Three months after four students and the Vice Principal of Lagos State Model College, Igbonla, Epe were kidnapped on their school assembly ground, Nigerians are once again on tenterhooks over the abduction, last Friday, of five students and three members of staff from the Nigerian Turkish International College (NTIC) in Isheri area of Ogun State.
The shocking incident followed an invasion of the school by gunmen who shot sporadically into the air as they rounded up their victims and escaped with them.
The kidnappers have demanded a ransom of N1.2 billion for the abducted persons but later reduced it to N750 million. The police, who claimed to know the location of the kidnappers, have invited the Nigerian Air Force for help to access their hideout.
We strongly condemn this dastardly incident and urge the police and all other security agencies to do everything that is required to rescue the abductees. We say no to the invasion of schools and the kidnapping of their students and workers. The attempt by kidnappers to make our schools unsafe with their nefarious activities is one that must be rejected and stopped with everything at the nation’s disposal. Education is critical to all nations and anything that endangers it or discourages students from going to school must be stopped.
Kidnapping in schools is not only a security issue, it is an attack on education which must not be tolerated in any country that cares about its children and future. The kidnap of over 200 girls from the Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, is yet to be resolved as over 200 of the girls are yet to be recovered, over 1000 days after they were abducted from their hostels in 2014 by the Boko Haram terrorist group. Three students of Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary School, Ikorodu, Lagos State, were also kidnapped in February last year, and later recovered. The abducted students and staff at the Lagos State Model College, Igbonla were also later recovered.
It is sad that the crime of kidnapping people for ransom, which began with the kidnapping of expatriate oil workers in the Niger Delta some years ago, has become a common occurrence in Nigeria. People are abducted at will in many parts of the country and schoolchildren are now victims.
One unnerving aspect of kidnapping is that it is, in criminal circles, considered a legitimate business from which abductors expect to make huge sums of money. Families of victims also negotiate with the kidnappers in a desperate bid to secure the release of their loved ones.
The solution to kidnapping in educational institutions, however, rests on the improvement of security on their premises. It has become necessary to conduct security audits of all schools with a view to addressing any lapses that are discovered. Security agencies should also be more alert to the security needs of schools, especially the ones at vulnerable locations.
We sympathise with the NTIC and the families of the abducted persons. All hands should be on deck in the efforts to recover the girls. Their safety and quick recovery must be prioritised by the security agencies and their kidnappers brought to justice, to send a strong message that such actions will be visited with severe sanctions.
We believe the time has also come to review our national laws on kidnapping with a view to ensuring that they are truly deterrent. Many states in the country have passed laws that stipulate capital punishment for kidnappers. They include Anambra, Edo, Imo and Lagos, which passed its own only recently. But, it is not enough to just pass these laws. It is important that they are implemented to the letter and seen to be implemented.
A situation in which kidnappers are arrested but not seen to be punished as provided for in our laws can only encourage more people to go into the crime. Although there is a global campaign against capital punishment and the argument has been made in some quarters that it has not been found to deter armed robbery, murder and some other serious crimes for which it is prescribed in Nigeria, our view is that this is so because the law is hardly ever implemented. Only last week, reports indicated that well over a thousand persons had been on death row in the country for many years because their state governors declined to sign their death warrants. This attitude of the governors makes a mockery of the provision for capital punishment for kidnapping in some states in the country.
We charge all the arms of our security agencies and the Ogun State Government to intensify their efforts to rescue the persons kidnapped at the Turkish International School. The agony of the victims and their families at this time is better imagined than experienced.
Henceforth, school administrators and the security agencies should be more proactive on the issue of security. Safeguarding schools against kidnappers is a responsibility that must not be trifled with.