By Hassan Gimba
My column of last week with the title “Like Mamu, like Abdulsalami and the billion naira firefighter” drew the attention of Colonel Dangiwa Umar (retd). The respected senior citizen was more particular about the first part because I mentioned him.
In the piece, I pointed out that Tukur Mamu, publisher of Kaduna-based Desert Herald and an aide to Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, a popular Islamic cleric, was arrested in September last year and taken to court on a 10-count charge bordering on terrorism financing.
He was accused of receiving ransom payments from families of hostages on behalf of the Boko Haram terrorist group that attacked the Abuja-Kaduna train. The government said the offense contravenes section 21 (3) (a) of the Terrorism (Prevention and Prohibition) Act, 2022.
Then I went on to observe that four girls – Bilha Musa, Faiza Ahmed, Rahma Abdullahi, and Hafsa Murtala – out of the remaining 11 schoolgirls of Federal Government College, Birnin Yauri, in Kebbi State, were abducted by bandits on June 17, 2021, were released not out of magnanimity but because of what Mamu was accused of – negotiations and fundraising to get the abductees released.
“It took six days of negotiations in the forest before four of the girls were released to us,” Salim Kaoje told pressmen after their release. The sum of ₦80m was also said to have been given to the bandits out of the ₦105m they demanded. They held the remaining seven back until the balance was made available to them.”
“General Abdulsalami Abubakar, Attorney General Malami, General Aminu Bande (retd), who is also the Kebbi State Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) gubernatorial candidate, Senator Adamu Aleiro and Malamawan Kebbi were said to have contributed the funds while Col Dangiwa Umar, who also contributed, went round the country to get the rest.
“This group”, according to the article, “donated and got some from the abducted girls’ relatives and good Samaritans, including organizations, to convey such to the abductors who, in turn, released their captives.”
And then the question: “Is this not exactly what Tukur Mamu did, which was termed ‘financing terrorism’?”
But Colonel Dangiwa Umar, who called me on my mobile phone, disagreed.
Courteous, straight to the point, and diplomatic, he calmly asked, “Am I speaking to Malam Hassan Gimba?” to which I answered in the affirmative. And he said, “I am Dangiwa Umar.” He told me that he had read my article and that “it was quite wrong to compare us with Tukur Mamu.”
To those now opening their eyes to Nigeria, Colonel Dangiwa Umar was a fiery military governor of Kaduna State, comprising Kaduna and current Katsina State, between August 1985 and June 1988, during the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida.
During the ill-fated coup attempt of Major Gideon Gwaza Orkar on April 22, 1990, Dangiwa Umar, as commander of the Armoured Corps Centre and School, Bauchi, threatened to shell and neutralize the coupists from his base. He retired from the army in 1993 and founded a political party called the Movement for Unity and Progress.
He is a social critic. The Nation newspaper editorial of June 8, 2020, said this of him: “Colonel Abubakar Dangiwa Umar (retd) rarely speaks, and when he does, he captures the conscience of the nation. He has done that since he retired as a young, idealistic soldier during the turmoil of the June 12 crisis in the early 1990s.”
He told me that two of the four girls released had returned with kids and that what they did was to help bring succour to traumatized people. He lamented that some of the parents of the abducted girls had died as a result of the trauma of having their daughters in the hands of unconscionable brigands. He said kidnapped females are subjected to sexual abuse and that no one would be happy if someone close to him is a victim.
I could feel the pain in his voice. If he had the opportunity, the 74-year-old retired armoured officer would lead troops into the bush to give bandits a bloody nose. With a heavy voice, he lamented, “Malam Hassan, there are over a thousand people in captivity in the bush.”
While I understood the pain of the Colonel, I also do not see dissimilarities in what Mamu thought or did. Perhaps he, too, was touched by the sufferings of captives and the agony their loved ones found themselves in. I try as much as possible to see humanism as the motive of both sets of “saviours.” Whether one has “gained” anything or not is a matter of conjecture to be left for the courts to decide.
However, my chief concern is not why money was paid to bandits by anyone. After all, we daily hear of kidnappers, in towns and bushes, being paid ransom. It has reached a stage now where people get kidnapped in broad daylight in schools, markets, workplaces, intra and inter-town commercial vehicles, etc. I believe almost everyone will pay, except if they have no money, to secure the freedom of a loved one. Sadly, that route has to be taken because it seems like it is the only way.
When 27-year-old American Philip Walton was kidnapped in the Niger Republic and the kidnappers brought him into Nigeria as a safer place, US Special Forces, including the Navy SEALS, mounted an operation in Nigeria and rescued him.
People like Mamu and everyone else take it upon themselves to negotiate with and give kidnappers money for the release of victims because there is a vacuum; those whose responsibility it is to secure citizens seem overwhelmed; the rogues among them even collude with the terrorists to make a killing on the misery of those they are paid to protect.
But when a retired General and onetime commander-in-chief of the nation’s armed forces, a onetime fiery military governor, senior officials of a sitting government, and other respected citizens pool resources and deliver the proceeds to brigands to release their captives because there is no other way, then it becomes sad. And scary. It makes one cry for Nigeria.
Gimba is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Neptune Prime.