Abuja (Agenzia Fides) - Mass kidnappings committed by well-organized armed groups are becoming more frequent in Nigeria. On January 7, gunmen attacked the Tom Ikimi railway station in Igueben, in the Igueben local government area of Edo state in the south of the country, kidnapping at least 31 passengers waiting to board. The captors fired into the air before taking the passengers away, leaving some with gunshot wounds. The Edo State Police Command stated that the kidnappers were herders armed with AK-47 rifles. The Edo state government later revealed that 6 of the 31 abducted people were rescued by a joint team of security agencies. The bandits took refuge in the forest, which is now being tracked by security teams.
Bandits, armed groups of Fulani herders and jihadists use forests in different parts of Nigeria as strongholds from which to raid and as safe havens to hold hostages who are released for ransom. Among those still being held are at least 53 Christian worshipers who were kidnapped at Christmas from the village of Angwan Aku, in the northern state of Kaduna. The village was attacked by Fulani herdsmen who killed one person and kidnapped at least 53 people.
Fulani militias have several strongholds in forests such as Birnin Gwari in Kaduna state, where on December 17 special forces of the Nigerian army freed seven Chinese workers who had been kidnapped in June at the Ajata-Aboki mining operation in the district of Gurmana from the local government of Shiroro, in the state of Niger.
Another important stronghold of the Fulani militia is located in the Tubali and Makkai forests in the Shinkafi Local Government Area of Zamfara state in northwestern Nigeria. It was here, in 2021, the controversial Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, a former army medical officer, met with some Fulani militia leaders and asked them to lay down their arms in exchange for development projects. Gumi has offered to mediate the release of several hostages, but according to the Nigerian press, his role in these matters is ambiguous. One of his assistants, Tukur Mamu, who negotiated the release of the people kidnapped in the attack on the Abuja-Kaduna train on March 28 (see Fides, 30/3/2022)), was arrested on September 6 on suspicion of collusion with the kidnappers (see Fides, 7/10/2022). The charges were later dropped. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 11/1/2023)