After her family bid her goodbye and a safe journey, Kondo Immaculate set off on her journey to Sokoto, Northwest Nigeria, to resume her undergraduate program at Usmanu Danfodiyo University.
At about 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct.19, Immaculate boarded a car at the Benue Links motor park in her home town in Benue State, North-central Nigeria.
But after leaving Funtua, a town in Katsina State, the passengers saw a horde of armed gang signaling for the driver to stop.
One of the passengers sitting in the front, sensing the ‘armed men’ might be terrorists, immediately warned the driver not to stop, Immaculate recounts. “The guy told the driver to speed on and pass over them, but he [driver] didn’t. He drove us straight to them.”
Now in the hands of terrorists known locally as bandits, the passengers became fully aware of their helplessness. They were ordered by their captors to come down from the vehicle and herded them into the bush.
This time, Immaculate already knew her fate and those of others were now between God and the gun-wielding terrorists.
She narrated that she passed out for about 30 minutes, and after regaining consciousness, found that they were already in the bush —the kidnappers’ den. It was then she discovered that the driver and one passenger were missing. Upon inquiry, the driver and the passenger had escaped from the scene; how it happened remained mysterious to other passengers.
Their abductors said the driver had taken their luggage to Sokoto.
Terrorists have been having a field day in the Northwest
Terrorists have been having a field day in the northwestern part of Nigeria in recent times. Between Dec. 2020 and March 2021, a total of 633 school children were reported kidnapped in Zamfara, Niger, and Katsina states. Some students of Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, like Immaculate have also suffered the same fate.
In July, Danguib Umar, a 300-level Law student, was abducted by the terrorists in Zamfara State while returning to school.
Umar spent nine days in captivity before his family could pay N1 million ransom to secure his freedom. Usman Musa, a 400-level student (now a graduate) of Geography was kidnapped, too, at his father’s shop at Eggon, Nasarawa State, North-central on Dec. 22, 2020. He was released the following day after the payment of a ransom.
“Northwestern Nigeria is suffering from an intense, destabilizing conflict that has flown under the radar of international policymakers and analysts,” said James Barnett, a Nigeria-based researcher and Murtala Rufai, a professor of history, in their commentary published on the War on Rock.
Show the world our face
Unlike other criminals who might try to conceal their identities, terrorists like Immaculate’s abductors have grown brazen and boast about sharing their faces with the world. This is similar to the attitude displayed by the terrorists whom reporter, James Barnett, recently had a sit-down with in northwest Nigeria.
“The bandits asked us to take pictures with them,” Immaculate narrated. “They said we can share the photos to the world to show how bad Zamfara State is.”
This brazen attitude by the terrorists is a reflection of the state of insecurity in Northwest Nigeria. According to James Bennett and Murtala Rufai, the bandits “have developed surprising fighting capacity;” giving instances of the Nigerian Air Force’s Alpha Jet gunned down by them on June 18 and the attack on the Nigerian Defense Academy in Kaduna, leading to the murder of two officers and abduction of a senior officer in August.
Seven days like a thousand-year
For abductees like Immaculate and others, an hour in the kidnappers’ den was like a day and a day appeared like a hundred years. Before Immaculate could count seven days, in her mind, it was already like an eternity.
But they were mild with their victims. “They didn’t beat us,” she recalled. “They would tie our legs and keep us in one position for the whole day.”
Unlike the male victims in their midst who were often beaten and denied food sometimes, the female abductees enjoyed the mercy of their abductors. At night, the kidnappers tied their legs to keep them vulnerable till daybreak.
Immaculate said of the amount paid to their abductors for their freedom. Before they were finally released, a total sum of N9 million was paid.
Efforts by HumAngle to reach other victims were not successful as they neither returned the calls placed to them nor responded to messages sent to their lines.
There is no silver bullet for banditry — Experts
Banditry has created a mess in the Northwestern part of the country, Barnett and Rufai’s joint commentary noted. But with a well-coordinated effort between the federal and state governments, attempts to disarm and demobilize the groups of terrorists ravaging the region can yield positive results.
“Efforts to address the underlying drivers of insecurity will have to start small, and they will require uncomfortable trade-offs…At such a precarious moment, Nigeria cannot afford to continue down this path,” Barnett and Rufai noted.
They both argued that the government must take decisive actions. “Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet for banditry.”
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