here seems to be no respite yet for beleaguered students and pupils of vulnerable schools in Northern Nigeria, as their harrowing experiences in the hands of bandits who have turned the hapless school children into baits for extortion of money from poor parents and state governments in the region continued unabated.
At the last count, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), no fewer than 5,330,631 students in states in Northern Nigeria have had their education disrupted by incessant attacks by criminal gangs who have turned kidnapping into a flourishing business and their teachers as commodities for sale.
Already, this horrible situation has begun to take its toll on both the parents and the students who are the targets of the devilish marauders as many parents and students are having a rethink about whether education is worth the risk they are now subjected to by the bandits.
“I have lost interest in schooling”, declared Markus Matthew, a student of the Federal College of Forestry Mechanization, located in the Mando area of Kaduna, the capital of Kaduna state. The college is located close to the Kaduna International Airport where bandits recently abducted some workers of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria.
Mathew’s school was invaded at about 3:00am of Friday, March 12, 2021, by the hoodlums who were not deterred by the nearness of the school to the Nigerian Defense Academy. “I think we are in trouble in this country”, said a very sad Mathew, who was said he was yet to recover from the shock of the horrendous attack on his school. “The school is so close to military institutions and we felt we were safe. We have NDA, Army Division is not far from here. So, I never expected this to happen, I am in shock,” declared Mathew, who spoke to newsmen shortly the invasion of the school. ”From my checks now, five female and eight male students from my department are missing”, added Mathew who was forced to ponder whether he should to continue his education or drop out of school.
In Zamfara state, also in the Northern Nigeria, the story of students’ discouragement is the same. Venting her own frustrations arising from the hellish experiences of students in schools in the North, Hafsat Anka, one of the abducted students of Zamfara Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe, who were rescued from captivity through concerted efforts of parents and government recently, told reporters during their presentation to the state governor at the Government House, Gusau, that she was done with boarding school, if at all she would continue schooling.
Narrating her experience to reporters at the Government House in Gusau, Hafsat said their captors made her and other abducted girls to walk on foot over a very long distance from their school to the criminals hide-out deep in in the forest.
“There was no clean water or good food, and we felt we had already spent years even though it was our first day and the bandits kept firing into the air to scare us”, Hafsat lamented.
Also opting to continue her education but no longer in a boarding house, was Hunainatu Abubakar, one of the freed abducted Zamfara girls. She narrated her bitter experience in the hands of their captors, who, according to her, threatened to rape them. “They always added sand to our foods and only allowed us to dig for water with our fingers at a drying pond,” she said, adding that “they also threatened to rape us but their leader, Kasalle, warned them against that”. On whether she would continue with her education, Hunainatu said she would go back to Kaduna where she came from and continue at a day school in order to fulfil her dream of becoming a lawyer.
Speaking on the abduction of the school girls, the Zamfara State Governor, Mr. Bello Matawalle said the abduction of the girls gave him four sleepless nights as he worked round the clock to ensure the safe return of the girls.
“I didn’t sleep for four days. We worked hard for days to ensure the safe return of the girls to their families.
“(We are) using kinetic and non-kinetic approaches and the non-kinetic is working for us. If not, we wouldn’t have successfully negotiated the release of these girls,” the governor stated.
Matawalle added that the state did not pay any ransom for the release of the pupils.
While confirming the attack on Federal College of Forestry Mechanization, the Kaduna State Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, Mr. Samuel Aruwan, said that 180 students and staff of the school who had earlier been abducted, were rescued by security forces.
“The armed bandits broke into the institution by breaking a perimeter fence. They then encroached about 600 meters to attack the first facility. The Ministry of Internal Security and Home Affairs on receiving a distress call, alerted the 1 Division Nigerian Army and the Air Training Command of the Nigerian Air Force. The troops of the Nigerian Army immediately moved to the school and engaged the armed bandits accordingly. The troops successfully rescued 180 citizens; 42 female students, eight staff and 130 male students”, said Aruwan.
But Aruwan’s claim was disputed by a staff who witnessed the attack on the school. The official who spoke on the condition of anonymity faulted the claims that 180 students and teachers were rescued by security agents following the attack. The school official who spoke with TheCable, an online publication, said there was no rescue operation, noting that the security personnel only counted the students who came out of hiding after the bandits had left. The official said the bandits’ point of entry into the school was close to the female hostel. He said some of the female students managed to escape while others were abducted. He said students from other hostels, upon hearing the gunshots, ran into hiding. According to the official, “We really don’t understand this story about rescuing 180 of the students. In reality, the students were not rescued. When the bandits came, the students ran into hiding. “In the process of running to escape, many of them got injured. All those abducted were female students because the bandits attacked their hostel which was the closest from where the criminals entered after breaking the fence. “Some of the female students managed to escape, but about 30 of them were abducted. The truth is that when the security agents arrived the school, all the students came out from hiding and they decided to count them. “After counting them they moved them to the Old Campus of the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) for safety and now they are saying that they rescued them.”
And while the Kaduna state government was still grappling with how to rescue the 39 students of Federal Government College of Forestry Mechanisation, another criminal gang struck again in yet another school in the state. This time around, their hunting ground for baits to extort money were the little children in a primary school at Rema in Magajin Gawri Ward 2, area of Birnin-Gwari Local Government Area of Kaduna state. This local government area of the state is one of the areas of the state that had come under constant attacks by bandits in recent period.
