In this interview with GODWIN ISENYO, the leader of the families and friends of the kidnapped victims of the ill-fated Abuja-Kaduna AK9 train attack, Dr Abdulfatai Jimoh, called on the Federal Government to meet the demands of the terrorists, so the kidnapped victims who have been in captivity for over two months would regain their freedom
It’s been over a month since the train attack in which your family members and others were abducted by terrorists. How exactly do you and others feel that efforts towards the release of your family members have not yielded positive results?
We are really feeling bad. In fact, we are in the phase of despondency now. A lot of our people are hopeless. We feel abandoned. We feel that enough in not being done to rescue our loved ones from captivity. Today (June 2, 2022) is the 66th day that they have been abducted and we have not seen any visible progress in rescue efforts.
What is the latest development on this issue?
The last we heard was that the children the abductors are asking to be released have been found in a place in Yola. We don’t know if these children have been moved from Yola but the Publisher of Desert Herald, Malam Tukur Mamu, said they had even sent evidence of proof of life to the abductors. We don’t know whether it’s a picture or video that was done but he said they had sent evidence of proof of life to the abductors to confirm to them that these children have been found in Yola. That’s the latest we heard but we don’t know the response of government to that.
Beyond the occasional videos released by the terrorists parading the abductees, do family members get to communicate with them on phone?
Not at all. We have not spoken to them; not even a word since the first communication they had with us that we should get ransom ready. That was two days after the attack. But since that time, there has not been any communication. Not even a word to any of the relatives in captivity.
Some of the abductees have been released. How many are left with the terrorists now?
Now, there are 61 people left in their den. In the pictures they released some weeks ago, there are 62 people but a pregnant woman was released a couple of days later, leaving 61 people with them now. So, we still have 61 people in captivity.
What are your concerns about the long stay of your people in the den of these terrorists?
Our concern is about their life and their health. You cannot keep people in such condition for a long time under the condition they are kept and expect that things will still be normal. A lot of them may have gone into depression and some may have developed other health challenges. There are a lot of them who had fallen sick even before they were taken into captivity – some with hypertension, diabetes and a lot of other illnesses. Under the condition they are kept now, you can expect that such conditions would have worsened. But the most depressing thing about it is the threat to life which is enough to give one a lot of mental challenges.
How are the families coping with this traumatising situation?
Yes, the most traumatic thing about this is depression and then even some people with suicidal tendency. They are beginning to lose hope and it’s dangerous when people are beginning to get to this stage. Some are beginning to see life as meaningless and it’s dangerous and in this situation, we are just on our own. We are managing ourselves. It’s just God that is keeping us. It’s really a terrible time. It’s a harrowing experience.
The terrorists have demanded the release of their detained comrades or children in exchange for your people. Do you think that’s a fair or realistic demand for the Federal Government?
The first demand we heard so far was the demand of their children. They have not come out openly to demand for the release of their comrades but they said that after the release of their children in exchange for some people, they would make other demands. But even if they do make such demands, it is not new because even the most powerful nation on earth, the United States, does exchange prisoners of war with even with the Taliban. They did before. Israel used to exchange prisoners of war with Hamas. It is done globally. It is left for the government to consider it and treat it as appropriate. It is not new. It’s done.
Lately, the Publisher of Desert Herald has been acting as the go-between for the terrorists to convey their demands to the Federal Government. Have you had a meeting with him and what exactly did he tell you?
Honestly, I have not had any meeting with him but I hope I will meet him soon. If I meet him, I would like to hear from him directly. I don’t know him and we have not held any meeting with him yet. It’s just what we read about his conversations with the abductors.
How do you rate government’s efforts so far in the bid to secure the release of the abductees?
We had expected a better and faster response because it’s over nine weeks since the incident happened. It’s really quite slow. We expect a faster response because of the situation in which they are, especially now that the picture is becoming clearer. We expect government to act fast to get our people released. With the detection of the children in Yola, this should be the first step. This should be done very quickly because even in wars, you don’t hold children and since the government was keeping them in an orphanage and they have found them, it is left for the government now to act quickly and have a dialogue, a negotiation with the abductors so that our people can be freed from captivity.
The truth is that we are not happy with the pace at which the government is going. It is very slow. People are getting frustrated. People are tired. They just don’t know what to do again. We are helpless and we have no any other option, except the government’s angle.
We don’t even know why they are keeping the (terrorists’) children where they kept them in the first instance. Why they didn’t give them back to their mothers. We don’t know why they are keeping them because minors anywhere…I don’t thinks minors can do harm to society. But now that there is demand and they have found them…they said some of them are as young as two to three years. What are you going to do with a three-year-old boy or girl? We don’t know why they are keeping them but they (government) should use this opportunity to have a discussion so that our people will be released.
Would the family members have loved to directly negotiate with the terrorists?
If it was an option. The first thing they told us was that we should get money ready. That was the first time we had the opportunity to call and we thought they just kidnapped for ransom but a week after the phone conversation, we got to know that it’s not about ransom, which they have stated repeatedly. That option of negotiating with them directly is not there. If it were there, we would have taken it. Why not?
Some people berated the former Minister of Transportation for launching his presidential campaign few days after the incident. Do you share the same view?
Yes, we do. It was highly insensitive. It showed lack of concern for the citizens. These are passengers kidnapped in a Federal Government’s facility under his ministry and he didn’t show any concern. He didn’t show much care. This will not happen in a sane clime, for the nation transportation minister to be running about campaigning to be president and believes he wants to govern Nigeria and this same Nigerians you don’t care about their security and welfare! It was highly insensitive of him to do that.
What’s your advice to both the government and the terrorists?
My advice to them (terrorists) is for them to be compassionate towards these Nigerians. They are Nigerians like them and they are innocent. They are not part of government. None of them is responsible for whatever any of them is going through. So they should consider this and be compassionate towards their fellow Nigerians and know that they are innocent.
To government, my advice is that the security of lives and property of Nigerians are of paramount importance and we want to, once again, appeal to the government to do all that is necessary within its power to ensure that Nigerians are safe and secure wherever they are in the country.