One of the freed victims of the March 28 Abuja-Kaduna train attack, Hassan Lawal Uthman, has said his captors collected N100 million before setting him free.

Uthman said the train attackers are not regular bandits but members of Jama?at Ahl al-Sunnah li-l-Da?awah wa al-Jihad, popularly called the Boko Haram terrorist group, whose operations are driven by religious ideology.

He said the insurgents are well armed and have taken over a vast area of the nation’s forests spanning about three to four states alongside the regular bandits that are equally armed with sophisticated weapons.

Narrating his experience while being held in the den of the insurgents for four months, Uthman said his captors, who later resorted to flogging the victims daily, were hitherto nice.

The former captive said the insurgents fed him and others with cow meat and even gave them N10,000 each for upkeep.

According to him, the captors claimed to be attacking government interests because the government did not allow them (insurgents) to practise their religion the way they wanted.

Uthman, a lawyer, said the terrorists also accused government of arbitrary arrest and detention of their members, pushing them to attack government interests.

He said: “It has actually been a terrible experience since March 28, when the train was attacked. We were taken through a very bad and dehumanising experience. We trekked for three days before we arrived the captors’ camp where we were kept for almost four months.

“Those four months were moments of bad experience for us as victims of this attack.

“It was terrible in the captors’ camp. We killed several snakes. We were sleeping on bare ground at the initial stage. But later, we got a mat, which we spread and slept on.

“When the rain started, some huts were constructed for us, and whenever there was rain, we went there until the rain stopped. Usually, we stayed under a tree throughout. As you know, it is thick forest; there were so many reptiles: snakes, scorpions and others, and we always slept with one eye open.

“In terms of feeding, they (terrorists) did their best to see that we were well fed. Sometimes, they even slaughtered cows for us to eat on our request. And sometimes, they used to provide drinks and bread for us. About five days ago, they even shared some money among us. They gave us N10,000 each for our supplies. In case we needed anything, they said we could order anything through them.

“I cannot say this is exactly the location of the forest where we were camped. We were kept in a forest that is so large, that possibly cut across three states or four. So, I cannot say particularly this is the forest where we were camped.

“The attackers’ belief is ideologically and religiously driven. We were in the forest; their grievances against the government include the fact that they want to practise their religion, but the government is not willing to allow them practise their religion the way they want. So, this, they say, provoked them.

“Also, some of their members were detained by government for several months. Those detained included children. They (insurgents) feel that they have to counter attack the government. That is what they said made them to launch the attack on the train where they captured us.

“They wanted us to be swapped with their members and the government refused to do that. But along the line, their children were swapped with 11 victims. Since then, there was no any communication between them and the government for continuous exchange.”

“Thereafter, they opened a window for our families to come in and see if they could negotiate with our families for us to be released.

“The government did not play any role in my release. Government has failed woefully in its major responsibility of protecting the lives and property of its citizens. This attack was launched on government train and for over four months, they couldn’t take any proactive action to see that we were rescued. This is in spite of the huge amount of money allocated to the security agencies in the country.

“I was a die-hard supporter of President Muhammadu Buhari. But his government needs to improve seriously in the area of insecurity, because they have failed the Nigerian people.

“These people (terrorists) are heavily armed. We saw some of their armoury. They have sophisticated weapons. It is not only the Jama?at Ahl al-Sunnah li-l-Da?awah wa al-Jihad (Boko Haram) that are inside the forest. There are other bandits who are also armed with sophisticated weapons.

“The disturbing thing is that they have resolved to continue to carry out this kind of attack on government interests. I believe the government needs to sit down and negotiate with these people to see that all these security challenges are brought to an end,” Uthman said.