blast on the rail and the train started derailing but thank God, the driver was able to hold the head of the train not to capsize and all,” she stated.
For their safety, they were asked to lie down by the railroad police, “We started hearing gunshots from outside. Three minutes later, after the gunshots stopped, bandits came into the train and started shooting randomly. At that point, if you are standing and you are not lying down, it might cost you your life,” Aboy narrated.
After they stopped shooting, they were asked to go out, accompanied by incessant flogging and being stripped of all their valuables.
“We trekked for five days to where we were being kept,” she stated.
At the spot which became the holding place, she said their daily routine included “Just cook, sleep. If we have to go down to the stream because we’re near a river, maybe wash up our bodies. But we literally do nothing.
According to Peace, spending several days in captivity was a traumatising experience, “I was sick on and off intermittently, I was having fever and malaria. Just staying there is a trauma. Things there is a trauma where you’re not used to it, but waking up one day it’s really overwhelming and traumatising.”
Just staying there is a trauma.
Aboy eventually got released, but at the time of this interview, her sister was still in captivity.
Her ordeal mirrors the situation of several other victims of the attack spoken to by The ICIR.
The many pledges of Mr President
Data gathered by The ICIR from the Council on Foreign Relations’ Nigeria Security Tracker (NST), a website that tracks violent incidents related to political, economic, and social grievances directed at the state or other affiliated groups, shows that at least 1,333 people have been abducted in Nigeria from January to March 2022.
Since 2017, the number of kidnap victims has increased as there were 987 victims in 2017, 987 in 2018; 1,395 in 2019; 2,865 in 2020, and 5,287 in 2021.
Reacting to the development shortly after the incident, Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari described it as a matter of grave concern.
He noted that he has directed the security chiefs to hunt down the terrorists and rescue those abducted.
The president was quoted as saying, “No one should be allowed to hold the country to ransom.”
Thirty-six days after the abduction, on May 3, Buhari pledged again that the victims will be rescued.
He assured the government would explore every opportunity to secure their return alive and unhurt.
It will take over a month before 11 persons were released on June 11.
On June 21, Buhari gave another assurance.
Again, he directed the security agencies to ensure the immediate rescue of passengers abducted in the incident alive.
He said the government has adopted a kinetic and a non-kinetic approach to speed up the release of the passengers.
On July 9, seven more abductees regained freedom. On July 25, the terrorists further released three victims consisting of two males and a female. Eight days after, additional five abductees were freed by the terrorists.
Not minding the president’s vow to bring them to book, the terrorists released a video on July 24 which shows them threatening to abduct and kill both President and Kaduna state governor, Nasir El-Rufai.
In the two-minute and sixty seconds video, the terrorists were seen flogging the victims with sticks.
The presidency reacted to the threat hours after, accusing the insurgents of using propaganda to compel the government to yield to their demands.
In a statement, the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said security forces are not helpless in stemming the tide of insecurity confronting the country.
Neither the government nor the victims gave full details about how they were released in terms of if ransom was paid.
However a reverend, John Ayab who is the chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Kaduna told The ICIR that N800 million was paid to secure the release of the seven persons that were freed on July 9.
The kidnapped couple
Both Amina and Hassan, a Barrister, were also victims of the unfortunate incident. Amina spent 75 days in captivity before she was eventually released.
Hassan, her husband was among the several victims seen in a viral video being tortured by the terrorists before his eventual release, alongside two others, on July 25.
Amina reacting to her release said “Alhamdulillah, that’s all I would say for me regaining my freedom and for my husband, we thank God but it’s not all because there are still many people there. The children, the elderly men, and women. They seriously need help.”
She recalled that the leaders of the terrorists were not with them in the forest but the junior ones who served as guards and monitored them took turns every two weeks.
Amina express disappointment on how they spent months in the hands of terrorists.
We feel like we are not Nigerians. Our people don’t love us, our country doesn’t love us.
“We feel like we are not Nigerians. Our people don’t love us, our country doesn’t love us”, she told The ICIR, she added that “For you to spend one second in that place, you wouldn’t like it talkless of spending [several days]. As for me, I spent 75 days but my husband spent 120 days, so it was not easy. We thought we were left out, we were not Nigerians. Our people don’t love us. Our country doesn’t know about us. That’s all”.
