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School mass abduction: Kaduna hires private negotiator to free 287 pupils

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Negotiations for the release of no fewer than 287 abducted pupils and teachers of the Government Secondary School and LEA Primary School, Kuriga 1, in the Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State, have begun.

A highly placed source in the Kaduna State Government House, who is close to the negotiations but pleaded not to be identified because of security reasons, confided in Saturday PUNCH that the state government had reached out to the bandits through a private negotiator (names withheld) for the release of the pupils and their teachers.

The private negotiator is a highly influential negotiator who has been involved in negotiating several abductions with bandits in the past.

Bandits had stormed the LEA Primary School, Kuriga, around 8.30am on Thursday shortly after the assembly gathering and abducted the pupils and some staff members of the schools.

It was learnt that the secondary school was relocated to the primary school premises as a result of insecurity in the area.

Governor Uba Sani, who visited the school on Thursday, gave an assurance that the abducted pupils would be rescued unhurt.

Sani while addressing the community members said, “In my capacity as your elected governor, I am assuring you that by the grace of God, all the children will return unhurt.”

However, less than 48 hours after the abduction, which triggered national outrage, an official source said the government had reached out to the bandits for negotiations to release the 287 abducted pupils and the staff members of the school.

The source said, “The military has begun combing the forests in search of the children kidnapped by the bandits. Security agents have cordoned off the area and they have started searching for the abducted pupils.

“The government is doing all it can for the speedy release of the abducted school pupils.

“The government has established contact and reached out to the bandits for negotiation through a popular bandit negotiator. The negotiator was the one who worked for the return of some of the students abducted some years back.

“He (the negotiator) had negotiated the return of so many abductees in the past. He negotiated the return of those students abducted in Katsina State years back.”

Two other government officials confirmed the development to one of our correspondents but insisted on not being identified because of the sensitive nature of the issue.

They also refused to provide additional information as they insisted that doing so might frustrate the ongoing efforts to secure the victims’ release and put them in harm’s way.

One of them said, “You know this is a highly sensitive issue. I can’t give more information on the negotiations because of the security implications. We don’t want the bandits to harm the pupils and their teachers, and we don’t want to put the lives of the negotiator and the security operatives at risk.

“The only thing I can say is that the Kaduna State Government will do everything humanly possible to secure their release, just as the governor promised on Thursday when he visited the affected community.”

It was gathered that an emergency security meeting was convened by the governor on Friday but details of the discussions were not available to journalists.

The state Police Public Relations Officer, ASP Mansir Hassan, confirmed the security meeting and said details would be provided later.

The Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Alhaji Mohammed Shehu, did not take his calls and had yet to respond to a text message sent to him on the development as of the time of going to press.

Bandits kill worshippers

At least two worshippers were killed during Friday’s prayers at Anguwar Makera in the Kwasakwasa community, Birnin Gwari Local Government Area of the state.

The incident happened around 2pm on Friday, according to locals in the area.

A community leader, Hudu Kwasakwasa, who confirmed the incident, said the bandits opened fire on the worshipers.

He said the worshippers were in the second raka’at of the Salat prayer when they were attacked, forcing the remaining people to run for their lives.

He added that a few days ago, bandits abducted about nine persons from the Angwar Kanawa community.

Kwasakwasa appealed for help from the authorities concerned, adding that bandits were raiding the communities unchallenged.

The state government and the police command were yet to react to the mosque incident as the PPRO could not be reached on the telephone and had yet to reply to a text message sent to him seeking confirmation as of the time of filing this report.

 Parents seek rescue

When Saturday PUNCH established contact with one of the parents of the kidnapped pupils through a Joint Task Force operative, who availed one of our correspondents of the use of his mobile telephone, the traumatised father, who spoke in the Hausa language amid sobs, said, “I never knew I would be in this situation. I heard of things like this, but I never knew I would be a victim.

“What have I done to deserve this? Please I’m not myself. I should die.

“I pray for the governor to fulfil his promise of my son’s release along with the other innocent children, otherwise, we are finished.”

The JTF source informed Saturday PUNCH that the villagers saw over 100 bandits conveying the pupils on motorcycles.

This claim was also corroborated by a community leader, Alhaji Idris Abdurra’uf.

