Nigeria: Anguish, Despair As Train Passengers Spend 57 Days in Captivity

57 days after the abduction of Kaduna bound passengers by gunmen, family members continue to be in anguish, waiting for the rescue of their relatives.

Every night, Sa’idu Marafa goes to bed around 12 a.m. He keeps his phone under his pillow in anticipation of a phone call he has been waiting for since March 28. It has been 50 days of waiting.

Whenever his phone rings he hopes it is a call that will tell him his brother has been released from captivity. His brother, Auwal Marafa, was among the passengers of the Kaduna-bound train that was attacked by bandits.

A day after the attack, Mr Marafa said he got a call from one of his brother’s abductors. Before the call, his family was worried that he was shot during the attack that left nine people dead.

He could not be reached on the phone, and he was not among the dead and the injured taken to the 44 Nigerian Army Reference Hospital, where victims of the attack were taken and were being treated. They thought maybe he was shot, and his body was not retrieved.

“When the call came in, I took a sigh and answered. I had been following the development on social media and I read that the bandits had started reaching out to some family members. They told me they kidnapped Auwalu and asked me to wait for their calls,” Mr Marafa said.

That was the last time the bandits called him.

Family members of those abducted were uncertain about the whereabouts and well-being of their relatives for days. Then the bandits released photos of the hostages in captivity.

But Mr Marafa said though the pictures provided temporary relief to his family, the state they saw his brother made him cry.

“He looks sick and in dirty clothes. We don’t know whether the bandits give them food or not,” Mr Marafa said. “But at least, we know he and the other abducted passengers were alive. And that calmed us for some hours.”

For 50 days now, there has been no contact with them aside from the two video clips and five photographs the gunmen released.

Family members of the abducted passengers said they were unimpressed with how the Nigerian government is handling the abduction.

They accused Nigerian Railways Corporation of not setting up a situation room as directed by President Muhammadu Buhari.

The government insisted it was making efforts to rescue the victims but did not give details of what it was actually doing to secure their release.

“What the Federal Government is doing won’t be the subject matter of a press conference, because we have lives at stake,” Lai Mohammed, the information and culture minister said, adding: “What I can assure you is that as we speak, the respective arms of the government are actually engaged in getting those victims released.”

The gunmen insisted they need not need money.

The bandits originally did not state was their demands were. However, earlier this week, the bandit announced they want the government to release eight of their children arrested by the Nigerian Army and kept in an orphanage in Nasarawa.

A horrendous experience

Passengers who were rescued from the train by soldiers said the attack was horrendous. Aisha Bindawa, one of the passengers, said the day of the attack was the worst day of her life.

“It was terrible,” she said during a telephone interview with PREMIUM TIMES. “I had seen nothing close to what I saw that night and I pray it should be the last time I’ll ever witness such a thing. There was a man sitting beside me. When that man was shot, I felt like leaving my body. I look at him and felt my soul fleeing too.”

The abduction has generated uproar among Nigerians. Many are questioning the government’s commitment to rescuing or securing the release of the hostages.

The wait continues

Addressing reportersnin Kaduna to commemorate the 42 days of the attack, the spokesman of the group, Abdulfatai Jimoh, said family members of the passengers have found it difficult to move on.

“Today marks the 42nd day our loved ones have been held, hostage. It has been 42 long days of living in fear, virtually no sleep, no bath, wearing the same clothes, under the scorching sun and rain, and exposed to extreme environmental hazards. The emotional, psychological, mental, and physical torture arising from these conditions are only imaginable.

“Among the abducted passengers are children, some as young as 3 years old, pregnant women, women, including an 85-year-old great grandmother, and others. Some of these victims have health challenges requiring daily medications, which they have had no access to in the last 42 harrowing days,” he said.

Terrible situation

“It has not been easy for all of us,” Abdulaziz Attah, a son of one of the abducted passengers told Premium Times. “You know, if they were dead, you will know that they’re dead. They’ll be buried, you’ll mourn and eventually accept reality. But they’re alive but you can’t see them; you don’t know what they go through or how they are surviving. It’s terrible.”

For now, Mr Attah has to contend with double tragedy because apart from his elderly mother, who he said is the oldest among the captives, his junior sister was also abducted. Both women were travelling together.

“The whole family is finding it difficult to cope. No one sleeps, things are in complete disarray and because of this, we have people who are already depressed,” he said.

Mr Attah said the realisation that he could not do anything to save his mother and sister, makes him feel terrible and increasingly frustrated.

Relatives of captive told this newspaper that they are hopeful they would be released but the uncertainty around when they would be released makes them apprehensive.

“We will remain hopeful but it’s not easy,” Sani Lawal, whose brother and sister-in-law were abducted from the train told Premium Times over the phone. “I tell you my immediate family doesn’t understand me anymore because of the trauma. How does one even explain this? I mean I have to keep lying to my brother’s children that their father has travelled and would soon be back.”

Mr Lawal said he has also been reassuring his father and mother that negotiations to free the captives were at an advanced stage “but for how long?”

He said the release of the pictures and video clips of the captives was reassuring but he has been praying for more evidence to be sure that his brother and his sister-in-law are still in good health.

“I would have expected the representatives of the President, at least the transportation minister to have reached out to us to console us, keep us updated on the situation on the ground but nothing is happening. Let them show concern at least,” he said.

Zarah Aliyu, sister to one of the passengers, told PREMIUM TIMES that the decision by the National Assembly to pass a bill prohibiting the payment of ransom ( The bill is yet to be signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari) came at the wrong time when family members are clinging on to the only string of hope to remain sane.

“We’re in a terrific situation right now but they don’t even care,” she said. “It’s not about making the payment of ransom illegal, let them secure the country first. For me, if the bandits have demanded ransom from us, we would have reached out to family and friends and other good Nigerians to save our relatives because it’s not easy coping,” she said.

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