Although the attack on Rema primary school was launched in the day time, the kidnappers failed to lay their hand on their prime targets—the pupils of the school— as the children fled in different directions when they heard the sound of the motorcycles of the rushing invaders. Nevertheless, the bandits went away three of the school’s teachers, five motorcycles belonging to the school’s staff and also helped themselves to some cattle in the school’s vicinity. Speaking on the attack on the primary school, Mr. Aruwan, said the hoodlums invaded the primary school at 8:50 am on the day of the attack when the school was just settling down for the day’s business.
According to the commissioner, “the state government can confirm that three teachers, Rabiu Salisu, Umar Hassan, and Bala Adamu, have been kidnapped. Pupils who had just arrived the school to begin the day’s activities, took to their heels in the commotion, as the bandits invaded the premises on motorcycles. He added that in the melee that ensued, two pupils couldn’t be accounted for immediately. He however told reporters that the missing children, identified as Ahmad Halilu and Kabiru Yahaya, were later found. “We can also confirm that no single pupil was kidnapped from the school. Other than the three teachers previously mentioned, no staff or pupil of the school is missing, following the attack”
The attack on Rema primary school came barely 24 hours after the military had rescued 307 students of Government Science Secondary School in Ikara, also in Kaduna state. It was like the bandits have declared war on the state. Confirming the attacks on schools in Kaduna State, the Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, Mr. Samuel Aruwan, told newsmen that the intention of the bandits was to kidnap students in Government Science Secondary School for ransom.
“Fortunately, the students utilized the security warning system in place, and were thus able to alert security forces in the area”, Aruwan said further. Explaining how the bandits’ mission was frustrated, Aruwan said “The security forces, comprising the troops of the Nigerian Army, Police and some security volunteers, moved swiftly to the school and engaged the bandits, forcing them to flee
While lauding the success of the security forces’ rescue operations in the state, Aruwan said the security agents rescued a Kidnapped boy and girl found wandering in the forest. The boy, Adewale Rasaq, was kidnapped in the Kudenden area of Chikun Local Government Area was found wandering in the forest after escaping from his captors while his parents were still negotiating with the bandits for the payment of a ransom of about N15 million.
The rescued girl named as Fatima Lawal, had also escaped from the bandits who abducted her at Randa village in Kadage area of Kauru Local Government, after she was kept in captivity for a period of three weeks.
However, their mission was frustrated by troops of the Nigerian Army attack.
In the meantime, one the abductees in the attack on Federal College of Forestry Mechanization, has urged the state government not to employ force in rescuing them. In a video footage shared on social media, the abductee warned, as a man with a gun stood behind him, that “if anybody comes to rescue them without the money they are going to kill us,”
About two dozens of other students were seen in the video begging for help in English and Hausa. One said the captors want a N500 million naira ($1.31 million) ransom.
The College’s Provost Mr. Bello Mohammed Usman and the mother of one the kidnapped students, identified those shown in the video as some of the abducted students of the school, including one pregnant woman. Mrs. Gloria Paul, a parent, said she recognized her 20-year-old daughter, Joy Kurmi Paul, in the video, wearing a pink headscarf.
While speaking to newsmen outside the school recently, the parent begged the state government to help rescue the students. “Please, government should help us get them released without hurting them,” Mrs. Paul said amidst sobbing.
Speaking on the dire consequences of the invasion of schools in the North by criminal gangs, the Country Director of ActionAid Nigeria, Ene Obi said the menace of abduction of school children is a threat to efforts at reducing the rate of out-of-school children in Nigeria.
Obi warned that since schools were now seemingly unsafe for girls, the abductions would give parents undue justification to force their girl-child into an early marriage. She urged governments to prioritize improved security for children in schools and provide quality education system.
Speaking in the same vein recently, the Executive Director of Attah Sisters Helping Hands (ASHH) Foundation, Mrs. Comfort Attah, called for the enhancement of security in all schools across the country.
She spoke at an event held at the headquarters of the Bauchi State Police Command in Bauchi to mark the International Women Day, She said the call became imperative in view of the incessant attacks on schools, particularly girls schools, in parts of the country
Meanwhile the Federal Government has given a marching order to heads of armed forces in the country to arrest the dire security situation in the country generally. The order was given by President Muhammadu Buhari at the recent National Security Council (NSC) meeting presided over by him in Abuja. Briefing newsmen after the meeting, National Security Adviser to the President, Monguno, said that Buhari, through the Minister of Defence, Maj. Gen. Bashir Magashi (rtd), ordered the service chiefs to reclaim all areas that have been dominated by bandits, kidnappers and other non-state actors.
According to him, while the government is not averse to the application of non-kinetic means to resolve the security crisis, it will not hesitate to apply kinetic means to restore normalcy to the country.
But lampooning government’s incompetence in handling security matters in the country, parents of school children in Nigeria, under the aegis of the National Parent/Teacher Association of Nigeria, (NAPTAN), said the incessant kidnapping of students and pupils in some parts of the country should be blamed on government’s inefficiency.
National President of NAPTAN, Haruna Danjuma, said “Abduction of innocent students has become lucrative and a business criminals now relish, no thanks to the inefficiency of those concerned with handling such situations. The government seems to have neglected the issue of security in the country. The latest case is about a school that ought to have been adequately protected. “The N500 million ransom being demanded by the abductors shows that it is now a lucrative business and we thought we would not have course to witness such an ugly incident again”.