Juliana Taiwo Obalonye, Abuja
Twenty hours after gunmen abducted six girls and two staff members of a boarding school in Kaduna, Governor Nasir el-Rufai has said that intelligence report revealed that kidnappers were now collaborating with some elements of Boko Haram to kidnap people for ransom.
Police on Thursday said the girls and staff were taken in the early hours of the day from a school called Engravers College in a remote area near the village of Kakau Daji in Kaduna State.
El-Rufai made the disclosure on Friday while speaking with State House correspondents after Juma’at prayers at the State House mosque.
According to him, intelligence revealed that schools in the state were the primary targets of the bandits.
He further disclosed that the kidnappers of six female students and two teachers had demanded ransom but he declined to make public the amount mentioned.
El-Rufai explained that his administration had made adequate arrangements to beef up security in state schools, adding that the kidnappers of the students and teachers succeeded because the school was in a remote place.
Describing the incident as unfortunate, the governor said that the kidnappers had made contact with the parents of the victims.
He assured that following the efforts of government with the security agencies, the students would soon be released.
He said: “First, I must say it is most unfortunate and tragic for us in Kaduna, for this kidnap of children and teachers to happen. The report I got is that six students of a private secondary school were kidnapped along with two teachers.
“As at this morning (Friday), the kidnappers have made contacts with the parents, and we have got the parents of the kidnapped children and the relations of the teachers to be in one place so that, there is one line of communications with the kidnappers to facilitate their release.
“However, from the moment of the kidnap, the security agencies, from the DSS to the police, the Nigerian Airforce, and the Army have been on the matter and I am confident that not only are we going to secure the release of the students and their teachers, but we are going to get the kidnappers by the grace of God.
“It is always a moment of sadness when young people who are trying to get an education become victims of these criminals. But kidnapping has become widespread that for many people, it is not news.
“For us in Kaduna, this is one of the biggest tragedies and we are doing everything to manage the situation to get the children and their teachers safely and pursue these kidnappers with everything that we have got. I want to thank the Nigerian Army, the Nigerian Airforce and the DSS, and police for being very vigilant on this.
“Their response was quick but unfortunately, we are having to deal with the situation. But, I am confident that it will be resolved and very soon. I get updates every three hours on this and the last update I got is that they were in touch and they were discussing to resolve the matter.
“We have been receiving intelligence some three months ago, that the bandits have connected with some elements of Boko Haram, and they will be targeting schools to kidnap children because they know that that is what makes the news.
“And we have reinforced security around our schools. This school called Engravers Academy is in the middle of nowhere until yesterday, two days ago, when the kidnapping happened, I didn’t know the school.
“It is right in the middle of the bush along Abuja-Kaduna road. It’s in the middle of nowhere really, that’s why it was vulnerable. Other schools are protected and no one should have any doubts that if your child is in Kaduna State, we are doing our best to protect him or her.”
On efforts to prevent a re occurrence, the governor said that adequate arrangement was on ground to protect all the schools in the state. He said: “We already have this arrangement in place;, this school fell the crack because it is quite isolated. It’s in the middle of now where – kilometres off Kaduna that was why it was vulnerable.
“But other schools are being watched and we do regular surveillance; we use the Nigerian Airforce planes; we use drones. We do regular surveillance all across the state and we get intelligence as to likely targets. So, with the help of security agencies, we are doing the best we can on this. Of course, you can never get this 100 per cent.
“Security challenges evolve, you close this chapter, the other one opens, so it’s work in progress. And the reason why we are here is to continue to address those problems with the best resources available and we are getting the cooperation of all the federal agencies.”
Asked if his government was going to pay the ransom to free the students, he said that the demand was being negotiated.
According to him, “they have made the demand for money and that is being negotiated. They always do. I cannot go into details; we are trying to protect the victims and secure their release. So, there is a level of information I cannot reveal. I don’t want to endanger them.
“It is difficult for me to say much on that because it’s an ongoing process. You are newsmen, whatever I say today, can be news tomorrow and that will inform the kidnappers. All I can say is that we are doing all we can to secure the students and their teachers.
“We are doing all we can, but I don’t want to give you a timeline because it’s not within our control; there are two or three sides to this situation and we are doing the best we can. What is important to us is the safety and security of the kidnapped victims; once we get those back safely, other things will follow.”
Asked whether he regretted sending his child to public school, he said: “My child should not be safer or more protected than any other child in Kaduna State. I took an oath of office to protect everyone, and my child is just one of the two million children we have in primary schools in Kaduna State.
“And I have no intention of reviewing that. For me, taking my child to a government school was not only a commitment I made but a clear expression that I have confidence in the quality of our public schools for my child to attend. And we have already given directives that all the staff of the Ministry of Education who are in charge of managing our education system must have their own children in public schools.
“We are not going to require every political appointee or government employee to have his children, that is their choice but those that manage our educational system must have their children in public schools for them to ensure that public schools work. That is why, some people have said it’s political and all that. I don’t care.
“I will not play politics with my child or his future, it’s ridiculous, but of course, this is the environment in which we live, in which whatever you do, you will have those who are opposed to it and those who are for it; it’s life. No, there is no consideration of changing this.
“All our schools in Kaduna will have enhanced security, because we have got intelligence of the likelihood of this danger three months ago but I don’t want to go into details. But, any bandit that comes to Kaduna to try to do this, has a very high chance of getting killed, so, we are prepared.”
On whether parents were withdrawing their children from schools because of the incident, he said there was no information available to him to that effect.
He said:” I have not received this information, and as the governor of Kaduna State, I receive this information more than you will ever do. I have no such information that there are withdrawals of children in Kaduna schools.
“As at this morning (Friday), I left Kaduna 7:00am but I get three hours update of the security situation. I have not received such information. Even if people are contemplating on doing that, I want to assure them that we have put in security measures to protect all our schools in Kaduna State. So, there is no need to panic. One incident should not be the reason for hysteria and panic. Let’s be calm, we will deal with the situation.”