By Group Captain Sadeeq Shehu
As the hostage situation continues, the kidnappers have released a second series of pictures of the Kaduna-Abuja train captives, which include women and children. Though my reading may not be 100% correct, I will be drawing from training I received on anti-kidnap, hostage survival and hostage incident management, and my involvement in managing real-life hostage situations while working abroad. Most importantly, this is to help family members understand and come to grips with the situation of their loved ones. I hope this explainer will help the victims’ families understand what is likely happening to their loved ones.
First, kidnapping is defined as an event of forced capture or detention to receive something in return for the captive’s release. “Abduction” and “hostage-taking” are often used interchangeably, but they are not synonymous. Abduction means to capture someone forcefully but with no demand for ransom. Hostage-taking refers to the forced capture of a person or people to gain an advantage during a siege.
Kidnapping situations can be divided into two broad categories. The first is a hostage situation. Here, the victim(s) location is known (it could even be in the victim’s home). A kidnapping situation is when we do not know the location of the victims (first stage of train incident). A kidnap situation can turn into hostage-taking if the security forces get involved in the rescue operation (second stage of train incident and where we are now).
There are generally 5 phases of kidnapping, although they may not be sequential, and two phases could occur simultaneously. The phases are:
1. Abduction and transfer
5. Release or rescue.
In the case of our brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers in the current situation, phases 1 and 3 have taken place. Phases 2 and 4 are happening currently and concurrently. We hopefully await Phase 5.
I will explain what happens or is likely happening in Phase 2, Captivity, and offer some advice on how the victims or any person unfortunate to be in similar situations could cope.
During the captivity phase of kidnapping, the victim(s) you could either be held in seclusion or confined with a group. Unfortunately, it’s also possible that victims could be held captive for a long time, so it is advisable to be mentally prepared for such a situation.
Victims are advised to be calm, neutral and project that you do not pose a threat or nuisance. Show a mature, controlled and stable appearance in any interaction with the kidnappers. Multiple groups can manage victims, and sometimes, they are sold to other political or criminal groups to obtain concessions. Different groups handle victims differently. Victims may be kept at the same location or moved frequently. Some captors keep hostages in reasonable conditions, but the living conditions will be primarily difficult.
If you are part of a group of hostages, try not to be separated. Instead, identify a spokesperson who can interact with the captors. Needless to say, living conditions can be pretty tricky during captivity, so victims should take measures to cope with the situation to the best of their abilities.
The situations the captives may be facing currently and how the abductors may behave are as follows:
Living conditions are likely to be basic and primitive, with minimal access to facilities—for example, lack of toilet, washing, etc. The place may be dark, infested, cold/hot etc. Sleeping arrangements may be quite basic (mat/blanket). Food might not be served regularly, so you may need to ask for it. Eat whatever food is provided.
The kidnappers may engage other people (cleaning, food, and health). Be respectful to these people but beware they are under the control of the kidnappers.
Abductors may try to dehumanize victims by indicating that they are nothing more than a thing or a commodity, such as telling the victims that nobody cares about them, committing degrading acts, conducting aggressive interrogation, and playing on victims’ psychology (promising immediate release).
Captivity can adversely affect victims in many ways. Victims must maintain their equilibrium to stay healthy and clear-headed. It is advisable to take the following steps to keep your dignity and self-respect:
Maintain your appearance and keep yourself and your surroundings clean.
Exercise as much as possible and try to keep yourself fit.
Eat what is served to you.
Sleep properly. Your body will need sufficient rest.
Think positively, but be realistic.
Focus on pleasant memories such as the time you spent with your family.
Be optimistic. Believe that you will be released eventually.
Have confidence that the government and family are working tirelessly to secure your safe release
Never blame yourself for the situation.
Believe in your family and friends.
Retain the human values you have earned.
Use your beliefs as a means to keep your spirits high and calm your nerves.
Pray. Meditate. Seek your spiritual comfort.
Maintain a positive attitude and set achievable goals.
Perform relaxation/mental activities that can help you control your emotions.
Keep track of time. Develop a routine, and ask for reading materials, blankets, and access to facilities (if possible).
Engage in creative activities to keep yourself occupied.
Communication and Building Rapport
As difficult as it may seem, it is essential to realize that the kidnappers are also humans. Therefore, victims are advised to maintain their dignity while treating the captors with respect. When the opportunity arises, try to develop and maintain rapport with the kidnappers.
Guidelines for building rapport with the kidnappers
Whatever a victim understands about the kidnappers can inform their survival strategy. Therefore, Try to understand your kidnappers. In addition, be sensitive to the captors’ cultural norms and practices. Do not make assumptions about their level of intelligence or knowledge.
Observe their behaviour and learn what they consider respectful practice.
All communications with the kidnappers should be done to improve your chances of survival. Therefore, avoid discussing political, religious or sensitive topics. Don’t get drawn into arguments. Instead, talk about your family, if appropriate. Keep your emotions in control and avoid outbursts. Communicate your human needs, such as hunger, thirst or the need to relieve yourself.
When questioned, keep your answers short and to the point. Be careful not to divulge too much information.
Avoid making any suggestions.
Do not lie to your kidnappers, but try not to provide them with additional information. Do not give away any personal belongings unless the items are demanded.
NB. I will not talk about the negotiations phase for obvious reasons. Still, hopefully, I will later talk about the Release/Capture phase and what families need to do in the aftermath.
Group Captain Sadeeq Shehu can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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