Although they have since been rescued from their abductors, the recent kidnap of three students of Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary (BMJS), Ikorodu, Lagos State, leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. It is important that the education and security authorities in the state and, indeed, the entire country, learn the necessary lessons from the dastardly incident to prevent a repeat.
The girls, identified as Timilehin Olosa, Tofunmi Popo Olaniyan and Deborah Akinayo, were abducted from their school on the night of February 29 by gunmen who stormed the classroom where they were reading. Happily though, the girls were rescued a week later at Imota, another community on the outskirts of Ikorodu.
This followed a massive rescue mission, spearheaded by the Lagos State government and the State Police Command under the leadership of Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni. The Special Intelligence Response Team (SIRT) deployed by the Nigeria Police headquarters, which combed the entire Ikorodu town in search of the missing girls, also played a critical role in their eventual rescue.
The abduction of these girls is about the first time that students would be kidnapped for ransom in this manner from a school in Lagos State. The incident understandably sent shock waves across the State and beyond. It re-echoed the terrifying abduction of over 200 schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno State, on April 14, 2014.
It is in this light that we commend the Lagos State government and the state’s Police Command for swiftly rescuing the girls and reuniting them with their families. This incident, however, brings into sharp focus the vulnerability of most schools in the country. Many of our educational institutions lack adequate security and are prone to attacks by criminals. One critical lesson from this incident, therefore, is the need to provide round-the-clock security in our schools, nationwide. The ordeal of the students could discourage parents from sending their children to school.
We urge the Police to continue to respond in like manner to incidents of this nature. More than ever before, this is the time for the police and other security agencies to beef up their intelligence network. It is heartwarming that the rescue of the schoolgirls was made possible by intelligence gathering which helped the police to identify and locate family members of the kidnappers. Through intelligence gathering, it was confirmed that the kidnappers were, indeed, residents of the community in which the school is located. The good use of this intelligence helped to resolve the case.
This incident has also highlighted the need to find a solution to the problem of kidnapping in the country. School owners should now be more mindful of security in their schools. Constant surveillance is key, as crimes such as kidnapping may not end any time soon. Let them conduct security audits of their institutions and come up with strategies to make them safer.
Let the National Assembly and state legislatures tighten the laws on kidnapping to provide for stiffer sanctions, possibly a death penalty, for perpetrators of the crime. In recent times, children have become targets of kidnappers. It is important that our anti-kidnapping laws are strengthened to provide for condign punishment that will be sufficiently deterrent to kidnappers.
We also urge the police to be more diligent in their duties and employ strategies based on the gathering and sharing of intelligence, as well seamless coordination of their operations.
It is sad to observe that Ikorodu has, of late, become a hideout for pipeline vandals and other criminals. This prompted the Lagos State governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, to recently read the Riot Act to hoodlums using the area as their operational base. It will be recalled that last year, a gang of robbers operating from Ikorodu, stormed a commercial bank, killing some people and carting away millions of naira. Some of them were later arrested and are now facing prosecution.
The kidnap of the three schoolgirls is a clarion call for more security in all our schools, and for school owners to sensitise their pupils to the need to be security conscious. Those who have been arrested in relation to this incident, and similar ones, should be prosecuted and severely punished, if found guilty. That will serve a useful lesson to other potential kidnappers in the country. A clear message should be sent to kidnappers in every part of Nigeria that they cannot hold the nation to ransom any longer.