Eight hundred million naira was paid to the terrorists holding captives seized from the AK9 train service attacked on the Abuja–Kaduna route before the additional seven victims were released on Saturday, some families of the victims and other sources knowledgeable of the deal told Daily Trust exclusively on Sunday.
The released victims were among the dozens of passengers abducted on March 28 by gunmen who derailed the moving train.
No organisation has yet claimed responsibility for the attack but security sources and researchers attributed the daring attack to remnants of Boko Haram working in cahoots with members of the Darul Salam, another group mostly populated by Fulani youths dislodged from Niger and Nasarawa States at different times.
Some however attributed the attack to the Islamic State West Africa (ISWAP) though, atypical of the group, they have not publicly laid claim to it.
The release of the seven victims came amid heightened fears that the terrorists would kill all those in their custody over the alleged failure of the federal government to respond to their demands.
On Tuesday, Daily Trust reported that the captors of the train passengers had sent an audio clip to victims’ families threatening to kill the captives if the families were unwilling to strike a deal with them.
It was reliably gathered that families of each of the six Nigerian victims paid N100 million while the captors pegged the ransom for the Pakistani at N200 million which was also paid.
Our sources said the terrorists collected the ransom in naira and US dollars.
“Only N200 million was collected in naira, the remaining N600 million was paid in the equivalent of US dollars,” one of our sources said.
Those released were identified as Muhammad Daiyabu Paki, Bosede Olurotimi, Abubakar Zubairu, Alhassan Sule, Sadiq Ango Abdullahi, Aliyu Usman and Muhammad Abuzar Afzal, the Pakistani.
“All the families of the victims felt abandoned by the federal government and therefore had to pay for the release of their loved ones,” another source close to one of the released “The truth is that the FG is indifferent to our plight…Those in power don’t care if the captives are all killed.
“That is why we sold our property and raised the money. It is the same for the families of all those released. We all paid through our nose but Alhamdulillah, it is worth it,” he said.
Daily Trust reports that the lead negotiator for the release of the victims, Kaduna-based newspaper publisher, Tukur Mamu, had on Saturday announced that he secured the release of the seven abductees through mediation as he was silent on any ransom paid.
Mamu, a media consultant to Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, had last week announced his withdrawal from negotiating with the terrorists due to the alleged government’s nonchalant attitude to the plight of the train abductees.
He, however, said he had to continue with the mediation because of immense pressure and appeal by the relations and loved ones of the victims.
Previously, the abductors had released three batches of the captives, including managing director of the Bank of Agriculture, Alwan Hassan, a group of eleven victims and a pregnant woman released alone.
A security source told one of our correspondents that the federal government rarely secures the release of any captive.
“Government is not amenable to releasing terrorists in their custody because of some international convention.
“It is however sad that in Nigeria, while we don’t agree to prisoner swap most of the time, the terrorists always have their way as evident in the recent attack on Kuje Prison where many high profile terrorists were released.
“We don’t have the capacity to protect our prison facilities and we don’t have the capacity to protect the citizens. Hundreds of terrorists have been set free in various prisons…It is unfortunate,” he said.
How B/Haram members partnered bandits for train attack
One of the released captors had, at the weekend, painted sordid details of their journey to the terrorists’ den and life under the insurgents.
According to him, the attack on the train was a collaborative operation between the B/Haram elements who held them and some bandits familiar with the train.
“They entered into an alliance with the bandits so as to benefit from their numbers and their familiarity with the train. In fact, even the location where we were held in the forests around Birnin Gwari they told us it was not their territory, they got permission from some bandits to keep us there,” he said.
The source, who craved anonymity, said the location where they were held was an open forest with only three huts within the vicinity.
“The men shared two huts while the women and kids used the other one. There were 20 of us in the hut I stayed in as of the time of our release on Saturday. They treated us fairly well without maltreating anyone, other than that first time they lashed us up when their leader called Malam Baffa came to see us immediately after we arrived.
“On some days they would slaughter a cow for us. The latest was the one they killed to celebrate the Sallah. They also preached to us every time either by themselves or through playing recorded preaching including by some prominent clerics,” he said.
‘Captors behind Kuje jailbreak, they jubilated on return’
The source also confirmed that the kidnappers of the travellers were the ones behind the jailbreak at Kuje Medium Security Correctional Centre on the outskirts of Abuja.
He said there was wild jubilation after the Tuesday night jailbreak when those who participated in the attack returned to their enclave with some of the freed prisoners.
The attack on the correctional centre led to the escape of hundreds of prisoners held in the facility, including at least 69 Boko Haram suspects, according to officials.
A day after the attack ISWAP claimed responsibility and released a 33-second video showing its men in action during the siege on the facility.
I saw hell in kidnappers’ den – FCT UBEB chair
FCT Director of the Universal Basic Education Board (UBEB), Dr Hassan Suleiman, who was among those released from the kidnappers’ den said that he did not pray that his worst enemy should experience what he went through in the hands of the terrorists.
Dr Suleiman, while narrating his experience in an audio message circulated on WhatsApp obtained by our reporter on Sunday, said, he went through the valley of death.
He recounted that he was on board the ill-fated train from Abuja to Kaduna to attend an agricultural education programme organised by the FCT UBEB, saying many were killed during the attack.
While thanking God for coming out safely from the kidnappers’ den after three months, Suleiman appreciated the people of the FCT, especially members of the All Nigeria Conference of Principals of Secondary Schools (ANCOPPS), as well as other well-wishers, for their prayers that led to his release.