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Abductors of Abuja-Kaduna train passengers said they read news of how politicians, others steal billions without punishment – Negotiator, Mamu

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The Publisher of Desert Herald and communication consultant to Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, Mallam Tukur Mamu, has been involved in the negotiation with terrorists, who, on March 28, 2022, attacked the Abuja-Kaduna train and abducted many passengers. In this interview with GODWIN ISENYO, Mamu speaks about the efforts to rescue the victims

Three months after, the abducted passengers of the Abuja-Kaduna AK9 train are still in captivity. You’ve been involved in the negotiation for their release, how will you describe the efforts so far?

Honestly, it’s a painful and frustrating process that requires a lot of patience; that requires even strategy and understanding of the difficult situation, because if we don’t take many factors into consideration, this kind of mission has a high tendency to fail and result in casualties on the part of those kidnapped.

As you rightly noted, it’s almost three months now and even before my engagement, there had been efforts by the federal authorities but the talks were stalemated due to a number of factors, according to the abductors. There was no trust between them and those that started the talks. So, it was during that process that my name came up and they suggested that I should be part of those that will undertake the engagement and on the advice of my principal, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, I started and we have done so many things behind the scene within the period and by the grace of God, we have recorded some success.

By and large, I think the wide publicity we gave the threat by the group to stop feeding the abductees and ultimately execute them put the government under intense pressure to act. So, in this mission, we’ve got the support and cooperation of the Federal Government and the security agencies, firstly, to help in building trust and understanding; and secondly, to explore the possibility of give-and-take. So far, so good, we thank God because even if it’s just one innocent life we succeeded in rescuing, I think it’s a very good start, not to talk of  11 lives that we have been able to bring out. So, with this development, I think the next move will be even much easier as long as this same tempo is maintained by the government.

But you know, I told them quite frankly that in a situation like this, where, for example, we are at the receiving end, (we really don’t have many options) because they have innocent Nigerians with them and these are people with                                                 misguided religious beliefs; they don’t care to die. The security agents saw them when we went to the forest for the release of the 11 victims. These are people going about with explosives strapped to their body; they are ready to detonate the explosives whenever there’s an emergency. So, they don’t care about even their own lives. So, this is something that has no military solution because if you insist on the military option, there will inevitably be collateral damage and that is what the nation cannot afford, especially at this time. The captives are promising Nigerians. Among them, we have people who have contributed in no small measure to national development; so many important people. So, I think the government should understand the delicate situation. I still insist that the government must be ready to take very painful decisions since we still have majority of the victims with the abductors. Some of the painful decisions may go against the policy direction of the government, but I think it’s worth it. This is the kind of measure taken worldwide whenever there are issues of national interest or national security. I think you have to do as much as you can even if it means sacrificing your principle because the most important thing is to secure the lives of these citizens at whatever cost.

Who are these attackers? Some call them bandits; others say they are terrorists or ISWAP.

They have nothing to do with bandits. They are a Boko Haram affiliate but with a different religious ideology because in the case of Boko Haram, the target are people who believe in Western education, irrespective of whether they are Muslims or Christians. Boko Haram believes it is justifiable to kill anyone who believes in Western education. But these other people, from our communication with them, say they are on a mission to spread their own belief and ideology but they do not force their belief and ideology on anyone.  They said the reason they struck was because                                                                                           government attacked them first and killed several of their comrades while some of them were taken into custody, including their teenage children. They said they decided to go violent because of the pains, to revenge what government had done to them. They insisted that prior to this development,   they had never carried out any attack except to spread their ideology. So, that’s why we believe there is a need for government to understand the genesis of this issue and see if there is a justified reason to address some of the legitimate grievances and give peace a chance in the country in order to ensure security for the whole country, especially on the Abuja-Kaduna road.