According to Abdurra’uf, a community leader from Birnin-Gwari, a neighbouring community to Kuriga, residents of the community are fleeing the area for fear that the bandits may return.

Abdurra’uf, who expressed concern over the latest incident, added that Kuriga was the same community where a school principal, Idris Abusufyan, was killed and his wife and two children abducted about three weeks ago and were still being held hostage by the bandits.

He also disclosed that residents of Doka village, which the terrorists used as a pathway to Zamfara State, said they spotted scores of the bandits on motorbikes carrying the abducted pupils.

The community leader told Saturday PUNCH that the residents were yet to ascertain the number of the abducted pupils abandoned by the terrorists on their way to Zamfara State.

According to him, as of Thursday night, they were told that some of the abandoned schoolchildren had been evacuated to Birnin-Gwari “and after profiling, we’ll be able to know how many students were abandoned and they would be reunited with their parents.”

He added that the situation at Kuriga was tense even before the latest abduction of the pupils, noting, “Most residents have evacuated their families and they have become Internally Displaced Persons, some in Birnin-Gwari and others in nearby Igawa.

“Kuriga village, which is not more than 26 kilometers from Birnin-Gwari town in the Chukun Local Government Area, is situated along the Kaduna Birnin-Gwari highway.

“The village is not far from the terrorists’ enclave in Manini, which is the gateway to Niger State through River Kaduna; the terrorists from Zamfara pass through that place to Manini to Alawa and Shawara in Niger State.

“Three weeks before the abduction of the pupils, the terrorists had killed the principal of the Government Secondary School Kuriga around 4am, while his wife and two children were abducted. The wife and children are still in captivity.

“The secondary school was the first structure you would see on the road when you are coming from Kaduna before you enter Kuriga, but because of the proximity to Manini (six kilometres), the school was relocated to the main town of Kuriga where the primary school is also situated; that was why when the terrorists struck, they took away pupils of both the primary and the secondary schools.”

Abdurra’uf added, “As it is now, we’re yet to ascertain the number of the primary school pupils the terrorists abandoned on their way to Zamfara. Yesterday night (Thursday), some of the locals in Doka, which is also the root of the terrorists in Zamfara, said that they saw over 100 motorbikes carrying the kidnapped students.

“As of last night, we were told that some of the abandoned schoolchildren of Kuriga were evacuated to Birnin-Gwari, and after profiling, we’ll be able to know how many students were abandoned and they’ll be reunited with their parents.

“We gathered that 220 students from both the primary and secondary schools were abducted.

“The situation in that town was highly tense even before the kidnapping of the students. Most people have evacuated their families and they’ve become IDPS; some are in Birnin-Gwari and others are in nearby Igawa, which is also a town on the Kaduna highway, and Buruku close to the Kaduna International Airport, all in the Chikun Local Government Area.”

 ‘IDPs wandered off’

The abductors of the over 200 IDPs from the Ngala camp, Gamboru-Ngala Local Government Area of Borno State have not contacted the families of the abductees for ransom.

Immediately after the report of the abduction, the state government sent a fact-finding team led by the Director-General of the Borno State Emergency Management Agency, Dr Barkindo Saidu, to the Nigeria-Chad border town.

Saidu told newsmen in Maiduguri on Friday, “No abductor has up to this moment called for any ransom on the abductees.

“We don’t even believe that they were abducted. If they were abducted, the abductors would have by now called for ransom; but nobody has called anybody for any ransom yet.”

The DG argued that the IDPs probably lost their way back home from wherever they went in the bush, adding that some of them had already returned to the camp.

“Already, the IDPs, who could trace their way back home, are trickling back home. Even when I returned to Maiduguri from there yesterday (Thursday), I was called and told that two of the so-called abductees had found their way back to the camp,” he added.

The military refused to say anything other than the initial assurance by the spokesman for the 7 Division of the Nigerian Army, Lt. Col. Ajemusu Jingina, on Wednesday that troops, with the help of the air component of Operation Hadin Kai, had been despatched for search-and-rescue operation for the abductees.

 Lawmaker, others react

The Chairman, Chikun Local Government Area, Salasi Musa, said the communities that made up the council area were in prayers for the safe return of the pupils.

“We have nothing to say other than to pray for their safe return. The list of the kidnapped pupils is being compiled. So we cannot say anything specifically now about the number of the pupils abducted,” he said.

