Friday, 24 May 2013
Nigerians Held By Somali Pirates Feel Abandoned
Family members of Nigerians hijacked by Somali pirates have deplored the Federal Government’s indifference to their relatives’ plight.
On March 2nd, 2012, Somali pirates hijacked a Nigeria-bound vessel, MT Royal Grace, off the Gulf of Eden. The vessel’s 22 crew members have been held hostage ever since.
“It seems the Jonathan administration has abandoned my son and other Nigerian citizens in the hands of pirates in a lawless, no man’s land,” said the father of one of the hijacked crew members. He added that the hijacked crew members were being kept in Puntland, a breakaway section of Somalia.
Several family members of the hostages said they had continued to plead with the owner of the vessel for the past three months to help effect the release of their relatives without success. They stated that the ship owner, who is reported to be a Nigerian, claimed he had done all within his power to enlist the Nigerian government’s help to secure the release of the crew and his vessel to no avail. SaharaReporters learnt that the hijackers are currently demanding over $3 million for the release of the vessel and the hostages.
General Andrew Owoye Azazi (ret.), former National Security Adviser to Mr. Jonathan, had set up a committee to advise the government on steps to secure the release of the vessel and the crew men. But Mr. Azazi was fired before the committee could submit its report.
A source told SaharaReporters that the committee submitted its findings to the newly appointed National Security Adviser, Colonel Sambo Dasuki (ret.), adding that Mr. Dasuki has been reluctant to attend to the issue.
“Our bread winners are in the hands of pirates who have threatened to execute them any time from now, but the government is not caring,” said the wife of a hostage.
A security source disclosed that Mr. Dasuki is only focused on his ongoing negotiations with members of Boko Haram, the militant Islamist group. The source revealed that the Jonathan administration was daily moving billions of naira through Mr. Dasuki in an ostensible plan to appease members of Boko Haram. The source surmised that the huge amount being spent on a so-called peace plan with Boko Haram was one reason Mr. Dasuki and the Jonathan administration have shown no interest in the plight of Nigerians in the custody of dreaded Somali pirates.
The relatives of the hostages say their hopes were hanging on President Jonathan. “If President Jonathan does not bother to look into this situation, then our people are facing the death penalty from their hijackers,” one of them said.
Several family members expressed disappointment with the Nigerian press for failure to highlight the plight of hostages. “Nigerian newspapers have not done anything to raise awareness on the suffering of the hostages and those of us who are their relatives,” said the father of a crew member.
Contacted by SaharaReporters, a member of the House of Representatives who has been helping the hostages’ families decried the nonchalance of the government. “The thinking in certain circles is that the crew men are being considered by security officials as of no economic value to the nation,” said the legislator. “As far as they are concerned, the pirates can execute the crew men,” he added, stating that “a nation that ignores its citizens is a doomed nation.”
During a previous hostage crisis in which Somali pirates held 11 Nigerian crew members hostage for over 10 months, it was the US media and SaharaReporters that reported on the hostages’ plight. The foreign media’s efforts not only raised awareness around the globe but also triggered pressure from Nigerians resident abroad.
In the end, then Foreign Affairs Minister, Ojo Maduekwe, and former Minister of Defense, Shettima Mustafa, lied to the Nigerian public that they were instrumental to the release of the crew of MV Yenogoa. Mr. Maduekwe stated that the MV Yenogoa and its crew regained their freedom through “citizen diplomacy.” He then boasted that “This concept makes the citizens the focus of the nation’s foreign policy.” Mr. Maduekwe claimed then that the “Federal Government succeeded in an area where the most powerful nations of the world had failed,” referring to failed attempts by both the US and UK governments to rescue their citizens in Somalia.
Mr. Maduekwe’s claims failed to acknowledge that it was the commitment and passion of the hostages’ family members that led to the release of the captives.
“Sadly, the present Jonathan government seems to be making the same mistake that almost led to the hostages being executed by the pirates in Somalia,” said the member of the House of Representatives. “Now we are back to the very situation where the Nigerian government is once again refusing to come to the aid of her citizens caught in the troubled waters of Somalia,” he added.
In an air of desperation, a family member of one of the hostages said, “As we count the hours and minutes to the day the pirates have promised to execute their Nigerian hostages, only time will tell if President Jonathan will act to save their lives.”