Column Opinion

Kaduna Train Hostage Rescue: Not Yet Uhuru

Nigerians do not have faith in government and did not believe when it claimed that it did not pay ransom for the release of the last 23 abductees of the Abuja-Kaduna train attack. Neither are they convinced there was no form of swap of terrorists in detention and those train attack victims.

Notwithstanding the doubts, our armed forces, who we were told, planned and executed the release deserve commendation and should be given credit for their relentless efforts and sacrifices to minimise insecurity despite the many criticisms of sloppiness in counterterrorism operation, alleged corruption and compromise of their renegade members.

While the country rejoiced with the families of the last 23 victims coming shortly after all hopes seemed lost over threats of the terrorists to kill all for not being able to pay for their freedom and the arrest of erstwhile negotiator/mediator (Tukur Mamu), the release and related issues deserve interrogation.

The way the authorities led by President Buhari created a fanfare around this rescue, their visit to the hospital, and generally patting themselves on the back, you’d be forgiven to think government was proactive, had acted timely on intelligence, and that the bombing and abduction were thwarted before execution; or the rescue took place almost immediately after the incident and that no lives were lost at all. So, their celebration is understandable. For a government that has plunged us deeper into insurgency and failed in most indices, rescuing 23 people out of over 70 kidnapped and killed is a pass mark.

According to a report by SBM Intelligence, a Lagos-based security and political risk research firm, in a report published in August, there have been 500 incidents; 3,420 cases of abduction and N653.7 million paid in ransom within one year in Nigeria. 564 persons were also killed in other forms of violence. The ransom excludes that paid by the Kaduna train attack hostages which is reportedly close to a billion naira. For the president to celebrate the release of 23 victims out of this lot in such an elaborate display, in the face of massive insecurity, insurgency and banditry, is to say the least tragic, shameful and ironic.

When the bomb attack took place March 28, eight people were killed and 62 were herded to the bush without being confronted by any security outfit in one of the high-profile hostage hijacks that have taken place in Nigeria. For the over six months of their travails in the jungle, over 40 of them were released in piecemeal until last week when troops of the Nigerian military led by CDS General L.E.O Irabor rescued the last batch of 23 holed up in the dungeon of the unmanned forests controlled only by evil men called terrorists/bandits.

Probably angered by the intervention of a non-state actor who appointed himself as a mediator in the previous release of some victims, the military stepped up their rescue campaign. I once asked General Irabor how an individual could take up such a sensitive role and seemed to be succeeding at it. I recall that CDS Irabor’s response suggested that the military hierarchy was not taking it lightly. That middleman is Tukur Mamu, and I’m not surprised at his eventual arrest. With the benefit of hindsight, it does appear the CDS knew more than he was ready to divulge at that time.

As germane as the rescue was, it should not amount to gloating on the part of government, when hundreds of citizens are still in captivity, kidnapping still ongoing, many more missing and insecurity still pervades the land. How then can we jubilate over the rescue of 23 (I reckon one life means a lot) in an incident where eight souls perished and not a word was mentioned about them now that the gory tale is deemed over?

As I was concluding this article, I read of the killing of one of the 23 rescued persons while on his way home to Kebbi, during another kidnap attack. What does that tell us? The battle is not over yet. So, beyond symbolism, what’s the jamboree about? What about the traumatised victims whose families had earlier paid ransom to secure their release? Any psychological follow up on the victims and compensation over resources lost, considering that many borrowed and sold property to raise those monies.

Issues have been raised on the approach of elites to matters of insecurity in Nigeria. Until the attack on the train, the rail transport on Abuja-Kaduna route had become a VIP thing as the affluent and influential abandoned the Abuja-Kaduna Road and opted for the train for fear of being kidnapped. Thus, instead of the mass transport system it should be, the train was soon turned into something else.

This was the situation until the attack, which trapped many of such people. Therefore, when shortly after the repair of the trains and rail tracks the Nigeria Railway Corporation called the bluff of captives and agonising families and announced the resumption of the rail service, it was vehemently condemned and then rebuffed. Justifiably, families organised themselves to stop the NRC resuming services until the release of their relatives. They were able to do so because most of them belong to the higher echelon of the society, and government had no choice than work toward a rescue first before the thought of reopening the rail tracks.

Therefore, in Nigeria, government is about the elite and the highly placed class that have the capacity to pull the strings and raise their voices to be echoed by the global community. This is most unfortunate. Nigeria should be about everybody and not a few well-placed individuals.

The fact that it took over six months for the government’s role to be felt in the whole saga raises questions about their readiness, capacity and efficiency in policing and protecting the country as a whole. We also want to know more about the Kuje prison attack and the nexus between inmates forcefully released and the train attack. How true was it that those released paid 100 million each? What about the hostage takers? Were they arrested before or after the rescue or they were left off the hook to go and sin no more.

Weaning the legislature from executive feeding bottle

One sore point of our experimental democracy is the role of legislatures. In theory it is said to be independent, but in practical terms one is an appendage of the other.

Our all-powerful governors, with a dictatorial streak in a supposed democracy have turned state legislatures into tools for manipulation despite constitutional provision, and court pronouncements to attest to their independence. The legislators only make laws that please their masters-governors. It is a shame that such a political vendetta which took place at the Rivers State House of Assembly last week was orchestrated by these pawns called legislators.

Since 2007 when Celestine Omehia was sacked by the Supreme Court to make way for Rotimi Amaechi as the duly elected governor of Rivers state, the man (Omehia) was quietly nursing his wounds until 2015, when Governor Wike emerged as governor. He supposedly honoured Omehia and restored him as ex-governor and paid his entitlements using the same Rivers State House of Assembly to pass a law to that effect (against the ruling of the Supreme Court).

Though everyone knew that the governor’s motive was to spite his former friend turned foe (Amaechi), nobody in his wildest imagination ever thought that Wike would turn around to dishonour Omehia. That he did last week when he used the same house of assembly to remove him as ex-governor just because he (Wike) fell out with him (Omehia),over support or otherwise for Atiku Abubakar. And in a swift manner, the governor assented to that obnoxious action of the so-called lawmakers.

For the governor, it is all about loyalty to him without regards for the moral or legal implications of his actions. So embarrassing. When Omehia was in his good book, it was all rosy, but when he listened to his heart and decided to throw his weight behind Atiku, he became an outlaw.

Not even a general can fight on all fronts and hope to will all. Wike is advised to selectively choose the right battle to fight before he loses all. Seriously, Nigeria needs to restructure and make changes to our constitution for the true independence of each arm of government. This, hopefully will stop the executive excesses, recklessness and gangsterism of governors.

Zainab Suleiman Okino is an online publisher and a syndicated columnist. She chairs the Editorial Board of Blueprint. She can be reached thus:

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