By George Oshogwe Ogbolu
While three of them instantly escaped from their abductors, eight less fortunate others have been languishing in their captors’ den ever since. The fatherland whose call for service they were trying to answer has ostensibly moved on, leaving these hapless Nigerians whose only crime was to answer the clarion call, to their fate.
Reports say the terrorists have now jacked the ramson to N200 million before freedom can be granted to the seven corps members and the Akwa Ibom Transport Company (AKTC) bus driver being held captive.
How insane and coldhearted! Vanguard reported one of the victims’ relatives as saying, “We have not received any help from the government. We found it difficult to raise that N13million, so how are we going to raise this fresh ransom of N200million? We have deliberately kept this development from my mother. I don’t think that poor widow will survive if she hears this. We are suffering, so helpless”.
In a rather casual reaction to the traumatizing situation, the NYSC through its Director, Press and Public Relations, Eddy Megwa, disclosed that the NYSC Director-General, Brig. Gen. Yusha’u Ahmed has relocated to Zamfara and has been working with the Nigeria Police Force, the Department of State Services, and the military brigade to secure the release of eight corps members. Now, it wasn’t as if this was disclosed at a press conference.
The Scheme’s spokesperson was only responding to a question posed by a national daily. Sadly, NYSC did not deem it necessary to set up a Situation Room from which distraught Nigerians can be kept abreast of concerted efforts being made to secure the release of the hostages.
Megwa’s claim that the DG has been in Zamfara collaborating with security agencies for the freedom of the abducted corps members was made on August 23. The world has since been waiting to hear what Ahmed’s presence and efforts in the hotbed state have yielded. Yet, no one is saying anything to even the immediate families who toiled to see their children through tertiary education with all the hopes of a bright future. It is sad that the authorities seem to have abdicated their responsibilities, expecting the prayers and fasting embarked upon by the distraught kin are all that is needed to deliver their wards from the kidnappers.
This is utterly unacceptable and it mustn’t be that these corps members would be allowed to spend one month with their captors!
The relevant state actors should get cracking so that these corps members can soon be reunited with their families. It is not too much to ask from the government and its agents given the huge resources at their disposal.
Bandits and kidnappers must be stopped from making a mockery of the Nigerian security architecture with random kidnappings such as this. It is still fresh in memory when a US Naval special forces, popularly addressed as SEAL Team Six, stormed Nigeria in October 2020 and rescued a 27-year-old American citizen, Philip Walton, held hostage by bandits in the North. We expect nothing short of such a clinical rescue operation to deliver corps members languishing in kidnappers’ dens.
The resort to the payment of ransoms won’t cut it as such payments incentivize and embolden the kidnappers. It would be recalled that seven corps members were last May abducted while returning to Rivers State after undertaking the NYSC orientation exercise in Ondo State. A week later, they were released in Port Harcourt after the families parted with an undisclosed amount as ransom. This ought not to be!
A day before the Akwa Ibom corps members were taken in Zamfara, one Miss Esther Akande, with Call-up No: NYSC/IFE/2023/201810 (Batch B stream 2) was kidnapped while on her way to the NYSC Permanent Orientation Camp, Magaji Dan Yanusa Keffi, Nasarawa State. After spending four days with the kidnappers, she regained her freedom on Saturday, August 19, when her family paid a million Naira to the kidnappers. Family sources even told the Punch that while the police were nonchalant about the situation, the NYSC urged them to pay the ransom which was initially set at N300million! Many more such instances go unreported. There is no doubt that prospective corps members are now being targeted by kidnappers who have now made a season of the period corps members for or return from NYSC’s mandatory orientation course.
It is for this reason that the Scheme must rethink its strategy in terms of states where corps members are posted to serve. It is wrong for the NYSC to continue deploying prospective corps members to far-flung locations that expose them to more risks of being kidnapped or killed. It can’t continue as if the country is at peace with itself when Nigeria has become one huge kidnap-for-ransom theatre. In a recent report titled ‘The Economics of Nigeria’s Kidnap Industry, SBM Intelligence revealed that no fewer than 3,620 persons were abducted in 582 kidnap-related incidents across Nigeria between July 2022 and June 2023. The report added that at least N5billion ($6.4 million as of June 30) were reported as ransom demands, while verified ransom payouts amounted to N302 million ($387,179) – a figure potentially underestimated due to underreporting.
Given these frightening statistics, it makes no sense for the NYSC to continue deploying Nigerians from Akwa Ibom to Sokoto State. Must the lives and safety of Nigeria’s young be sacrificed on the altar of national integration which gets wilfully desecrated by politicians during electioneering?
I calls on the NYSC to begin deploying prospective corps members to their states of residence or coterminous states to arrest this targeted kidnap of corps members. This is as it is the responsibility of the state to guarantee the safety of citizens not to put them in harm’s way!
Pray, what is the point of sending Nigerians to distant cultures and environments for a better understanding of the country and its peoples when rich or well-heeled persons can pay their way into being deployed to any state of their choosing? It is our considered view that for the Scheme to continue this arbitrary deployment of Nigerians, it must first secure the release of all corps members in captivity and commit to ensuring that never again will NYSC members traveling or returning from their states of deployment be kidnapped or killed by the merchants of death littering highways in the country. The Scheme must subject the way it deploys corps members to the severe risk they are exposed to.
It therefore refers NYSC to the wisdom of ‘Eneke the bird’, who according to the immortal Chinua Achebe, stated that since men have learnt to shoot without missing, he has learnt to fly without perching!