Complicity of Negotiators in Kidnapping-for-Ransom

Negotiators who deliver ransom to terrorists without security agencies raising eyebrows have made kidnapping a very lucrative business in Nigeria, and frustrated the federal government’s efforts to fight terrorism. Ejiofor Alike reports that negotiating with bandits is akin to engaging armed robbers to help their victims to recover their stolen money and other items 

The public was outraged early last year with the visit by renowned Islamic Scholar, Sheikh Abubakar Gumi, to some bandits in the forests of the North-west.

The cleric specifically visited the terrorists in the forests of Shinkafi and Gummi local government areas (LGAs) of Zamfara State.

Gummi was said to have first gone to the forest of Tubali and Makkai in Shinkafi LGA, which were under the control of armed Fulani herdsmen.

At the Tubali Forest where Gumi and his entourage reportedly met with about 150 armed Fulani bandits, their commander simply identified as Bello, expressed their grievances.

Also at Makkai Forest, where the cleric met with more than 600 heavily armed bandits, their top commander, one Kachalla Turji, welcomed the Sheikh, and expressed frustration at government attitude towards them.

Many Nigerians were shocked that the cleric could visit terrorists who were involved in mass murder, kidnapping-for-ransom, rape and cattle rustling without the security agencies raising eyebrows. His campaign for the bandits to be given the same treatment that was accorded the Niger Delta militants further fuelled public indignation. It also raised suspicion that President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration was using the cleric to test waters for the eventual granting of amnesty to the terrorists. This suspicion arose from President Buhari’s use of kid gloves to handle the armed Fulani herdsmen, who were unleashing mayhem on farmers and indigenous population.

 It was not surprising that when Gumi came up with the strange idea of granting amnesty to the bandits, many believed that it was a case of the voice of Jacob and hands of Esau.

They had wondered why bandits of Fulani extraction, should be singled out for such special privilege that was accorded the Niger Delta youths whose region is the cash cow of the country.

Gumi’s campaign became more worrisome when he began to assist relatives of kidnap victims to negotiate with bandits for the release of their victims.  

First, the foremost Islamic cleric facilitated the release of 27 students of Government Science College, in Kagara, Rafi Local Government Area of Niger State in February 2021 after meeting bandits in Bangi forest.

He had also facilitated the release of 39 students of the Federal College of Forestry, Kaduna, who were abducted on March 12, 2021.

While 10 of them were released in two batches of five after their parents reportedly paid N17million ransom, the remaining 29 students regained their freedom on May 5, 2021 after spending 54 days in captivity.

Also, following the gory video images of four teenage children belonging to the same family released to the internet by abductors of the Abuja-Kaduna train attack, Gumi had on August 2022 secured the release of four children, their parents and a 60-year-old woman, according to a statement issued by Gumi’s Media Consultant, Tukur Mamu.

The statement noted that the renowned Islamic scholar reached out to the abductors through his media consultant.

Mamu, who was not worried by media reports that described him as the lead negotiator, had earlier personally secured the release of seven of the kidnapped train passengers.

Before he secured the release of the seven passengers, he had announced his formal withdrawal from negotiating with the terrorists due to what he had described as the alleged government’s lackadaisical attitude. But he said he had to backtrack because of immense pressure and appeal by the relations and loved ones of the victims.

Gumi had in May 2022 advised the federal government to pay ransom to the terrorists holding the 62 abducted passengers of the Abuja-Kaduna train.

Due to Gumi’s perceived closeness to the bandits, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) had in June 2021 met with him to seek the release of hundreds of abducted students all over the country.

Nigerians were shocked that Gumi and Mamu would play such role without being arrested by security agents and charged for alleged complicity in the atrocities being committed by these terrorists. Security analysts were aghast at the unhindered access of the duo to bandits when the security agents claimed that they were searching for these criminals.

As a demonstration of his closeness to the terrorists, Gumi had in May 2021 declared authoritatively that bandits were not responsible for the kidnapping and killing of students of Greenfield University in Kaduna.

He hinted that members of the Boko Haram terrorist group were responsible for the abduction.

Twenty-two students and a member of staff of the Greenfield University were kidnapped from the school campus earlier. The role of Gumi and Mamu was believed to have made kidnapping by terrorists a very lucrative business and frustrated the efforts of security agencies to fight the crime.

Relations of kidnapped victims who benefitted from Gumi’s gesture claimed that they paid ransom for the release of their loved ones, but the cleric denied the claims.

In May 2021, a parent of one of the abducted Kaduna students narrated how Gumi asked them to contribute N800,000 for one of the negotiators.

 “They took us to Gumi’s house. He directed us to Ahmad who invited a Fulani from Kaduna. We contributed N800,000 for him. He told us that it was just for transport. I cried and pleaded with him, saying I’m a widow. He said it wasn’t his concern.”

But in a swift response, Gumi told The Cable that he knew nothing about the N800,000, describing the allegation as “nonsense”. That was when the bubble burst.

Analysts had alleged that the controversial cleric must have been benefiting from ransoms paid to the abductors for the release of their captives.

The role of Gumi and Mamu was said to be akin to that of informants who help victims of armed robbery to recover their stolen items.

It did not come as a surprise to many Nigerians when the lead negotiator, Mamu was arrested in Cairo, Egypt penultimate week.

He was detained at the Cairo International Airport for 24 hours before he was repatriated to Nigeria.

The Department of State Services (DSS) also confirmed his arrest.

Public Relations Officer (PRO) of DSS, Dr. Peter Afunanya, said in a statement that Mamu, “as a person of interest, was intercepted by Nigeria’s foreign partners at Cairo, Egypt, on September 6, 2022, while on his way to Saudi Arabia. He has been returned to the country and taken into the service’s custody.”

The secret police last Tuesday told a Federal High Court, Abuja, that Mamu, was part of an international terrorist network who used the cover of journalism to perpetrate crime.

Gumi and Mamu’s fraternity with the bandits had emboldened these criminals to continue their heinous crimes.

Without payment of ransom, there will be no incentives for bandits to engage in abductions. Negotiators who deliver ransom are major drivers of terrorism in the country.

The DSS has even said by the time it concludes its investigation, Nigerians would be shocked at the revelations. Nigerians are anxiously waiting.

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