Meanwhile, Senator Lawal Usman, who represents the Kaduna Central Senatorial District in the National Assembly, condemned the kidnapping of the pupils.

The lawmaker said he was saddened by the incident and extended his deepest sympathy to all the parents and families of the victims.

According to him, it is time the security agencies take the battle to the enclave of the bandits terrorising the state.

Usman stated, “In the last few weeks, the Kaduna Central Senatorial Zone has witnessed the escalation of tension as result of terrorists’ attacks, killings and abduction in several communities in the Kajuru, Chikun, Birnin-Gwari, Giwa and Igabi local government councils.

“Today, I am saddened and in a state of rude shock over the abduction of pupils of the primary and secondary schools at Kuriga, Chikun Local Government Area, along the dreaded Birnin-Gwari-Kaduna highway.

“The spate of gruesome attacks and abductions in recent days has demoralised the citizens and further put them in a traumatic condition without any sign of relief.

“As a senator representing the area, I extend my deepest sympathy to all the parents and families of the pupils abducted at Kuriga and all those who lost their precious lives.

“Although our security forces are working assiduously to bring our children back safely, I urged the government at all levels and our security forces to be more proactive rather than reactive in dealing decisively with miscreants terrorising our communities.

“Despite all the efforts and successes recorded by the security forces to curtail attacks by terrorists, there is the need to take the fight to the doorstep of the terrorists.”

Recall that penultimate Thursday, bandits invaded Gonin-Gora in the troubled Chikun LGA, forcing the residents to barricade the Kaduna-Abuja Expressway in protest against the abduction of an unspecified number of people in the area.

Tinubu promises rescue

President Bola Tinubu has condemned what he described as “heinous incidents of abduction” involving vulnerable victims, internally displaced persons in Borno State, and students in Kaduna State.

The United Nations had condemned the abduction of over 200 persons from an IDP camp in the Ngala Local Government Area of Borno State.

In a statement on Wednesday, the UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria, Mohamed Fall, said the abductees, including women, boys and girls, were captured while fetching firewood.

Although the actual number of the IDPs abducted remains unknown, Fall said they might be over 200 persons.

He added that the terrorists released some older women and children below 10 years old.

Barely 24 hours later, terrorists kidnapped over 280 pupils and teachers of Government Secondary School and LEA primary school at Kuriga, Kaduna state, on Thursday.

Tinubu, who said he had been briefed on both incidents, assured Nigerians of ongoing rescue efforts.

In a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, the President said, “I have received a briefing from security chiefs on the two incidents, and I am confident that the victims will be rescued. Nothing else is acceptable to me and the waiting family members of these abducted citizens. Justice will be decisively administered.”

The statement added, “The President directs security and intelligence agencies to immediately rescue the victims and ensure that justice is served against the perpetrators of these abominable acts.

“The President sympathised with the families of the victims, assuring them that they would soon be reunited with their loved ones.”

UNICEF, ActionAid condemn abduction

The United Nations Children Fund has condemned the abduction of students by bandits in Kaduna State.

UNICEF said it was coordinating with local officials and providing assistance to the affected parents and families through psychological support services.

The UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, Cristian Munduate, in a statement said, the alarming frequency of such incidents across the country signalled a crisis that required immediate and determined action from all levels of government and society.

Munduate said, “I am deeply saddened and concerned by the reports of yet another abduction of students in Kaduna State. The alarming frequency of such incidents across the country signals a crisis that requires immediate and determined action from all levels of government and society. Schools are supposed to be sanctuaries of learning and growth, not sites of fear and violence.

“This latest abduction, as any previously, is highly condemnable and part of a worrying trend of attacks on educational institutions in Nigeria, particularly in the North-West, where armed groups have intensified their campaign of violence and kidnappings. Just a day prior to this incident, the UN Resident Coordinator spoke about the abductions of large numbers of women, girls, and boys by members of a non-state armed group in Borno State.

“UNICEF urges immediate action to ensure the safe return of the abducted children and staff, and calls on authorities to implement comprehensive measures to secure schools across Nigeria. It is imperative that the safety and security of students and educators are guaranteed, allowing schools to fulfil their role as safe havens for learning and development.”

She stated that the right to education was fundamental and must be protected against any form of violence or intimidation.