The road to Abuja is almost unmotorable, which makes travellers vulnerable to daily attacks. Now, government has invested so much in railway but uncertainty has forced them to stop operating it. So, even if we succeeded in rescuing these people, government still has a lot to do to ensure that all issues that need to be addressed are addressed, so that the train service will resume and the threat to security will be contained. Until there is a dialogue to that effect, it will be difficult to achieve peace.

How have you been able to persuade the abductors to release some of the abductees so far?

In principles of negotiation, you know, you have to be neutral first because it is not a matter of justifying whether what you get is right or wrong. So, you need to build confidence because you are at their mercy. You are the one seeking a favour from them. So, I think the issue of diplomacy in dealing, especially, with ignorant people with misguided beliefs is very important. We have adopted that and it works. Where we need to beg them or tell them the message of God regarding the sanctity of human lives, we have done. And I can say without mincing words that the Sheikh (Gumi) has done quite a lot behind the scene and they have a lot of respect for him. However, what we have realised, even with the security agencies during the exchange, is that so many issues need to be addressed first.

What are some of these issues?

They told us they listen to news on radio and hear about people stealing public funds without consequences. They said they heard that someone stole N80bn. They said people steal billions while they have been neglected with their children, who do not go to school. I think government must address the issue of out-of-school children; it’s alarming because most of these out-of-school children are vulnerable to being recruited by terrorists. I can assure you that a lot of recruitment is going on in the North and this is a potential time bomb.

But apart from addressing insecurity or trying to suppress terrorists or bandits, I think it is important to equally tackle the issue of corruption, so that national resources will spread evenly. As long as poverty remains endemic and unprecedented, I can assure you that we have not seen the worst in terms of insecurity.

Talking about the abducted train passengers; there are still like 50 of them in captivity. What will it take to make the abductors release these people?

You know this is a security issue and we cannot really be elaborate. The major concern now is that we must be sensitive in whatever we say because of the lives that are still in the bush. I think that’s very fundamental and important. But in a nutshell, what they said after the release (of 11 abductees) was that they would get back to us in due course to communicate what they want the government to do in order for them to release the remaining victims. And that is why I said earlier in this interview that government must be ready to take painful decisions, even if they are against the policy direction of the government because this is a difficult situation.

Do you have access to the abductees? How are they faring?

I am telling you, it will take only God’s grace or will for anyone to survive the kind of condition in which they are being kept. Most of us could not hold back tears when they brought out the 11 victims that they released to us.  They brought them on motorcycles. Everybody cried when we saw their condition. There is no amount of description that will capture the agony, the pain. That’s why I said rescuing the remaining ones should be treated as an emergency national issue. It should be at whatever cost. When the government is done and they release the rest, I believe you guys (journalists) will have access to them and ask them about the kind of condition they were  subjected to. It’s really inhuman, dehumanising and anything can happen to anybody in that kind of environment. This is rainy season; their clothes will get wet, dry up and get wet again. There is no proper medication, food.

Is payment of ransom totally ruled out?

What I can confirm for now is that no issue of money is involved. No money exchanged hands for the ones that were released. We didn’t give them a single Kobo. But one cannot predict the next one since we are expecting that this will be the final one. But for now, no issue of money is involved and that’s what makes it interesting.

The families of the abductees have expressed dissatisfaction with the slow pace at which the government is handling this case and they are saying they wish they can negotiate directly with abductors. Is there a possibility of that?

The decision to negotiate directly with them or not, is not even within the power of the government. It is the abductors that dictate the mode of negotiation and they have decided they will only deal with government, and not individuals or families. And they also said it’s not money that they want. They said they want to discuss directly with government because government knows their problems and the reason they carried out the attack. So, that’s why I said the success of the rescue efforts depends on what the government does and that is why I keep insisting that government needs to act with urgency because these people are not predictable.

Do you foresee a complete end to this kind of kidnapping and hostage-taking which has been ongoing for years?

