The recent rescue of a 27-year-old American citizen, Philip Watson, held hostage in Nigeria, clearly shows how the United States values its citizens. Watson was abducted from a village in Niger Republic, where he had been living with his wife and a child for two years, and later taken into Nigeria. America’s Special Operations soldiers (Navy SEAL) raided the den of the kidnappers, killed six of them and rescued Watson. One of the kidnappers reportedly escaped in the process. The soldiers returned to base unhurt.
What this indicates is that the US will go the whole hog to protect its interests and to ensure that any of its citizens trapped anywhere in the world is rescued. The same Navy SEAL killed al-Qaida leader, Osama bin Laden, in his compound in Pakistan on May 2, 2011. Osama became the target of the US for his terrorist activities, especially the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US.
No doubt, every serious country values the lives of its citizens. The 90-minute rescue operation carried out by the commandos of the Israel Defence Forces at Entebbe Airport, Uganda, on July 4, 1976 is a typical example. Codenamed “Operation Entebbe” or “Operation Thunderbolt,” the hostage-rescue mission became necessary after two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (External Operations) and two members of the German Revolutionary Cells hijacked a Paris-bound Air France A300 jet airliner with 248 passengers. The hijackers later released 148 non-Israeli hostages and kept 94 mainly Israeli passengers and 12 crew members of Air France. The commandos were able to rescue 102 of the 106 hostages. They killed all the hostage takers and 45 Ugandan soldiers. The then Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin, had supported and welcomed the hijackers.
This should serve as a big lesson to Nigeria. Often, we take the lives of our citizens for granted. Last year, many Nigerians were trapped in South Africa following xenophobic attacks. There was no serious effort by the government to rescue them. It was the Chief Executive Officer of Air Peace, Allen Onyema, who volunteered his company’s aircraft to fly some of them home for free.
On April 14, 2014, the dreaded Boko Haram terrorists abducted 276 schoolgirls from Chibok in Borno State. Over 100 of them were released after some negotiations by the Buhari government, but about 112 of them are still in captivity. In February 2018, the terrorists kidnapped 110 girls from their school in Dapchi, Yobe State. About a month later, they released 105 girls after four of them had died. But, one of them, Leah Sharibu, is still held hostage. Her crime is that she refused to renounce her Christian faith for Islam. There have been several calls on the government to do everything possible to rescue her. This has not yielded much dividend despite pledges by President Muhammadu Buhari to secure her freedom.
Many other Nigerians have been kidnapped by terrorists and bandits in different parts of the country. Some were lucky to regain their freedom after payment of huge ransom. Some others have been killed while some are still held hostage without any hope of coming out alive.
The major drawback in the efforts by Nigerian security forces to rescue citizens from terrorism and related crimes appears to be sabotage. In August 2019, some anti-crime police officers had arrested a suspected kidnap kingpin, Bala Hamisu Wadume, in Ibi, Taraba State. On their way to Jalingo, the state capital, some soldiers manning a checkpoint along the road, opened fire on them, killing three officers and two civilians. They also rescued Wadume. Some soldiers and local police officers were indicted in the attack. After the conclusion of investigations, the trial is yet to commence.
In all, the government should begin to value the lives of Nigerians and try to rescue every Nigerian in difficult situations. The efforts of the Federal Government in rescuing some Nigerians trapped in Lebanon in August this year are commendable. Over 100 trafficked Nigerians were stranded in Lebanon and had appealed for help to leave that country.
While we commend the US for the rescue of its kidnapped citizen in Nigeria, we urge the Nigerian government to solicit the help and cooperation of the US in its efforts to combat kidnapping and terrorism in the country. All that is required is the sincerity of purpose of the Nigerian government and a commitment to secure the lives of every Nigerian. After all, Nigerian lives matter, too.