Munduate added, “Our hearts go out to the families of the abducted students and staff, and we stand with them in this harrowing time. The right to education is fundamental and must be protected against any form of violence or intimidation. The children of Nigeria deserve to learn in peace.

“UNICEF is coordinating with local officials and providing assistance to the affected parents and families through psychological support services. The UN children’s agency is dedicated to collaborating with government entities, local communities, and various partners to tackle the fundamental issues leading to violence against children and to safeguard educational environments from threats and violence.

“Every child deserves to grow up in an environment of peace, away from the looming shadows of threats and insecurity. Unfortunately, we are currently facing a significant deterioration in community safety, with children disproportionately suffering the consequences of this decline in security.”

Amnesty faults govt

Similarly, Amnesty International Nigeria has condemned the failure of the government to protect citizens from attacks across the country.

It called on the government to take all necessary measures to ensure the safe release of the abducted persons, and to promptly investigate the causes of the recurrent abductions, publish the result of the findings, and ensure that the perpetrators were brought to justice.

“Mass abductions in Nigeria this week of more than 400 displaced people in Borno State and 287 students and teachers in Kuriga, Kaduna State, are a shocking indictment of the authorities’ persistent failure to protect people from attacks by armed groups that have killed thousands of Nigerians in the last five years,” AI said in a statement on Friday.

“The organisation is calling on the Nigerian government to take all necessary measures to ensure the safe release and return of those abducted to their families. Authorities must also promptly, thoroughly, impartially, independently, effectively, and transparently investigate the recurring cases of abductions in many parts of the country, make public the findings of any investigation and ensure that the suspected perpetrators are brought to justice in fair trials,” AI’s Media and Communications Assistant, Michael Christian, said in the statement.

Amnesty’s Country Director, Isa Sanusi, had earlier lamented the failure of the government to protect the citizens, stating that the latest abductions showed that the Tinubu government had no effective plan to end years of atrocities committed by gunmen and bandits.

Sanusi stated, “The latest mass abductions clearly show President Bola Tinubu and his government have no effective plan for ending years of atrocities by armed groups and gunmen that are increasingly having a free reign across many parts of Nigeria. Whatever security measures are being implemented by President Tinubu and his government are clearly not working.

“Given the rising level of insecurity in Nigeria today, it is obvious that protecting lives and property is low on the list of government priorities. People should not be left to live in fear of the next attack or abduction. The Nigerian authorities’ consistent failure to protect people is completely unacceptable and must end.”

ActionAid’s statement

ActionAid Nigeria also condemned the abductions in Borno and Kaduna states.

In a statement on Friday by its Country Director, Andrew Mamedu, ActionAid said the incidents mirrored the previous abductions of the Chibok and Dapchi schoolchildren, adding that every passing moment without action was drawing the country closer to a repeat of tragic outcomes of previous abduction cases.

He called on the Borno and Kaduna state governments, as well as the Federal Government to prioritise the immediate rescue of the abductees and reunite them with their families.

Mamedu stated, “We vehemently condemn these brazen acts of terror on innocent civilians, which tragically mirror past atrocities such as the abductions of the Chibok and Dapchi girls. We call on the Kaduna and Borno state governments and the Federal Government of Nigeria to prioritise the urgent rescue of the abducted IDPs and ensure their safe return to their families.

“Every passing moment without action brings us closer to a repeat of the tragic outcomes witnessed in previous abductions. It is absurd and unacceptable that over 200 Nigerians in Borno State have been kidnapped since February 29 without any decisive action being taken to rescue them, and that scores of children were abducted in Kaduna State just a few days later. We refuse to tolerate the same failures and slow progress in rescuing our abducted compatriots.”

The group also demanded accountability and justice for all the victims of abductions, while urging security agencies to learn from past mistakes and take decisive action to prevent further harm to the abductees.

It highlighted the urgent need for the government to prioritise the implementation of the Safe Schools Initiative agreed upon by federal and state governments, noting that insecurity “has contributed to the current 20 million children who are out of school, and the Safe Schools Initiative aims to address these challenges and ensure a safe learning environment for all children in Nigeria.”

 Atiku decries rising insecurity

The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in the 2023 general elections, Atiku Abubakar, has decried the state of insecurity and condemned the killings in Benue as well as the abductions in Kaduna and Borno states.