Honestly, with the kind of system that we have and from experience, I can tell you that government needs to do a lot before we can see an end to this. It’s not a one-sided issue because even on the side of the security agencies, for example, there is so much corruption in military spending; lack of accountability. We must accept the painful fact that some unpatriotic elements are benefiting from this insecurity issue. So, naturally many will not want it to stop. We must also accept the fact that there are issues of ignorance and poverty that must be addressed. There is also the issue of injustice. On this banditry issue, we have done so much analysis. We have been to many forests. There’s a genesis to it. It started with cattle rustling that had been exploited by the highest level of security agencies. A situation where a law-abiding Fulani with over 1,000 cows that he had reared for so many years would just be taken overnight. If you dispossess someone like that and he got an offer to be recruited into something that can fetch him millions of naira, coupled with his ignorance, what do you expect?

Even the cows being recovered are being extorted by security agencies. We have documented evidence on that. As long as all this official injustice and official extortion are not addressed, honestly, if you have ignorant people, they can easily take the laws into their own hands and unfortunately, the victims will be innocent people in society because if they don’t have the means of attacking the security agencies, they will vent their anger on innocent people, and that’s what they have been doing, especially in the North.

Have you been able to communicate the demands of these people to the Federal Government?

Certainly. I can give instances especially the time we started going into forest to seek mediation and dialogue with the bandits. If I tell some stories, you will lament and you will pity this country. The people we are expecting to give us support officially end up frustrating us because we have explored what the government cannot; we have achieved what the government cannot.  These people have respect for Sheikh Gumi; it is left for the government to show goodwill by meeting some of the legitimate demands of these people. We have consistently informed government about the grievances of these people whenever we meet with them in the forests. For example, they said since the country got independence, they haven’t had access to even pipe-borne water or even schools for their children. And this is the reality, if you go to some of the places. If you start providing these social amenities, I can tell you it will go a long way. But the reality is that even the security agencies are frustrating us. To even see the President after making frantic efforts is a problem. In a serious democracy, people that sacrifice their lives the way we do, should be entitled to national honour and given due recognition. And the only interest we have is not for us. Sheikh Gumi is not looking for money or name. He has passed that stage. What is he looking for? Just the peace of the country and nothing else. And most of us who engage in these efforts have our legitimate businesses. We don’t need anything from anybody.

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Governor’s wife advises Jerusalem pilgrims on conduct

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The returnees who participated in the 2022 pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Jordan have held a thanksgiving service to appreciate God for the successful journey.

According to a statement issued by the state government, the service, held at Chapel of Christ The Light, Alausa, was graced by the wife of the Lagos State Governor, Dr Ibijoke Sanwo-Olu.

Represented by the wife of a former Speaker, Lagos State House of Assembly, Mrs Mayowa Ikuforiji, Sanwo-Olu advised the returnees to be true ambassadors of Christ and allow their encounters during the pilgrimage to strengthen their relationship with God and the people around them.

The governor’s wife said, “You cannot afford to go back to your old ways and lifestyles. As you have been described as the light and salt of the world in the Holy Book, it means that you have a lot of tasks ahead of you.”

Sanwo-Olu then thanked God on behalf of the pilgrims for the successful completion of the exercise and the journey mercies experienced.

She said, “We bless the Lord that there was no report of any negative eventuality. It is fitting at this point to state that we are indeed peculiar people with a deep sense of appreciation and we show this trait in praises and thanksgiving to God who specifically called us out of darkness into His marvellous light.”

In her remarks, the Secretary, Lagos State Christian Pilgrims Welfare Board, Mrs Yetunde Gbafe, said the thanksgiving service was in line with God’s injunction as recorded in Psalm 100 where believers were enjoined to come into His presence with praise and thanksgiving.

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Nigeria needs $12bn to clean up oil spills – Report

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Nigeria needs $12bn to clean up decades-old oil spills in southern Bayelsa State over a 12-year period, a new report revealed on Tuesday, as it singled out two international oil companies, Shell and Eni, for being responsible for most of the pollution.

