…Search and rescue operations ongoing, says DHQ
Major Christopher Datong, who was kidnapped by daring bandits around 1 am on July 24 has spent one full week in his captors’ den, raising concerns about the safety of ordinary, vulnerable Nigerians.
Datong was kidnapped when the marauders, last Tuesday, invaded the country’s foremost military institution, the Nigerian Defence Academy, Afaka, Kaduna, killing two officers – identified as Lieutenant Wulah and Flight Lieutenant Okoronkwo.
The nation was shocked to wake up to a new level of effrontery by gunmen, who wore army uniforms and attacked the NDA campus in the Igabi Local Government Area of Kaduna State.
The bandits, who broke the fence of the institution, had headed in different parts of the premises and caught the officers on duty off guard.
Two officers lost their lives in the attack while the fate of the kidnapped officer delicately hangs in the balance.
Online reports have it that the bandits have contacted the family of Datong and have demanded some millions of naira as ransom but The PUNCH could not confirm the development as of the time of filing this report.
Speaking with The PUNCH on Tuesday, Director, Defence Information, Major General Benjamin Sawyerr, said search and rescue operations are being conducted to rescue the kidnapped officer.
“Operations are being conducted to search and rescue him. The operation is still ongoing. Search and rescue operations does not have a timeline and there is no point discussing how far the operations have gone because it will jeopardise secrecy and the efforts of those conducting the operations,” Sawyerr told our correspondent.
Also, a retired Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Austin Iwar, told The PUNCH that he believed the military would rescue the kidnapped officer.
He, however, said the NDA invasion showed that the whole country is exposed.
“It reveals the level of vulnerability that the entire country is exposed to, not only barracks or security formations but including our private homes and residential areas that the bandits have decided to attack because nobody in his wildest imagination will ever expect that bandits will have the temerity to attack military formations.
“The bandits have seen that there are soft spots that could exploit in NDA. And anybody that stood on the way was shot. It is very unfortunate that we are losing officers. But I believe that the military is up to the task, they have proved several times they can handle it even though sometimes it looks overwhelming but I believe they will rescue the kidnapped military officer.
“One of the lessons here is that we should not assume that because we are military personnel, we should not assume that we are not vulnerable. A criminal always exploits opportunities,” Iwar told our correspondent.
Following Tuesday’s attack, many Nigerians had taken to social media to expressed deep anger at the affront by bandits, who have become emboldened in their attacks against the military after shooting down a Nigerian Air Force jet earlier in July.
The military authorities had started compiling the names of errant personnel to be court-martialed and had constituted a board of enquiry on the embarrassing incident.
The Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor had also visited the NDA last Wednesday, saying “this madness must stop”.
The military has a heavy presence in Kaduna with no fewer than six military formations in the city. The military formations include Jaji Military Cantonment; 1 Mech. Division Headquarters, Nigerian Army, Kaduna; New Barracks, otherwise known as ‘Kotoko’ Barracks; Old Site of the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna; Kalanpazi Barracks (Artillery Regiment) and the Nigerian Air Force Base.
With all military formations and institutions present in the state, Kaduna has perhaps been the worst hit by the nefarious activities of bandits and kidnappers in recent times.
According to the official statistics by Governor Nasir El-Rufai administration, the vicious marauders killed at least 525 innocent lives, kidnapped 1,723 between January and June 2021.
The NDA campus is opposite the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka where bandits abducted 39 students on March 11, 2021. The bandits had demanded N500m to free the captives.
On April 20, 2021, bandits had also kidnapped at least 23 students of Greenfield University and a member of staff.
On July 5, 2021, around 2am, bandits stormed Bethel Baptist School, Damishi, Kaduna, and abducted 121 pupils, according to the Proprietor of the school, Rev. Ishaya Jangado.
In some cases, bandits released some of the students after their parents parted with millions of naira as ransom but a few students haven’t been lucky to make it out alive.
Beyond Kaduna, kidnapping has become a sordid menace and a lucrative ‘enterprise’ in Nigeria as the West African nation’s security situation worsens.
Many Nigerians are disappointed in the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), who rode to power on the heels of combating the security challenges plaguing the country in 2015 but the situation seems to have been aggravated in the last six years.
Aside from the kidnapping of students from schools, hundreds of Nigerians have also fallen victims to kidnappers in recent times. Their families have had to part with millions of naira to secure their release after days or even weeks of excruciating pains and agony. However, some families have not been so lucky as the daredevil kidnappers rape and kill their victims even after receiving millions of naira as ransom.
The Senate had proposed a bill seeking to prohibit the payment and receipt of ransom for the release of any person kidnapped, imprisoned or wrongfully confined.
According to the bill, Nigerians who pay ransom to kidnappers and kidnappers who receive ransom risk 15 years imprisonment.
But many Nigerians had flayed the upper chamber and described the bill as stupid. They noted that the National Assembly should instead focus on ensuring they make laws that guarantee adequate security for every Nigerian.