President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday said it is difficult to crush bandits because of the use of captives as human shields.
The President said this while receiving some residents of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) on Sallah homage at State House, Abuja.
He also spoke on the train attack in Kaduna State, directing security agencies to ensure rescue of the victims.
Terrorists had on March 28 attacked the AK9 Abuja–Kaduna train, killing at least nine people, wounding several others, and abducting an unknown number of passengers.
President Buhari, who assured families that efforts were ongoing to ensure safe return of all those being held by terrorists, said the government would explore every opportunity to secure the captives, alive and unhurt.
He directed the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) to provide more regular and detailed information to families.
“As we celebrate this occasion with joy amidst friends and family members, we are fully conscious of the fact that many families in our country are in a state of fear and anxiety on account of the many captives held by terrorists against their will, including those taken away after the tragic bombing of the Abuja – Kaduna train.
“I have directed security agencies to ensure quick and safe recovery of all victims of kidnapping. I urge the railway management to immediately set up a situation room for the coordination of the rescue mission and for a minute by minute engagement with the families of the captives.
“This should ease their pain and anxiety as we push the military to finding a safe return to their families. My aim is to see all those in captivity safely rescued.
“Let me assure Nigerians that the bandits are just pushing their luck, but this is only for a while before they are finally crushed. They are using civilians as human shields, thereby making it difficult to confront them directly,” he said.
According to the President, bandits and terrorists, unlike professional soldiers, don’t respect the rules of engagement and could resort to harming hostages when attacked.
“They don’t care about killing their hostages if they come under attack. It’s a delicate situation that requires wisdom, caution and also patience. Any rescue operation that results in the death of any hostage cannot be deemed a success.
“The government doesn’t want this kind of tragic outcome. It’s a complex situation that demands proper handling. The primary objective of any rescue operation is to free the hostages safely, unharmed and alive.
“Let me make it clear, however, that defeating the terrorists and bandits requires more than weapons; we also need human intelligence which is necessary to frustrate terrorist plans. The people and community leaders should help our security officials with information about the activities or movements of criminal groups,” he added.
President Buhari urged Nigerians to create a hostile environment for criminals hiding in communities.
The President said a stronger synergy between security agencies and communities will make a huge difference in defeating banditry and terrorism in the country.
President Buhari allayed fears that bandits will grow to yet another big challenge as faced by the Boko Haram threat, assuring that the administration will not allow such to happen.
The President commended the FCT Minister, Mohammed Musa Bello for diligently ensuring the capital city stays safe and attractive, while thanking the FCT residents for visiting the Presidential Villa.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who was also present, expressed his gratitude to the President on behalf of all the invited guests for hosting the homage.
He recalled the last time such gathering was possible was in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic.