On Saturday, August 17, 2023, some eight young men and women travelling from Uyo, Akwa Ibom State to Sokoto to begin their yearlong national youth service were kidnapped in Zamfara State. They have been in captivity for over 100 days now in the forests of Zamfara State, and as I write, Akwa Ibom State government, the federal government and NYSC management has not made any public comment on the matter to indicate its willingness to fight for the release of these youngsters. In September, a month after the kidnap, Akwa Ibom State Police command said it is working with the police in Zamfara to secure their release. Last week, I got in touch with the Secretary to the Akwa Ibom State Government, Mr Enobong Uwah who told me that the government is in touch with the security agencies to secure their release. But so far, these eight children who went to serve their fatherland in the compulsory service as I did almost 40 years ago, are being held in the bush in Northern Nigeria. The driver of the bus is also held with them. They seem to have been forgotten because from all indications, they are children of ordinary families. As a parent whose children have also been deployed in the national service, I am so heartbroken. Just imagine the anguish and agony the kids and their families are going through. What a nation!
These kids were travelling in a commercial bus branded with ‘’Akwa Ibom State Government’’ livery with the inscription Akwa Ibom Transport Company (AKTC). The fleet is actually operated by a private transport company with a franchise arrangement with the government. AKTC buses with their unique orange colour are ply the many of the nation’s inter-state roads, carrying thousands of passengers daily. The kidnappers must have mistaken the passengers for government officials. But they are only young graduates answering a national call, filled with excitements and anticipations to see other parts of the country, just as I was in my time. I am perplexed that the state governor, Pastor Umo Eno, who is always eager to show off how compassionate he is, has been quite taciturn on this matter.
I should also note that on November 1, 2023, another group of passengers travelling in another AKTC bus was kidnapped in Kogi State and kept in the bush for nine days. They were freed after their families paid ransoms ranging from N2 million to N5 million for each of them. Among them were three young graduates who were also going for national service. Mr. Harry Udo, an activist in one of our civil society organizations, told me that his daughter, Abasiakanusua (God is greater than my enemy), a graduate of Redeemers University, was one of the abductees. He paid the ransom, had her daughter freed and the young girl, undaunted and unbowed, still proceeded to Kogi State to participate in the NYSC scheme. ‘’She’s quite strong’’, the father told me. Our youths are ever so ready to sacrifice and build this country, but the leaders have let them down. Have AKTC buses become prime targets for kidnappers?
While the Kogi abductees have been freed after spending nine days in captivity with over N60 million paid as ransom for their release, the Zamfara abductees are yet to be freed after over 100 days in the savannah forest of northwestern Nigeria. Think about the mental torture, the psychological harm and the physical pain they are going through. They have not had a shower for over three months and they continue to sleep in the bush, in the same clothing they had on when they left Uyo, while our government officials continue to wine and dine in parties and social events. It can only happen in failed state, or one that is spiraling to failure! While Akwa Ibom state government appears flatfooted, many citizens have been speaking out, calling the attention of federal authorities to the plights of their young brethren. Eminent journalist Ray Ekpu wrote about this matter in his column in The Guardian a few weeks ago. Unyime Idem, a member of the House of Representatives, also raised a motion on the floor, calling on the NYSC management and the IGP to help. The US-based Ibom Peoples Congress (IPC) addressed a press conference last week, calling on President Tinubu, the Senate President, the National Security Adviser and the security agencies to do everything in their power to free the abductees. IPC President, Prof. John J. Okon said ‘’IPC is urging all security agencies to utilize all available resources to secure the unconditional and safe release of the abducted corps members’’. He repeated what others have been saying that corps members should serve in their geopolitical zones to limit travel distances.
The Zamfara abductees are Daniel Etim Bassey (from Uruan LGA, graduate of University of Nigeria, Nsukka); Uyo_Obong Victor Udofia (Ikono LGA, University of Uyo); Sabbath Anyaewe Ikan (Eastern Obolo LGA, Akwa Ibom Polytechnic); Abigail Peter Sandy (Abak LGA, Maurid Polytechnic); Glory Etukudo Thomas (Eket LGA, Heritage Polytechnic); Emmanuel Esudue (Urue Offong Oruko LGA); Victoria Bassey Udoka (Ini LGA, University of Uyo); Solomon Bassey Daniel (Itu LGA, Akwa Ibom Polytechnic); and the bus driver whose name I could not get. Please remember them in your prayers. From all indications, these are young citizens from average families from all parts of Akwa Ibom State. Their parents are not commissioners and government appointees who have access to the state’s resources. It could be the reason the government is not interested in them. But have you seen how the government of Israel is fighting tooth and nail to free its citizens from the grip of Hamas in the Gaza Strip? Have you noticed how President Joe Biden is personally involved in freeing US citizens held hostage by Hamas? What exactly is the value of the Nigerian government to its citizens?
I am adding my voice to those of other Nigerians and Akwa Ibom people to call on the authorities to take actions to free these children. I ask Mr. Umo Eno to consider these children as his and do all he can to facilitate their freedom. They and their families have suffered enough. As for the federal government who keep boasting that kidnapping and other crimes have abated since June, I plead with them to do a recount. It is more of underreporting than abatement.