From Sola Ojo, Kaduna
The adage that it is preferable to have a dead child than a missing one may not sound sweet to the ears. But it fits into the current state of affairs in Kaduna State, where parents of the 29 abducted students of College of Forestry and Mechanisation, Afaka, Igabi Local Government, have continued to wallow in grief.
For these parents, the last few weeks have been worse than hell. Anxiety and hypertension have replaced their peace. They barely know sleep and rest have departed from their souls. Often, they quietly gather in the school’s premises, despaired by their hopelessness, to pray together for the safe return of their children.
Already, one of the affected fathers died of shock and related complications. He passed on barely 10 days after the tragic incident. And there are strong fears, some other parents might just give up the ghost given that the experience had dragged on and reprieve is not in sight.
The abduction took place on Thursday, March 11, 2021, at the premises of the College, adjacent to the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), and close to Kaduna train terminus as well as a few minutes’ drive to Kaduna International Airport – all in the dreaded Birni Gwari Local Government.
The college with about 500 students had scheduled its second-semester examination, the last semester for ND and HND, for March 18 to early April. This implied that more students were on campus on the night of the incident preparing for the examinations. It also followed that many of them would have graduated by now but for the abduction.
Ten of the 39 abducted students were released at different times in the past. The freedom of these students raised expectations that it was a matter of time before all of them would regain their freedom. As at then, Governor Nasir El-Rufai had through his Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan, told the affected parents that their children were safe, promising to collaborate with them if the need arose.
The spokesperson of the parents, Samuel Tambai, told Daily Sun that life had become unbearable for him and his family as his wife kept asking when would their daughter come back home:
“This is the second month that our children were taken away from school. We have been appealing to the state government to help secure their release, but up till today, we don’t know what they are doing about it. We are here again in the school because our children are not back home
“The bandits have now started calling us, individual parents and demanding for ransom. They threatened us to bring money or they kill our children. But, the government is saying anybody caught negotiating with bandits will be arrested and prosecuted, which we are not ready for.
“However, many of us do not care if we would be prosecuted to save our children and we are working hard to see them again alive. We are also appealing to individuals to come to our aid. We have been calling on the Federal Government since the beginning of this tragic incident, but we have not heard any statement from them.
“We have lost so much, both emotionally and economically. We can no longer pursue our sources of livelihood because we don’t have the strength to concentrate. As a father, you go home and your wife is right on your neck. She wants to see her daughter come back home. Honestly, we are getting tired. We are getting exhausted.
“I am missing my daughter. She is a very agile young lady. Today, we don’t know her condition. The last time we heard from her she was pleading for help, telling us to bring money and give these people and let them release us.”
Asabe Danladi an affected mother: “I was worried about my daughter’s condition since she has been in captivity because of her vulnerable and slim stature. When the five of them were released, we initially did not know their identity, but I was very pleased that she was among the five. If they had not released her when they did, I guess I would have lost her by now because of the suffering in that bush.
“After they were discharged from the military hospital, I had to take her to another hospital. She had fully recovered from the trauma, shock and bad water. I thank God that she has started taking food gradually.
“I am very worried about the condition of the others who are still in captivity seeing that my daughter is still not in good condition. We are hopeful and pleading that they hearken to our cry for the release of other students. Although my daughter is free, I still have sleepless nights for the students who are still being held hostage.
“This is a burden to me as a member of the committee representing the parents of the students. I had to get my sister to help nurse my daughter so I could continue in the struggle for the safe return of the other children.
“I must say my joy is still not full yet. We are pleading in God’s name, not for our sake, but for the sake of the children, let them be released. I pray they hearken to us.”
Another mother, Monica John, lamented: “We are not happy at all. My husband has been on hospital admission three times before now and with the present situation, everything has become worse.
“The food we eat no longer settles well in our system. We have sleepless nights over this. Please, we need all of them to be released, my daughter is among those still held in captivity.”
To Angela Babaloni, another mother, the state government has left them in confusion: “It has been bad. We are praying to God to bring them back safely.
“I am not happy with what the state government is doing. It is as if they don’t want poor people to send their children to school. I was not that educated and that was why I am striving to send my children to school so they can be better than me.
“But, when the government said it is not interested in negotiating with bandits and our children are not back. I am sad. I don’t want my daughter to turn to something else. Government should bring back my daughter.”
Aisha, mother of Mubarak Abdulsalam, one of the abducted students still in captivity, wanted the state government to do what it did in the cases of Kankara and Jangebe:
“I am appealing to both the state and federal governments to please do what the others did. We knew about other schools where the children were kidnapped and some of them did not even stay up to a week in the hands of their abductors.
“But, our children have been held captive for more than one month. Is blood not running in their veins? They should please help release these children for us. We are praying they release all of them once and for all and not to release one and keep the others.”
Abdulahi Usman is the husband of Fatima Ibrahim, one of the kidnapped students. He told Daily Sun: “Unfortunately, about 10 days after her abduction, her father died from shock when he heard about it. I love my wife and there is no way I can just allow anything to happen to her there when I am alive.
“I will negotiate with them, even if it means paying with my life so she could come back home. I will do anything possible to secure her release.”