Atiku, in a statement on Friday, lamented that the problem of insecurity in Nigeria was worsening daily and described it as a clear manifestation of governance failure.

He said, “The problem of insecurity in Nigeria is getting worse by the day. The media has been awash with terrifying news of banditry, kidnapping, and bloodletting that has turned our country into perhaps one of the most terrorised territories on earth.

“Within one week, there have been many reported cases of mass abduction of hapless citizens in the North-West, North-East and North-Central regions of our country. In the early hours of Thursday, schoolchildren numbering over 280, together with their teachers, were abducted in Kuriga, Kaduna State, by bandits riding on motorcycles without any challenge by security agencies. Earlier in the week, it was reported that scores of women and children fetching firewood were abducted by gun-toting bandits suspected to be members of Boko Haram. It was also reported that over 200 people, mostly women and children, were abducted from the IDP camp in Ngala in Borno State. Just yesterday, scores of people were killed during a massacre at Wa-ndoo, a community in Mbalom, Gwer-East Local Government Area of Benue State.

“The cases are endless, and the problem seems interminable. The APC-controlled government has failed woefully to give the people the basic things expected of a responsive government. It is a clear manifestation of the failure of governance.”

Atiku expressed sympathy for the victims and their families, and urged security agencies to step up and safeguard Nigerians from bandits and terrorists.

He added, “The government has continued to play the ostrich while the nation is plagued by insecurity. While the weak and vulnerable are neglected, the government is making empty rhetoric about reforms. And while our young men are abducted, killed, or conscripted into the army of the terrorists, and our women and girls are ravished and subjected to different forms of gender-based violence, the authorities do nothing. This is in negation of the constitutionally guaranteed commitment that the security and welfare of citizens is the primary responsibility of the government.

“I stand in solidarity with my fellow citizens and sympathise with the victims and their families. I urge the security agencies to rise to the challenge and save innocent citizens from the horrors of banditry and terrorism.”

 ‘Kidnappers deserve death penalty’

The First Lady, Oluremi Tinubu, on Friday, said kidnappers “deserve capital punishment” when apprehended by the authorities.

She condemned the abduction of children, an act she described as an attempt to destroy the country’s future.

“They (kidnappers) are cowards. Our hearts bleed. I call on the state governments that once we take hold of them, they deserve capital punishment,” Mrs Tinubu told a gathering of women leaders of the All Progressives Congress at the State House, Abuja.

A statement signed by the First Lady’s Special Adviser on Media, Busola Kukoyi, said Mrs Tinubu described the kidnappers as cowards for majorly taking hold of women and children, saying they were inhumane and should be treated as such.

She said, “Why can’t they take men of their size? Why are they touching women and children? What they are doing is that they are trying to kill our future. We all know that when parents are old, we rely on our children. We see them as our investments that have not gone to waste, especially when they are successful.

 “Why will you now take them from their schools?  Right now, I think enough is enough. As a former lawmaker, I believe that any one of them captured deserves capital punishment.

“I believe most mothers will support me on this because we carry our children for nine months, and we cannot watch what we love to wither away.”

 Court condemns kidnappers

Meanwhile, the Chief Judge of Taraba State, Justice Joel Agya, on Friday sentenced Yusufa Adamu and Adamu Abdullahi to death by hanging for kidnapping Balkisu Kambe and Maryam Musa in the Gashaka Local Government Area of the state.

Agya, while delivering the judgment in Jalingo, said the prosecution had proved its case beyond reasonable doubt.

The judge said the convicts committed the crime in 2019.

The prosecution counsel, Mr Samson Gimba, had told the court that Musa was kidnapped on September 2, 2019, at Serti, while Kambe was abducted at Angwan America in Baruwa on September 29, 2019.

He also found them guilty of criminal conspiracy and illegal possession of firearms and sentenced each to 10 years imprisonment without an option of fine.

The judge said that the sentence on criminal conspiracy and illegal possession of firearms would take effect from 2019 when they were arrested and detained.

He said the convicts made confessional statements about the crime and collected ransom, while one of the victims, Kambe, identified the convicts as members of the gang that abducted her from her home when they could not find her husband.

Additional reports by Stephen Angbulu, Lara Adejoro, Nathaniel Shaibu, Abdulrahman Zakariyau and Uthman Abubakar

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