Every night, Sa’idu Marafa goes to bed around 12 am. He tucks his phone under his pillow in anticipation of a phone call he’s been waiting for since March 28. It’s been 50 days of waiting.
Every time her phone rings, she hopes it will be a call telling her that her brother has been released from captivity. His brother, Auwal Marafa, was among the passengers on the Kaduna-bound train that was attacked by bandits.
A day after the attack, Marafa said she received a call from one of her brother’s kidnappers. Before the call, her family worried that she would be shot during the attack that left nine dead.
He could not be reached by phone, and was not among the dead and wounded taken to Nigerian Army Referral Hospital 44, where the victims of the attack were taken and were being treated. They thought maybe he was shot and his body was not recovered.
“When the call came in, I sighed and answered. I had been following the development on social media and read that the bandits had started to approach some family members. They told me that Auwalu was kidnapped and asked me to wait for their calls,” Marafa said.
That was the last time the bandits called him.
The relatives of the kidnapped were not sure of the whereabouts and well-being of their relatives for days. Later, the bandits published photos of the hostages in captivity.
But Marafa said that while the images brought temporary relief to his family, the state his brother was seen in brought tears to his eyes.
“He looks sick and in dirty clothes. We don’t know if the bandits give them food or not,” Marafa said. “But at least we know that he and the other hijacked passengers were alive. And that calmed us down for a few hours.”
For 50 days, there has been no contact with them apart from the two videos and five photos the gunmen posted.
Relatives of the kidnapped passengers said they were not impressed with how the Nigerian government is handling the kidnapping.
accused Nigerian Railways Corporation of not establishing a situation room as ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari.
President Muhammadu Buhari
The government insisted that it was making efforts to rescue the victims, but did not elaborate on what it was actually doing to secure their release.
“What the federal government is doing will not be the subject of a press conference, because we have lives at stake,” said Lai Mohammed, the minister of information and culture, adding: “What I can assure you is that as we speak, the respective arms of the government are really committed to getting those victims released.”
The gunmen insisted that they did not need money.
The bandits originally did not state what their demands were. However, earlier this week, the bandit announced that he wants the government to release eight of his children detained by the Nigerian army and kept in an orphanage in Nasarawa.
Passengers who were rescued from the train by soldiers said the attack was horrendous. Aisha Bindawa, one of the passengers, said that the day of the attack was the worst day of her life.
“It was terrible,” he said during a phone interview with PREMIUM TIMES. “I hadn’t seen anything like what I saw that night and I pray this is the last time I witness anything like it. There was a man sitting next to me. When that man was shot, I felt like leaving my body. I looked at him and felt my soul flee too.”
The kidnapping has generated a stir among Nigerians. Many question the government’s commitment to rescue or secure the release of the hostages.
the wait continues
Addressing reporters in Kaduna to mark 42 days since the attack, the group’s spokesman, Abdulfatai Jimoh, said relatives of the passengers have found it difficult to move on.
The train that was bombed
“Today marks 42 days that our loved ones have been held hostage. It has been 42 long days of living in fear, with virtually no sleep, no bathing, wearing the same clothes, in the scorching sun and rain, and exposed to extreme environmental hazards. The emotional, psychological, mental and physical torture that arises from these conditions is only imaginable.
“Among the kidnapped passengers are children, some as young as 3, pregnant women, women, including an 85-year-old great-grandmother, and others. Some of these victims have health conditions that require daily medication, which they have not had access to for the last 42 harrowing days,” she said.
“It has not been easy for all of us,” Abdulaziz Attah, the son of one of the kidnapped passengers, told Premium Times. “You know, if they were dead, you’d know they were dead. They will be buried, you will cry and eventually you will accept reality. But they are alive but you cannot see them; you don’t know what they go through or how they are surviving. It’s terrible.”
For now, Attah has to deal with a double tragedy because in addition to her elderly mother, who she said is the oldest among the captives, her younger sister was also kidnapped. Both women were traveling together.
“The whole family finds it difficult to cope with the situation. No one sleeps, things are in complete disarray and so we have people who are already depressed,” she said.
Mr. Attah said the realization that he couldn’t do anything to save his mother and sister makes him feel terrible and increasingly frustrated.
The relatives of the captives told this newspaper that they are hopeful that they will be released, but the uncertainty about when they will be released makes them apprehensive.
Kidnapped passengers on the Abuja-Kaduna train.
“We will keep hope, but it is not easy,” Sani Lawal, whose brother and sister-in-law were kidnapped on the train, told Premium Times by phone. “I tell you that my immediate family no longer understands me because of the trauma. How is this explained? I mean I have to keep lying to my brother’s children that his father has traveled and that he will be back soon.”
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 photos and videos of the captives was reassuring, but he has been praying for more tests to make sure his brother and sister-in-law are still in good health.
“I would have hoped that representatives of the president, at least the transport minister, would have reached out to us to comfort us, to keep us informed about the situation on the ground, but nothing is happening. Let them at least show concern,” he said.
Immediate Past Transport Minister Rotimi Amaechi inspecting the scene of the terrorist attack on passengers aboard the Abuja Kaduna train.
Zarah Aliyu, the sister of one of the passengers, told PREMIUM TIMES that the National Assembly’s decision to pass a bill banning ransom payments (the bill has yet to be signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari) It came at the wrong time as family members cling to the only rope of hope to stay sane.
“We’re in a great situation right now, but they don’t even care,” he said. “It is not about making the payment of the ransom illegal, that they secure the country first. For me, if the bandits had held us for ransom, we would have reached out to family, friends and other good Nigerians to save our relatives because it is not easy to cope,” he said.
SEE: Governor Yahaya Bello’s roadmap to Hope 2023