From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Molly Kilete, Abuja, John Adams, Minna, Gyang Bere, Jos
President Muhammadu Buhari has charged security agencies to ensure swift and safe rescue of students, teachers and others abducted from the Government Science Secondary School, Kagara, Rafi Local Government Area of Niger State.
He has also vowed that his administration would support the armed forces in their war against terrorism and banditry, even as he urged them to do all to bring an end to the saga and avoid cowardly attacks on schools in the future.
According to an official statement, the President has directed the armed forces and the police to ensure immediate and safe return of all the captives. He has dispatched a team of security chiefs to coordinate the rescue operation and meet with state officials, community leaders and parents and staff of the college.
Bandits numbering about 150 had stormed the science college located some 500 metres from the local government secretariat along Kagara-Tegina road in the early hours of yesterday and abducted about 27 students from their hostels.
One of the teachers who escaped the attack said the bandits stormed the school at about 2:15am and shot dead a student who was trying to escape.
Following the abduction, Governor Abubakar Bello of Niger State has ordered immediate closure of all boarding schools in four local government areas, Rafi, Mariga, Munya and Shiroro, where banditry has increased in the last 72 hours with abductions of about 83 people.
The governor in a broadcast in Minna, said the closure had become necessary following the escalation of attacks by the bandits.
Bello said the government had been overwhelmed by the spate of banditry attacks in the state in recent weeks.
“Tension is high, emotion is high and the situation is dangerous. We are saddened by all these development. We have been having attacks before and we have been working to settle it but in this past few days, the attacks have been so daring that it caught our attention. We pray that God will show us the way of getting them back safely,” he said.
The governor said bandits who abducted 40 passengers on the state transport service have made a demand of N500 million ransom in a video currently in circulation. But he said government would not pay ransom to the bandits in order to secure the release of their victims, but was ready to support any bandit ready to surrender their arms.
“When you negotiate and pay ransom to criminals, they will use the money to purchase more weapons,” he said.
Senator representing Niger East Senatorial District, Mohammed Sani Musa, in a statement said cases of kidnappings and abductions in Niger State in the last 72 hours was alarming, and posed a threat to national security, stressing that the abduction of the schoolboys in Kagara violates the rights to life and education of students.
He called on the Federal Government to step up efforts towards rescuing the students and other abductees and reunite them with their families.
IGP, NSA, ministers visit school
Meanwhile, a Federal Government delegation comprising the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, the National Security Adviser (NSA), Babagana Mongunu, Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed and the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, yesterday, met with Governor Bello at the Government House before proceeding to Kagara for on-the-spot assessment of the school.
Mongunu, who spoke on behalf of the delegation, said the strategy used to secure the release of Kankara school boys (Katsina) would be adopted to get the students out. He added that those behind the kidnap would be arrested and prosecuted.
“We are going to work with our partners, with the community to ensure these students are returned unhurt, I also assure you that we will get them released unharmed.”
He pointed out that the issues of banditry and kidnapping have been a concern to government but that the administration “has put in place strategies to deal with the situation” adding that the security agencies have also restrategised.
Mongunu disclosed that to improve the security architecture of Niger State, four additional units of Mobile policemen have been deployed while his office is working with the DSS and other intelligence groups.
Information minister who led the delegation said government would not surrender its sovereignty to criminals.
He said government delegation has endorsed all strategies put in place to secure the release of the students and their teachers and therefore called for support and cooperation of the public.
IGP Adamu expressed concern over happenings in the state, the North Central and North Western geopolitical regions and called on the communities in the areas to give information that will lead to the arrest of criminal elements in the society.
Army deploys troops
Chief Of Army Staff (COAS) has ordered the deployment of soldiers as part of the rescue efforst
Director, Army Public Relations, Brigadier-General Mohammed Yerima, said the soldiers working in conjunction with sister security agencies were already on ground and in hot pursuit of the criminal elements and the students and their teachers are rescued unhurt.
Yerima, in a statement, called on public with useful and actionable information that would lead to the arrest of the criminal elements to report to nearest security agencies.
PDP, northern govs, Atiku react
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has has also expressed concern over the escalation of banditry in Niger State and other parts of the country, and advised security forces to go after the outlaws and rescue the abducted children.
“Nigerians were jolted by the Tuesday’s coordinated bandit attacks, kidnapping and killings in several communities in Niger state,” it said in a statement by its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, in Abuja.
Ologbondiyan urged Nigerians to remain vigilant and continue rallying around opportunities created by democracy in the effort to rescue the nation and ensure lasting security for the country.
Similarly, the Northern Governors Forum said it was distressed and saddened by the spate of attacks and abductions, particularly the reported abduction of some students, staff and families.
Chairman of the Forum and Governor of Plateau State, Simon Bako Lalong, in a statement described the abduction as a heinous crime and another sad day in the history of the nation.
Lalong said this was another calculated attempt to further deprive the state and the northern region the chance to overcome illiteracy and poverty which is endemic due to the lack of education and other associated opportunities.
“We totally condemn the abduction of the school children who did nothing wrong than go to school to seek education. This is a sad and reprehensible act that must not be tolerated whatever the motive of the criminals.
“It is an act that further compounds the efforts to enrol more children into schools particularly in the northern region where illiteracy is very high and enrolment is gradually appreciating after sustained efforts by government and development partners.”
He said northern governors would collectively work in solidarity with Governor Bello to not only ensure the present situation is resolved swiftly, but bring to an end the unacceptable spate of banditry and destruction of lives and properties that is affecting the state, other parts of the region and the nation at large.
Similarly, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, while condemning the abduction of the students, stated that the spate of insecurity in the country has “now beyond alarming’ and has gotten to crisis levels.
Atiku, in a statement entitled ‘Kagara Abduction: We Must Stop Rewarding Criminality Or It Will Increase” said it was now obvious that paying ransoms and allowing criminals profit from their criminalities is not a solution.
“The only long term solution to the insecurity challenge Nigeria is facing is to end the reign of impunity. The Federal Government must enforce the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria against abductions and kidnappings, by apprehending the criminals, trying them and making an example of those convicted, to serve as a deterrent to others.
“Also, we must be proactive. We cannot wait for these abductions to happen and then go into reactive mode.
“I therefore call on the Federal Government to declare all secondary and primary schools in the affected states and zones as federal protected zones, and post armed military personnel at all schools for 24/7 protection. If it is not feasible to have armed military guards in all schools, then each state in the should as a matter of urgency replicate the Civilian Joint Task Force idea, that has worked so well in Borno, and deploy them to each school, along with men of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps.
“What we must not do is do nothing. History may forgive us for making wrong decisions, but we will never be forgiven if we carry on business as usual. As a nation, we must be willing to provide the same level of security that we provide for the schools that the children of the elite attend, for schools that the children of other classes of Nigerians attend.”
Buhari summons Zamfara governor
President Muhammadu Buhari has summoned Governor of Zamfara State, Bello Mattawale for a briefing on the security situation in the state.
Mattawale confirmed this to State House Correspondents after a meeting with the president at the presidential villa, Abuja on Wednesday.
According to him, the strategy his administration has employed to check insecurity is working and urged other northern state governments to actively pursue the establishment of RUGA in their states to put an end to inter state movement of cattle.
While noting that herders move in search of pastures, he said his state has provided RUGA with necessary facilities for herders.
According to him, if other states do the same, the crises caused by Fulani movements will become a thing of the past.