Hope against hope, an insider’s perspective in Niger, by Mary Noel-Berje

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Mary Noel-Berje
Mary Noel-Berje

Nights come and pass, and still, sleep eludes. You stay awake waiting anxiously for a call that normally comes this way, “CPS, where are you?”

My thin and worrisome voice answers, “Na’anmm, I’m in the office.”

Directives follow, at times in quick succession: “please, get your people ready.”
Adrenaline immediately begins its pumping activity.

But, on the kidnap, it was, “Congratulations, God has granted us victory; the NSTA passengers have been released.”

“Oh, God, thank you!” I screamed.

The Chief of Staff followed up with: “I am coming into the office right now, let’s see and strategise on how to welcome them.”

“Ok, sir!” I could not help but wonder if this boss of mine had seen sleep for days. How does he manage to be co-ordinated and sharp? Well, there are things I need to learn from him.

When I dropped that call, I thought, what about the schoolboys, in our thoughts of hope against hope, I felt fate will bring them all at once.

No! Until about 11:35 p.m. when the vehicles carrying the abductees drove in and dropped them before I realised only the NSTA victims were released.

They walked into the hall in their frail bodies with a lot of weakness, while some were supported to walk.

As a mother, I have not stopped wondering how those carrying babies went through the bizarre experience, fending for children in the midst of horror. “God have mercy”, I whispered to Heaven.

They sat looking huddled up and unsure of where they were, in fact, they were afraid of the people they were seeing. Trauma is a bastard…a bad bastard.

Many were still crying, especially when they sighted their loved ones who came to welcome them back from the life of torture and hopelessness they just passed through.

After HE, Governor Abubakar Bello stepped in, I watched him closely. How does he cope in times like these? What runs through his mind? Is his mind as numbed as mine after so many sleepless days. Yet, he has to deal with state matters, a coterie of critics who have never been councillors but offer his insults and unimplementable advice. Does he even have time for family or leisure? For where! As an ordinarily CPS, I can’t even eat, sometimes for a day or two. I just gulp water and eat fruits. Uneasy, really, lies heads that wear crowns. Especially when your State is as large as Niger!

He addressed the freed passengers to re-assure them of the government’s role in protecting life and property.

Time to eat.

Seeing real food for the first time in eight days was like a dream, some could eat; others, still traumatised, couldn’t. You could see it from the portion served.  God, I cried…”What a life for the living “

Well, everything moved on as arranged and they were taken to a government facility where they spent the night freshened up, were provided clothes, while doctors continued from there till the next morning to ensure a good state of health.

The next day at noon, the freed abductees were released to their relatives for onward care…

Part two of the waiting game continued for the release of Kagara Science School students.

On the tenth day after the captivity, precisely on February 27 2021, the long-awaited call came as early as 6 a.m.

“CPS”, the familiar voice said.

“Na’amm!” I replied.

Exclamation followed, but this time, in a low tone, “the boys have been released but we are yet to receive them, please manage yourself.” I knew what that meant.

I was elated but managed to comfort myself. Immediately, I set out to the office.

Behold, the world’s watchdogs took up the engagement of my phone from there. Who tells them these things at such short notice? Well, as a reporter myself, I knew different stakeholders from Minna to Calabar, for different, often selfish or good reasons, leak these things.

God saw me through the management of calls this day. What!!! My ear buzzed like I was in a helicopter.

Ten days: The return of Kagara boys and others took exactly ten days after a long stretch of back and forth negotiations and dialogue.

The 27 boys, 11 members of staff and family arrived under a strict security arrangement to a government facility. Close near the seat of power. This arrangement was made to restore human dignity seeing how messed up they were.

Words fail me, as a parent, fail me to describe their state of physical appearance.
At the facility, a team of medical personnel and government officials began work on the victims before they are presented to Governor Abubakar Sani Bello.

He could now breath a sigh of relief from the sleepless and restless ten days wait. He acknowledged that it was not a situation to be experienced by anyone, maintaining that the federal government must speed up in dealing with banditry and other unwanted security challenges.

He commiserated with the victims and family members, noting that their release has come a long way in dousing tension considerably

For the victims, in their tearful expression, which could be best described as a thanksgiving to God, His Excellency, reeled out words of blessings and praises.

In it all, it was a tortuous and traumatic journey for the freed abductees who can not believe their help had come; while for the government, the story is best told in a few words: we live, we work, we do all we can for the people, God willing, God helping.

Finally, the waiting game of hope against hope ended, with a resounding joy in the mood expressed by all and sundry.

However, I must say this is what is best described as a challenging, traumatic experience.

I lived each day going through panic attacks. I think I also need to see my doctor.

Mrs Mary Noel-Berje is the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor of Niger State, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello.

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