File image of a bandits.
•Say abductors reneged on swap, demanded huge ransoms
By Soni Daniel, Abuja
The Federal Government is upset that many victims of train attack are still being kept by terrorists who kidnapped them after bombing the Kaduna-bound train from Abuja in March this year, multiple sources have said.
The discomfort of the government stems from the terrorists’ failure to honour the swap deal they allegedly entered into with the government over the release of the train attack captives.
Sunday Vanguard learnt, last night, that the government’s anger followed the refusal of the abductors to release all the train attack victims after it had freed no fewer than 30 imprisoned terrorists the bandits had requested to be released in exchange for the train captives.
It was gathered that as soon as the terrorists confirmed the freedom of 30 of their colleagues from prison, they reneged on the swap agreement reached with the government and started releasing the train victims piecemeal and based strictly on the payment of huge ransoms, something the government had vehemently rejected as a condition for freeing the captives.
The Nigerian government is also said to be furious over the roles played by some elements in the country who, security sources said, jumped into the Kaduna train attack fray in order to milk the captives under the guise of ‘negotiation’ with the terrorists holding them.
But one of the said negotiators, Mallam Tukur Mamu, blamed the deadlock in the release of the captives on the government’s uncooperative attitude.
“They (bandits) accepted (the conditions) and we started along that line. Initially, the government cooperated and it was because of that cooperation that we succeeded with security agencies in negotiating the release of the first 11 victims. But after the release of the 11 victims, honestly, there has been a stalemate and, largely, I can confidently say it is the failure of government that delayed the whole process”, Mamu told Sunday Vanguard in an interview.
Read the interview on pages…
As of last week, only 37 of the victims had been freed in about four batches while 35 remained in the bandits’ custody. There have been reports of ransoms being paid before the 37 captives were released.
One of the sources, a top government official, said the administration had not appointed any individual, corporate or public organisation to negotiate with the terrorists but had relied on the swap deal both parties entered into as a respectable and acceptable means of freeing the victims.
The top official, who declined to be quoted because of the sensitive nature of the matter, questioned the role of an unnamed journalist who, he said, had been parading himself as a ‘negotiator’ and interfacing with the terrorists without authorization from any quarters.
The official said, “As you can see, the self-appointed journalist has been presenting himself as a negotiator and interfacing with the terrorists but the truth is that nobody has even spoken to him or given him any such authority to negotiate on behalf of the government or the families of the train victims.
“What you are seeing playing out is a complete money-making business, which government seriously frowns at because this is against the agreement that was reached between the two parties
“The lingering captivity and piecemeal release of victims of the Kaduna-Abuja train attack have proven the hypocrisy of some interests, including persons and groups in the country. Since the incident in March 2022, concerted efforts are being made to free the victims. What was agreed on was a swap deal, which though may not be popular among Nigerians; prisoner swapping in violent conflict environments is a common practice all around the world.
“Even in such sophisticated countries as US, UK, Israel etc, relevant authorities take same option to address the problem of hostage taking and prisoners of war. Nigeria indeed, as part of the global community is not exempted from taking the same approach.
“In this instance, 30 detained terrorists majorly comprising their children and pregnant spouse were released in exchange. The woman, who was delivered of twins, were well taken care of at the expense of government and handed over to her parents in Maiduguri, as part of the swap deal.
“But the first sign of deceit in the exchange bargain came when only eleven of the 63 kidnapped victims were released by the terrorists. While government was true to its bargain, the terrorists played a fast one by reneging on theirs.
“Instead, they have continued to release the victims in batches. The timelines showed that the MD Bank of Agriculture was released on 6 April, a pregnant woman on May 15, 2022, seven others on July 10 and 5 on August 2, 2022.
“Despite the effort by government, it is worrisome that some desperate persons have taken advantage of the situation. A few unpatriotic individuals are now exploiting the development for subversive and/or financial gains. They want to make money from it. They are playing politics with it. What hypocrisy!”
The government is also concerned that the so-called ‘negotiator/cum journalist had continued to play a role in the matter even after Sheikh Ahmed Gumi had pulled out of negotiations once kidnappers were designated as terrorists by the court of law and wondered on whose authority he was dealing with the terrorists and the families of the train victims.
Another top official noted, “Obviously, trying to blackmail the government by peddling the narrative of its inaction or refusal to pay the ransom is another act of insincerity by the self-appointed negotiator and his sponsors. Curiously though, the self-appointed negotiator’s supposed effort has only led to the release of victims who are either his friends or related to them.
“It is also surprising that the majority of those so far released are victims with direct or indirect linkage to members of the opposition. Little wonder, released victims have continued to troop into the home of the self-appointed negotiator to pay homage in appreciation of his role. He is actually is double-faced,” the government official said last night”.
It will be recalled that a few weeks ago, a viral video emerged from the terrorists’ camp showing them whipping the victims mercilessly over alleged delay by government to meet their demands to free them.