I spent 75 days but my husband spent 120 days, so it was not easy.
On his part, Amina’s husband, Hassan Usman explained that the terrorists said they attacked them to protest for the release of their members who have been in detention for several years.
He pleaded with the government to secure the release of the remaining victims in captivity noting that the terrorists are becoming fiercer to victims the longer they are in captivity.
How we paid millions of naira to secure the release of seven abductees-Reverend
The chairman of CAN in Kaduna state Ayab stated that N800 million was paid to secure the release seven abductees.
He said “Well, we know that on the 28 of March 2022, a passenger train from Abuja to Rigasa Kaduna was attacked in the evening. Many people were kidnapped, some were even killed, and some sustained injury. The kidnappers came out and told Nigerians that look, the government knows their demands and the government should make their demands before those people would be released.
“As Nigerians, we asked the government what exactly is their demand. Is it that their demand is a secret? Is that their demand something hidden that we don’t know? These are answers we have been unable to get. But we have seen how the terrorists have been treating our friends, brothers, and our fellow citizens who are in captivity with them and they’ve been released in batches but somehow huge amounts were paid for their release. The last group that came out, seven of them, 800m was paid,” Ayab said.
Ayab who said the relations do not have an option expressed concern on whether payment of ransom is “not another way of empowering the terrorists to get more arms to terrorise more Nigerians.”.
Why terrorists are becoming fiercer – Gumi
Reacting to the development, an Islamic cleric, Ahmad Gumi, while speaking to The ICIR in Kaduna state explained that the terrorist groups are recruiting herdsmen in the forest as foot-soldiers giving them the manpower to carry out their recent operations across the country.
The a Sheikh explained that the terrorists became furious when the security agencies prevented the families of the abductees to pay ransom citing this as a reason why they released a video where they were torturing the victims.
“For the first set group of victims, we were able to pay their money and they were released. There was a lady from Lagos who was able to pay her money and she was released. Then another group, they were ready to pay for their relatives but they were prevented by the security. That prevention is what provoked them to attack the male victims.”
Gumi said the recent surge of terrorism in the country is due to Illiteracy, widespread poverty and the government’s negligence of the needs of Fulani herdsmen making them prone to being used as foot-soldiers.
He hinted that the terrorists are recruiting herdsmen in the forest as their members and are paying them N50,000 daily which gives them enough human resources to carry out large scale operations.
According to Gumi, rather than resorting to a violent approach, the government should address the grievances of the terrorists, pacify them, and grant them amnesty.
CSO faults government
The Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED) condemned the action of the terrorists and expressed its disappointment over the failure of the government to secure its citizens.
This issue is even made more annoying to the citizens when we consider the fact that Nigeria is being led by a retired general who was elected in 2015 on the credential that he would be tough on security.
“It is really painful, disheartening, and utterly disappointing situation that Nigeria finds itself in.
This issue is even made more annoying to the citizens when we consider the fact that Nigeria is being led by a retired general who was elected in 2015 on the credential that he would be tough on security, he would crack down on the insecurity that Nigerians were complaining about.
To now come down from that level of expectation to a point where practically no space is safe in the country is too much,” said CHRICED programme officer, Armsfree Ajanaku.
He urged the government to be proactive in dealing with the situation and find a lasting solution to the security situation in the country.
We are on top of the situation – Police
When contacted by The ICIR, spokesperson of the the Police Command in Kaduna State, Mohammed Jalige explained that the security agencies are working assiduously to ensure that the remaining captives were released.
“We are on top of the situation, liaising with critical stakeholders as well as locals across various locations across the state with a view to ensuring that all kidnapped victims regain their freedom,” he said.
Nurudeen Akewushola is an investigative reporter and fact-checker with The ICIR. He believes courageous in-depth investigative reporting is the key to social justice, accountability and good governance in the society. You can shoot him a scoop via [email protected] and @NurudeenAkewus1 on Twitter.