THE revelation by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (Retd.), that the Abuja-Kaduna train kidnappers failed to release all their remaining victims as agreed, strengthens the argument against paying ransom to or closing of deals with criminals. It also emphasizes the need for the government to take a firm stance against terrorists, rescue all kidnapping victims, neutralize and punish the perpetrators. As such, the move by the Zamfara state government to spell out the death penalty for kidnappers is welcome and should be taken up by other states.
Kidnappers operating under the label of “bandits” and other terrorist groups have created a monstrous multibillion-naira business. A newspaper calculated that the train kidnappers had so far paid at least N2 billion in ransom from the 47 people they released on August 20. Twenty-three others are still in captivity.
Sadly, the government is showing helplessness amid the epidemic of ransom kidnappings across the country. It needs to devise a new approach to ensure that the 23 people who are still being held after 150 days are released before August 25 and other kidnapping victims. Buhari and the security services can do better; the abductees are on Nigerian soil, not in a foreign country.
Yes, Buhari’s explanation that the security forces had refrained from a frontal military attack on the criminals’ camps for fear of harming the victims resonates. Indeed, it is a standard consideration of governments to avoid direct military rescue operations when there is a reasonable prospect that the victims could be killed or otherwise endangered.
However, more efforts are needed to develop the capacity to neutralize kidnappers and recover their captives safely. All options should be on the table here. Rather than hope in vain that the terrorists would “convert,” the government should use all its intelligence and military resources to arrest the criminals and make them suffer the full wrath of the law.
During a meeting with the relatives of the kidnapped victims of the train attack in Abuja-Kaduna, Buhari lamented the failure of the kidnappers to fulfill their promise to release the victims after the government released their (bandit) relatives. A presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, said: “The government has also released seven children of members of the terrorist gangs, as demanded, but they have refrained from releasing the train passengers.” This is very disturbing. Only in a failed state is a government reduced to such a deplorable position. Serious governments avoid negotiating with terrorists.
Terrorists cannot be trusted, as the governors of some northern states have found out the hard way. Careless amnesty plans not supported by law were brought to trial; money was paid to the bandits, as well as cattle and grains, but they went back to the more rewarding venture of crime. They become richer, bolder and more dangerous. Governor Nasir el-Rufai recently announced that the terrorists had formed a parallel government in some parts of Kaduna state. Terrorists have formed similar “administrations” in parts of Katsina, Niger, Zamfara, Sokoto, Borno, Yobe, Adamawa and Plateau.
Zamfara and other states that have introduced the death penalty must therefore scrupulously enforce the law, set up local security forces and arrest and prosecute the criminals.
Buhari needs to radically shake up the intelligence services to make them more efficient. The military should develop special military operations capabilities to efficiently conduct hostage and deadly commando strikes against terrorists, kidnappers, their camps and hideouts.
Terrorm has ravaged the country since 2009 and presents a new kind of threat. Mass kidnappings, headlined by the 2014 Chibok schoolgirl robbery, are rife. The army, the State Security Service and the police have had plenty of time to develop special skills in response to the new challenges. The 1979 storming of the US embassy in Tehran, Iran, which took 52 hostages and a failed attempt to rescue them in April 1980, prompted the US to set up special military units to take, among others, US hostages around the world. to rescue.
The Nigerian government should do the same. It can then take calculated risks in freeing prisoners based on reliable intelligence assessment of chances of success and minimal risk to hostages. Police should mimic the US Federal Bureau of Investigations Hostage Rescue Team, an elite tactical unit that responds to domestic hostage situations. Algeria created its Special Intervention Regiment in response to the long-running Islamist insurgency and hostage-taking. India has upgraded some of its army, air force and navy to specialize in counter-terrorism and hostage rescue as the number of terrorist attacks rises.
The SSS should shift its focus from regime critics; develop the ability to monitor and infiltrate criminal cells, coordinate with, and provide timely actionable intelligence to the military. Technology must be used effectively.
The terrorists negotiate ransom over the phone; They can follow ICT tools. A videographer, Ifeanyi Okezie, successfully used his drone in 2021 to track down those who had stolen his laptop in the Lekki area of Lagos. The intelligence services should be able to do this on a larger scale. Drones must be deployed on a large scale. Nigeria should convince the US and other foreign partners to provide specialized military training to commands of the Nigerian Army, Air Force and Navy to replicate the exploits of the world’s vaunted elite soldiers against terrorists.
No country fights terrorism alone. The intelligence services that the US deployed to exterminate terrorists such as Osama bin Laden and Abubakar al-Baghdadi were extensive and costly. If Nigeria lacks the intelligence, tactical or hardware capabilities, it must seek help, including from reputable international military contractors for training, backup and direct action. The world’s most formidable military powers (US, Russia) use them extensively.
In the future, more states should emulate Zamfara by enforcing the death penalty for kidnappers. The states of Kano, Katsina, Lagos, Ogun, Taraba, Kogi, Bayelsa, Bauchi, Rivers, Cross River, Plateau and Oyo already have this punishment for kidnappers. Such laws must be enforced.
Nigerians should continue to exert pressure on their elected officials to immediately facilitate the state police to provide effective security for Nigerians.