Oil majors in Nigeria have long faced legal challenges over Niger Delta spills, which they mostly blame on sabotage and vandalism of pipelines and illegal refining.

The Bayelsa State Oil and Environmental Commission said in a report that it started an investigation in 2019 on the impact of spills and looked at evidence from forensic scientists, blood samples from people in affected areas and company data, according to Reuters.

The investigation discovered, among other findings, that toxic pollutants from spills and gas flaring were many times higher than the safe limits in samples of soil, water, air, and in the blood of local residents, the commission said.

“The report finds failures of strategy, prevention, response and remediation by oil companies,” it said.

Reuters stated that a spokesperson for Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited said the oil firm was not privy to the final report and could not comment.

An Eni spokesperson said the oil spills were due to theft to feed illegal refineries as well as illegal exports and sabotage but the company undertook to remedy all spills.

Most of the gas produced from Eni’s Nigerian unit was converted into LNG and fed local power plants, the spokesperson said, adding that “Eni conducts its activities according to the sector’s international environmental best practices, without any distinction on a country basis.”

Toxins that cause burns, lung problems and risk of cancer were widespread while oil company-led clean-ups were often poorly executed and could further contaminate soil and groundwater, the commission’s report said.

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Experts advise marketers to leverage technology

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Experts have advised marketing professionals to take advantage of technology to revamp marketing tactics.

The marketers were admonished at the National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria Ikeja Chapter 3rd Annual Public Lecture held recently in Lagos.

Speakers at the event said due to the highly competitive marketing arena, marketers must be willing to adjust their approaches in response to shifting market trends and economic circumstances, to remain competitive and achieve success.

The Ikeja Chapter Chairman of NIMN and Chief Executive Officer of Procon Group, Adebayo Oke, noted that the conference was basically to review the position of things in the institute in the face of the country’s dynamic economy.

He said, “We all know that in terms of political economy, we are going to be having a change very soon. Where we are coming from, there are issues that have affected consumerism in terms of the power of a consumer, choices and whether it will get tougher or better that is why we are here. To also share knowledge among the top practitioners to floor it down.”

According to him, a lot of quacks are in the market and most companies believe marketing is anybody’s function.

“And going forward, we are going to be regulating the practice of marketing across all industries and in partnership with the international brands in the areas of marketing, including the Chartered Institute of Marketing UK, amongst others,” he stated.

He disclosed that the institute would be partnering with most companies to ensure that only certified marketer would be allowed to practice marketing, to enable the institute get rid of all the quacks.

The President and Chairman of Council for NIMN, Idorenyen Enang, in his keynote address, highlighted the significance of marketers harnessing the potential of technology while ensuring that they adhere to ethical principles of the profession.

He said, “The benefits of technology in streamlining operations are widely appreciated. However, concerns about job displacement due to AI have arisen. Marketers must strive for a harmonious implementation of these technologies, striking a balance that mitigates such disadvantages.”

He added that while automation greatly enhances efficiency, there is a potential loss of intellectual capacity as the current generation prioritises speed, brevity, and simplicity.

Also, the Head Sub-Saharan Africa Digital Media & Insights of FrieslandCampina WAMCO Plc, Ifeoluwa Obafemi, said, “In the phase of technological advancement and changes in consumer behaviour, as marketing professionals, we should set our organisation in a future forward mode. For businesses to maintain a competitive edge in the present-day business environment, undergoing a marketing transformation is a necessary process.”

On his part, the Chief Executive Officer of Axiom Intel Limited, Kolawole Oyeyemi, said, “Marketers should attract and retain their customers. Nowadays, customers are now more informed and know your business more than you do because they now compare your services to global best practices.

“There is a revolution in technology which has assisted in creating tools and devices and building platforms to allow customers to interact with companies across the world.”

According to him, it is a volatile environment and things one does not think will connect one’s business may connect from a very long distance.

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