Insecurity in Nigeria reached a milestone on March 28 when terrorists abducted, injured, and killed people during a deadly attack on a train transporting passengers between Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, and Kaduna in the Northwest.
The attack, which triggered public outrage, reveals the nexus between terrorists in Northwest and Northeast Nigeria. While eight persons were confirmed killed in the incident, 168 others were kidnapped and are still missing, with some of their families saying they have been contacted by the abductors.
But over three weeks after the incident, the authorities are yet to give updates on efforts in place to secure the victims’ release of the victims. Worried by this silence, the loved ones of the affected people staged a protest on Thursday, April 7, at the Radio House in Abuja. But not much has changed since.
Relatives express worries
The families of victims have expressed displeasure over what they see as neglect and an information blackout from the government.
“Ever since this started, there has not been one single government official that has called any of the family members to say have you heard from family members or to even ask us for intel. The abductors have reached out to us and [let] our family members speak with [us]. You might expect that this might interest the government right, even [if] they are not going to help us,” one of the victims’ relatives who spoke under anonymity told Al Jazeera.
Aliyu Mahmud, the relative of a seven-month pregnant abductee, told journalists during the April 7 demonstration that the expectant mother and her husband are among those still being held by the terrorists.
Another victim’s relative, Aminu Uthman, said life has been more difficult since the incident because the terrorists only reached out to them once.
During the protest at Radio House, HumAngle had captured how Nigeria’s federal authorities refused to address the victims’ relatives. Aides attached to the minister of state for transportation, Gbemisola Saraki, had rough-handled journalists covering the protest in a bid to protect the administration from “embarrassment”.
Saraki also refused to respond to questions asked by journalists on efforts to secure the release of those in the terrorists’ enclave. “We are not saying anything,” one of her aides had declared.
Meanwhile, Nigeria’s Constitution stresses that the primary duty of the government is ensuring “the security and welfare of the people”.
Despite the above provision, Nigerians continue to have their rights violated amid rising insecurity. Reacting to this, lawyer and rights activist Abdul Mahmud noted that the silence and inaction of the Federal Government show their unwillingness to comply with what the 1999 Constitution commands in sections 14 and 17.
“It is the duty of the government to secure lives and property. If those who govern us appreciate the sanctity of life, they should have taken steps to set up an incident room from which officials address families of victims. Silence or inaction isn’t the greatest problem confronting citizens today. The greatest problem is the refusal of the government to prioritise threats to national security.
“If the government considers the derailment of a train as a security threat, it should be able to roll out extraordinary security measures to confront the threat. The illiteracy in the way those who govern us propose public policy is mind-boggling,” he said.
The lawyer added that the government’s inaction indicates it does not consider reacting to the security threat a top priority. “Mum is the word. Unfortunately.”
Kingsley Endurance, a public affairs analyst and social critic, told HumAngle the attitude of the government to the train incident speaks volumes of the character of the person ruling the country.
It is not new
There have been recurring complaints about the worsening state of insecurity in Nigeria as invasions and abduction cases continue to be recorded across the country.
In the Southeast, HumAngle uncovered how members of the proscribed separatist group, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), kill those disobeying their sit-at-home curfew. Unfortunately, the situation is not different in the Southwest and South-South.
As many homes are crying about their displaced, kidnapped and killed loved ones, there are concerns that the authorities saddled with the responsibility of protecting lives are failing to hold perpetrators accountable or ensure victims get justice.
It is not the first time Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari’s leadership style has been called into question, especially in relation to security tragedies. Nigeria has experienced multiple mass kidnappings of students and teachers from their schools under Buhari’s administration, including in his home state of Katsina. But he has not been reported to visit any of the affected schools or families.
Some of the other states that have recorded these abductions include Kaduna, Kebbi, Niger, and Zamfara.
Though the Dec. 2020 abduction of 344 students of the Kankara Government Science Secondary School in Katsina happened when the president was in the state for a private visit, he did not visit the school or physically sympathise with the children’s parents.
In March 2020, a tragic gas explosion struck the Abule Ado area of Nigeria’s economic capital, Lagos, killing at least 20 people. Again, despite public outrage, President Buhari did not visit the scene of the incident. Instead, Lagos Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu flew to Abuja to show the president pictures of the ruins.
The president also received knocks from angry citizens in June 2021 after former Chief of Army Staff, Ibrahim Attahiru, alongside 10 other military personnel died from a military plane crash in Kaduna.
Though he declared days of mourning and other mourning rituals in memory of the deceased, many on social media argued that he should have learnt from ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo who, back in 2006, attended the internment of the 10 Nigerian military generals who died in an aircraft crash while travelling to a private security planning meeting.
For many soldiers who spoke with our reporter, the presence of their president at the funeral would have boosted their morale as they battled lingering insurgency.
President Buhari’s spokespersons, Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu, did not respond to enquiries from HumAngle on the failure of their principal to show concern during national crises. Adesina has, however, mentioned in the past that Buhari’s silence was not out of lack of concern but was simply his preferred leadership style.
“It was not the President’s style to chirrup like a cockatoo. He is a man of few words, who preferred action to words,” he had argued.
A cue from other leaders
Unlike Buhari, ex-president of the United States of America, Donald Trump, in March 2021, visited tornado-ravaged areas in Tennessee, where the disaster had killed 25 people and injured dozens more. He also commiserated with the families of the affected people saying, “I have a message for the families of those that lost their lives. We love them, they’re incredible people, it’s an incredible state. Great people, it’s a great state, and they have great leadership.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin, in March 2018, visited the scene of a fire in a Siberian shopping mall that killed at least 64 people, 41 of them children.
Former Ghanaian President John Mahama similarly cut short an intercountry campaign tour to visit the site of a building collapse in Accra, following the death of nine people in Nov. 2012.
UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, will likely not forget the criticisms he received when he delayed for six days his visit to an area hit by devastating floods in 2020. Residents booed him saying “where’ve you been?” and “you took your time.”
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