The government’s failure to rescue the more than 68 Abuja-Kaduna train passengers 37 days after their abduction by terrorists, demonstrates the growing helplessness of the Nigerian state in the face of the existential challenge of non-state actors. Emboldened, terrorists are posting photos and videos of their victims online, spreading boasts and mocking loved ones of abductees and the government. The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (Retired), should admit that the Nigerian state and its security forces have been severely weakened; they require a radical overhaul.
Some inescapable facts stare Nigerians in the face: security agencies are overwhelmed, poorly motivated and uncoordinated. Some agents are compromised. They cannot be relied upon, as a former defense minister, Theophilus Danjuma, once said, to protect citizens from marauders. Second, Buhari’s approach to tackling insecurity has failed miserably. As a result, dysfunctional and corrupt political leadership and failed top leadership infallibly keep Nigeria on the path to state failure. A new effective counter-insurgency strategy is therefore imperative.
While Buhari issued ineffectual rescue orders and held unproductive meetings with heads of security agencies, the terrorists were confident and secure. Boko Haram claimed responsibility; the bandits posted jubilant videos and photographs demanding ransom and threatening to kill the hostages. They snidely uploaded pictures of a baby delivered in captivity by one of the two pregnant women among the captives. Nigeria has never had it so bad.
On Monday, Buhari again instructed security agencies to do everything possible to save the hostages. He also ordered them to locate and eliminate terrorists, criminals and kidnappers. Nigerians are puzzled by the inability to translate such harsh words into effective actions.
Moreover, the Nigerian Armed Forces, although stretched in recent years, are still regarded worldwide as an efficient and professional fighting force that has distinguished itself in international peacekeeping missions and has a proven track record. on the battlefield in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Congo. . The respected Global Fire Power website ranks it as the fourth strongest armed force in Africa after Egypt, South Africa and Algeria. But analysts point to the incompetence of political leaders and corruption as factors weakening the much-vaunted institution of late.
Surely, it is another sad accusation by political and security leaders that the abductees are still in captivity 37 days after terrorists attacked the Kaduna-Abuja train, killed eight passengers in a hail of bullets, injured 26 others and took 68 hostages, including pregnant women. women and children. Hauntingly, the episode compels Nigerians to relive the horror of the 276 Chibok schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram eight years ago and several mass abductions since then. Over 100 of Chibok’s daughters are still missing.
After eight years of this, the military and intelligence agencies should have developed professional measures to gain intelligence, interdict and prosecute criminals in the first hours after a kidnapping.
It is doubly disconcerting that again the incident happened in Kaduna, with its multiple military garrisons, police and paramilitary camps. There have also been a series of mass kidnappings and bandit attacks in the state, including at Kaduna airport and the Nigerian Defense Academy, where terrorists killed an officer and abducted a major. of the Army. These incidents suggest that the security forces should have been on high alert.
Understandably, Buhari said the army was forced to launch a frontal rescue operation due to the dire need to protect the abductees. The bandits, he said, use the hostages and other civilians as human shields. They also threatened to kill them if the ransom is not paid or their imprisoned gang members are not released.
However, experience around the world tells us that all options should remain on the table. A Chatham House report found that when faced with a hostage crisis involving their nationals, governments opt to negotiate, release or exchange prisoners, pay ransom or persuade others foreign governments or regimes that have some leverage over terrorists to intercede. Hostage rescue, always risky for both hostages and rescuers, is a last resort.
Many soldiers have developed expertise in this area. U.S. Special Operations Command doctrine states that successful commando rescues require “speed, shock, surprise, and violent action.” Afflicted for more than 12 years by terrorism and insurgency, the Nigerian military should prioritize acquiring expertise in special operations. The Army, Nigerian Air Force Special Operations Forces and Navy Special Boat Service are now expected to have this capability.
As the terrorists demand the release of some of their detained commanders and financiers in exchange for the abductees, the government finds itself in a difficult position that requires tact, hostage crisis management and expertise to resolve.
Prevention and a rapid response are essential. Criminologists say the first 24 to 48 hours following a kidnapping investigation – called the “golden hours” – are critical to its success. This requires strong and dynamic leadership supported by clear and defensible decision-making; supported by systems and structures designed to quickly collect and assess information.
Security forces need to develop new strategies, and the ability to react and pursue them when terrorists strike, especially in places where they have been active. Intelligence gathering and the deployment of technological tools are essential. As a matter of urgency, the State Security Service and the military should develop a hostage rescue capability, maximizing the training of military personnel from friendly countries and reputable international military contractors. After terrorists abducted and killed 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation created a special team, the Hostage Rescue Team, ahead of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. At that time, the FBI said HRT had responded to nearly 800 high-risk incidents in the United States and around the world.
There is no excuse for the SSS, the police and the army not to track and locate the kidnappers hiding in the country. Buhari has to ask them to save the train hostages and all other kidnap victims in the country.
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