The incident that happened in the North-West of Nigeria, over the rescue operation of an American, Philip Walton, has cast a slur on the government of President Muhammadu Buhari and our entire security apparatus. Walton, 27, had earlier been kidnapped in his home in the Nigerien village of Massalata, nine kilometres from the Nigerian border on October 26, 2020.
The kidnapped American was brought into Nigeria by his captors, ostensibly because they felt Nigeria has become a safer haven for an industry that has assumed the unenviable rating as the fastest growing, in recent times. Kidnapping has become a fullblown flourishing business in Nigeria with tales of agony, sorrow and grief, as victims often narrate their ordeal in the hands of their captors.
The kidnapped American would probably have been sold to other terrorists in exchange for money in what has become a trade by barter in some parts of Nigeria. The lessons to learn from the American Navy’s SEAL Six operation are legion. First, it was a noiseless operation.
Second, it spoke volumes of the value and premium America places on a citizen. It also ridicules our security measures against kidnapping, armed banditry and insurgency. The cost of the operation underscores the value of an American anywhere in the world.
The personnel, airplanes, drones and other facilities that were deployed within 96 hours to secure the life of Philip Walton, who has been living with his father in the farming village of Massalata, also spoke volume about keeping tab on citizens anywhere they may find themselves in the globe.
An elated Donald Trump, looking for every available flotsam to clutch at, in the wake of an election that is too close to call, expectedly celebrated the successful rescue operation, and added that about “55 hostages and detainees” in more than 24 countries have so far been rescued. It is not just about a Trump’s success, it is about an American doctrine and the importance they place on their citizens in every part of the globe.
The operation did not only secure Walton, six of the abductors were reportedly killed while one escaped. It was the best news I have heard in a long time, because, on that fateful day, Monday, 26th October, that Philip Walton was reportedly kidnapped, my cousin suffered similar fate in the hands of kidnappers who have been feasting on the Abuja-Benin road without hindrance.
While citizen Walton got the attention of his president in far away Washington DC, our president abandoned my cousin and left to languish in the thick forest with hard labour meted to him by these common criminals.
He was in company of other captives and was made to trek over 80 miles, criss-crossing villages, farm settlements and communities before they settled in the thick forest, where ransoms were delivered to them.
The curious reality is that, even when Nigeria Police are informed about such perennial incidences, they often wax lyrical, counselling you how to negotiate with diplomacy and incremental methodology, the proposed ransom; “start from the least amount, and take it gradually up, make sure you deploy a friendly tone”.
This is what you often hear Police tell you when reports of kidnap are taken to them. While the Navy’s SEAL Team Six sprouted to action within hours to rescue an American, relatives of captives in Nigeria would be running from pillar to post to raise ransom in whatever measure to secure their loved ones. Contributions are put together, and if you are unlucky, the kidnappers might even kill their victim and still collect the ransom.
Decomposing bodies are shown to their victims to remind them that some have been killed before, and others could still be killed as they do not care about who the heck you are or whatever status you occupy in the society. Only last week, one Colonel Onifade was reportedly killed by his abductors along Abuja-Kaduna road, even when ransom was collected.
That is the fate of a country that has surrendered to incompetence, underperformance, leadership inertia, and dysfunctionality. In just one fell swoop, over N30 million was paid in exchange for about five persons, with a stern warning to the newly released captives to hurry up else another group swooped on them again.
You are made to trek long hours in the thick forest, anxious to drink dirty stagnant water to cushion your thirst, beaten to stupor in most cases, inflicting injuries on your body, and made to call all persons in your contact list who could easily cough out some good money. They tell their captives that all they wanted is money, money and money.
“Don’t preach God to us, because we don’t know God. Don’t pray here. Call your people to send us money, else we kill you.” They yelled at you, with sunken eyes that have been watered by hard drugs ranging from cocaine, codein and buska. They make all manner of calls, speak with their masters, discuss the ransom placed on each individual, get approval, before they strike a deal.
As they torture you, leaving you in excruciating pains, they kiss their AK 49 with romantic relish, just to remind you that they are heavily fortified. While all negotiations are ongoing, even when Nigeria Police could co-locate their hide-out, God forbids that any effort is made to advance any rescue mission. “You people said the police are not effective.
So, make una go carry una load naa.” By the time my cousin eventually came out from the den of kidnappers, he was heavily traumatised, dehumanised, frail with patches of wounds all over his body.
His eyes were blood shot, he was limping to safety, before he was helped to destination. While we were happy that he came out alive, tales of other kidnap filtered through the news mill, from the same spot and location, between Okpella and Lokoja.
The same method, because the roads are in bad shape, road users cannot apply speed. As you struggled through the bad portions of the road, right ahead of you, are kidnappers waiting with AK 49, in military camouflage uniform, taking charge of operations on the highway, unmoved.
He bundles you into the bush and the journey to torture, long walk and starvation has just begun. In reality, do we actually have an Inspector-General of Police?
Where is the socalled Operation Python Smile? Where are those blood-thirsty soldiers that visited mayhem on peaceful protesters in Lekki Toll Gate? Where are they? What is the meaning of Operation Python Smile, if kidnappers have taken over our highways and reaping off their captives? What the heck is happening in Nigeria?
The rescue operation for Philip Walton, came into Nigeria unannounced, just like they did to Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. They were like an Unidentified Flying Object (UFO), fully equipped with gadgets that would facilitate their operation. In Nigeria, such operation would have been heralded by warning signals; “if you know you are in custody of Philip Walton, release him now, before we descend on you. We already have special forces carrying camera chips in their uniforms, so be warned.”
It is like telling the abductors to relocate from wherever they may be. When they are embarking on such operations, you will hear siren blaring police vehicles, meant to tell the aggressors to escape before the police get to them. It is this mentality that has badly impacted on the lingering Boko Haram insurgency.
Rather than engage in a combat that is coded and discrete, you will see image makers of the military and police competing for attention on television and radio, announcing what they are doing and intend to do. How do you intend to achieve results in such situation?
What has been the response rate to stop kidnapping in Nigeria? What is being done by those pythons that are smiling all over the country? If they truly want to show force, let them enter the forest and get the kidnappers.
The present lawlessness is becoming too ridiculous to be real. We need serious overhaul in our security architecture, that is, if there is anyone at all. We need collaboration with countries with superior firepower and technological know-how to be able to restore some sanity in Nigeria.
The rate of kidnapping should worry any serious-minded government and something urgent has to be done to arrest this ugly situation.
If Donald Trump, in the heat of election campaign, could still give a directive to rescue a single individual in Nigeria, I wonder what our own leadership does with kidnap information that flies around on a daily basis. The security agencies should come up with a combined operation to urgently address this trend.
The earlier the better. Today is more like it, tomorrow might be too late.