From Agaju Madugba, Katsina
Katsina Governor, Aminu Bello Masari, yesterday, said 333 students of Government Science Secondary School, Kankara in Kankara Local Government Area, were still missing, after last Friday’s attack by bandits.
Masari gave the figure when Minister of Defence, Gen. Salihi Magashi, led the nation’s service chiefs on a sympathy visit at the Katsina Government House.
According to Masari, the school has a population of 839 students.
Earlier, Governor Masari, who visited the school and received a briefing from the principal on Saturday morning, had said he could not ascertain the exact number of students abducted.
Meanwhile, Magashi has assured that the students would be released in the next few hours without collateral damage to the people of Katsina State. He said security forces have sighted them and efforts were on to rescue them.
He, however, urged Nigerians to embark on fervent prayers to avoid what he described as “collateral damage” during rescue process.
“So far, we have been briefed by the people on the ground, the commissioner of police and heads of other security agencies here.
“With their briefing, the task of rescuing the students is going to be very simple for us because within the next few hours, these students will be back.
“We have strategised and we believe we can do it without any collateral damage to the people of Katsina State.
“We will go the whole hog because we have the intelligence, the information and we are aware of there whereabouts, their movements and their method of operation and we are sure that this (rescue) task will be very easy for the armed forces and the police to accomplish. The only thing is that we need prayers so that there will be no collateral damage.
“That is the purpose of our visit, to sympathise with you (the governor) and assure you that all hands are on deck within the armed forces of Nigeria and the police to ensure that this rescue mission is given the greatest priority.
“The armed forces and the police and the other security agencies must move very fast to ensure the students are rescued.
“We are doing this in the belief that if these people are allowed to rest for a moment that means we are also equally condoning this kind of activities. The conclusion within the security agencies is that it is high time we declared these people as terrorists.
“If we do that, probably people will now sit up because once you are a terrorist, you no longer have any right to your life.”
On his entourage were Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of Air Staff, Chief of Naval Staff, Inspector-General of Police, director general of the Directorate of States Services (DSS) and Nigeria Intelligence Agency (NIA) as well as heads of security agencies in Katsina including the Commissioner of Police.
While condemning the attack, President Muhammadu Buhari had charged the army and the police to go after the attackers to ensure no student got missing or harmed.
Regardless of the defence chief’s assurance, protests have continued to rock Kankara as women and youths took to the streets, yesterday morning, to demand immediate release of their children even as the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) threatened to mobilise Katsina residents on continuous street protest.
“Failure of government to rescue the missing students within the shortest period of time, the Coalition of Northern Groups will not hesitate to mobilise hundreds of thousands on the streets of Katsina State for a continuous protest, until the students are fully rescued, even if it’s going to cost our lives,”the group said on Sunday at a press conference in Katsina.
The group’s North-West Coordinator, Jamilu Charanchi, claimed “some 400” of the students were feared missing after the bandits’ attacks, a development he described as the highpoint of the inability of government to handle the “disabling challenges that include dwindling economy, rising poverty and more worrying, a crippling security situation that has taken a huge toll on lives and property.
“The culmination of these security challenges has for the past few years turned the entire state into a house of horror with violent killings reported on daily basis, communities displaced with formal and informal IDPs camps spreading all over the state.
“The deafening silence in the state to our people’s suffering is not only morally wrong but it nourishes, validates and perpetuates the failings of our political leaders.
“We owe it to our future generations to continue to act within the ambit of law in the hope that things will change for better.”
The group equally accused the President Buhari-led Federal government of failure in discharging its primary responsibility of protecting lives and property.
Bandits reportedly attacked the school at about 10.30 pm on Friday, hours after Buhari arrived his home state on a private visit.
Kankara is among the eight of the 34 local government areas in the state reported to be under the control of bandits, cattle rustlers and kidnappers.
As part of measures to check the menace of attacks by the hoodlums, the Army in June 2020, raised a special squad, Operation Sahel Sanity, with headquarters at Faskari, a border community between Katsina and the equally troubled state of Zamfara.
A recent report by Network for Justice indicates that bandits killed over 500 people with about 200 others kidnapped and about 40,000 cattle stolen in Kankara Local Government Area alone.