Freedom for Freetown’s Envoy


with Oke Epia
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The recent abduction incident of Sierra Leone’s top diplomat in Nigeria bears two striking ironies that are not only hard to ignore but acerbate the unpleasant news in itself. Added to the shame of a nation which Nigeria’s security situation has become, the seizure of Retired Major General Alfred Claude Nelson-Williams and his recovery days after by security agents, casts some dark shadows on the country in the eyes of the international community. Mr. Nelson-Williams was kidnapped on Friday, July 1 in Kaduna where he had gone to attend or was returning from (depending on which report one read) a passing out parade of the military in the outskirts of the former capital city of Northern Nigeria.

A former Commander of military forces in his home country, Nelson-Williams should hardly have been an easy prey for kidnap kingpins that have made Kaduna some headquarters of sorts of late. That is the first irony. But then it means next to nothing if one recalls that a serving Colonel in the Nigerian Army was whisked away by abductors in same axis just months before. Given the mortal fate which later befell the senior officer as he was found dead, it is mighty relief that the diplomat was recovered alive. Irony number two is that the circumstance of the diplomat’s abduction was related to a military event – the graduation ceremony of cadet pilots of the Nigerian Airforce. Although the details of his travel and abduction are yet to be fully unveiled, it is awkward that the despicable act occurred in connection with the event of a military showcase in Kaduna. Mr. Nelson-Williams was an invited guest in his capacity as the Defence Attaché of the Sierra Leonean mission in Nigeria. It is noteworthy also that he was at the time also the Deputy Head of his country’s mission in Nigeria.

Thank God for the swift response of the Police and other security agencies in Kaduna, otherwise, a diplomatic gridlock would have been set off between Nigeria and her West African neighbor. A big brother relationship Nigeria had rightly gained and maintained with the smaller nation came under serious threat. Recall Nigeria’s sterling role in bringing peace to the once troubled Sierra Leone which was then embroiled in a fratricidal civil war. Under the aegis of ECOMOG, the country had performed brilliantly and creditably to the admiration of the international community in securing peace in the then war-torn nation. There is no way the story of peace in Sierra Leone would be told without lavish acknowledgement of the substantial sacrifice by Abuja. All of those great strides suddenly came under strain as Nelson-Williams wallowed in the unknown world of his abductors.
Tension was already mounting. In fact, Sierra Leone had dispatched a special envoy to Abuja to undertake full responsibility for communication between the kidnappers and the High Commission, according to presidential spokesman, Abdulai Baytraytay who spoke on the matter on Monday in Freetown. President Ernest Bai Koroma, the West African leader, was in “round-the-clock contact” with his Nigerian counterpart, Muhammadu Buhari, he added. Though mute was the word from official diplomatic circles in Abuja, signals from the Foreign Affairs Ministry conveyed immense distress at the unfortunate development. Expectedly, the foreign media got on top of events so much so that the national media relied on reports from them. A report by AFP noted that “Nelson-Williams’s abduction was the first of a Sierra Leone diplomat anywhere in the world since the country gained independence in 1961, foreign ministry sources in Freetown said.” It was a combination of all these pressures that bore on Abuja and directly on the Police and other internal security apparati to move with dizzying speed towards the safe recovery of the diplomat.

Luckily by Tuesday this week the police had good news to tell: “The diplomat has been reunited with the Sierra Leonean High Commissioner (ambassador) and his family,” said Police Public Relations Officer, Don Awunah, who added with a precision often uncommon with the Force: “We were able to locate where he was kept at about 1500 hours. He is in sound health.” As usual with the security agency, it would not comment on speculations that a $40m ransom was demanded by the abductors who remain at large. The police would either disclaim that ransoms were paid for freedom of kidnap victims or simply ignore reports in that regard. Suffice however, to say that the Police saved the country an embarrassment of immense proportions. If an untoward fate had befallen the diplomat in captivity, Nigeria would have secured at least some postscript mentions whenever the dastardly story of Dhaka is told. Recall that scores of foreign nationals were killed in a 10 hours horrifying hostage affair in Bangladesh about same period the Kaduna kidnap happened.

Kaduna has taken the lead in respect of recorded high profile kidnap cases in recent times. In March, the Nigeria Army confirmed the death of Col. Samaila Inusa who had taken him captive two days before. “Nigerian Army wishes to regrettably inform the public that Col Samaila Inusa who was kidnapped on Sunday, March 27, 2016 was found dead today (Tuesday, March 29, 2016),” the military announced via Twitter after it mounted a massive manhunt for the abductors, including a N1million reward to any informant with useful information. According to the Army authorities, Inusa before his kidnap was a serving officer at the Nigerian Army School of Infantry in Jaji, Kaduna. He was reportedly kidnapped at Kamazo Chikkun Local Government Area near NNPC junction, Kaduna by gunmen who dropped off his wife and “left with him in his car and headed towards Abuja.”
Embarrassed by the sheer effrontery of banditry plaguing the State, security agencies rose to the occasion with then Inspector-General of Police, Solomon Arase, deploying an

Assistant to be permanently stationed in Kaduna. That move apparently paid off as the Police recently announced the capture of the late Inusa’s abductors-cum-murderers.
But before then in same month of March, the state recorded another forceful seizure of humans, this time a cluster of clergymen. President of the United Church of Christ in Nigeria, Rev. Emmanuel Dziggau and two other clergy men were reportedly abducted along Kaduna-Abuja Expressway where they had gone to superintend over work on a piece of land being prepared for the church seminary. While two of them regained freedom after about ten days and some undisclosed amount of money exchanging hands between the kidnappers and relatives of those held in captivity, one was confirmed dead due to unknown circumstances.

All of these nefarious activities hitherto alien to Kaduna have put the State Government under pressure. The All Progressives Congress (APC) administration of Mallam Nasir El-Rufai recently announced plans to deploy Closed-Circuit Televisions (CCTVs) and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to tackle the rising menace of crime in the state. But beyond CCTVs and drones, the Federal and State Government must rise to the escalating security challenge of kidnapping for ransom facing Kaduna and indeed, other parts of the North. It is worrisome that a criminal trend which used to be a preponderant occurrence in the Southern part of the country has spread and is gaining ground in the North. The daring attempt on an Army Colonel which ended in very costly fatality and another on a diplomat swiftly saved from going in same mortal finality are sufficient wake up calls on every stakeholder in the business of securing lives and properties to be eternally vigilant. And every stakeholder in this case is you and I; not just the Police and other security outfits.
 ––Follow writer on Twitter @resourceme