Influential Islamic cleric, Sheikh Abubakar Gumi, said on Saturday that the kidnapped Kagara schoolchildren might be released today.
Bandits, donning military uniform, had around 2am on Wednesday invaded Government Science College, Kagara, Niger State and whisked away 27 pupils and 15 staff members after killing a Senior Secondary School 3 pupil..
The incident has created nationwide agitation and worries over the safety of the kidnapped pupils and school staff members, who were whisked away into the bush by the bandits.
In an interview on Saturday, Gumi, who has been in talks with the bandits in the forest, told Sunday PUNCH that there was a possibility that the abductees might regain freedom today, given ongoing talks between the government and the bandits.
The cleric, who recently held a parley with some bandits in Zamfara State forests and consequently called for amnesty for bandits, told one of our correspondents that the negotiation for the release of the schoolchildren and members of staff was slowed down due to logistics.
According to Gumi, the negotiation does not involve payment of ransom.
Speaking on the phone with one of our correspondents on Saturday, Gumi said, “What I hear from (our contact) is that they are still negotiating to release them (schoolchildren and staff members) and hopefully, hopefully, we will get them tomorrow (Sunday), hopefully.
“Up till now, they have not been able to identify the boys, who (did the kidnapping). You know they are splinter groups. So, when you are dealing with groups like that in a vast area, with no communication, no road, then it has to be slow. But the main actors are ready to negotiate and stop the kidnapping altogether.”
Asked if the negotiation involved money, Gumi said, “No, no; it does not. If it involves money, it means the same criminality. They are saying these are our conditions and we will stop this thing. So, negotiation is ongoing and their demands are being looked into, which are very simple.”
According to Gumi, the bandits are mainly asking the state to release their comrades in the custody of security agencies.
He explained, “They have just four people in detention and they are asking for them. They also need assurance and that is why we are calling for amnesty for them. They have been fighting for a long time; it’s been more than eight years.
“These people are fighting for their existence because when they go to town they are lynched, when the police see them on the road, they arrest them; sometimes they are executed extrajudicially, so they took arms against the state. When you give them amnesty, all of them will drop their weapons.”
But four days into the abduction, bandits have continued to run riot on communities in the state, Kaduna and Katsina states.
Many people were reportedly killed and several others abducted when bandits invaded the Gurmana community in the Shiroro Local Government Area of Niger State on Saturday.
The gunmen also unleashed terror on communities in the Kajuru Local Government Area of Kaduna, killing three and injuring one person while 14 persons in Katsina, including Galadiman Kunduru, a 91-year-old monarch, identified simply as Alhaji Ibrahim, were abducted in separate banditry attacks.
In Kajuru, one local was reportedly lynched by youths for allegedly collaborating with the bandits to wreak havoc on communities.
The state’s Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, Mr Samuel Aruwan, who confirmed the incidents on Saturday, said the bandits first attacked Ungwan Sha’awa and killed one Dogo Ubangida in his residence.
Aruwan said Dogo’s son, Jude Ubangida, was injured by the assailants who also invaded Ungwan Galadima and Ugwan Gamau, murdering one Bulus Gwamna and Daniel Danlami respectively.
He stated, “Security agencies are investigating alleged collaboration with bandits by some locals during recent disturbing attacks in the Kajuru Local Government Area. Preliminary investigations suggested that the bandits conducted these attacks with the aid of some local youths.
“As security agencies probed into the attacks, one suspect known simply as Doctor from Kujeni village was swiftly attacked and killed by youths in revenge. Just before his death, he confessed his involvement in the attack and named a certain Fidelis Ali as another accomplice of the bandits. Ali has since been arrested and taken into custody by the police.”
The commissioner said the state governor, Nasir El-Rufai, sympathised with the bereaved families and expressed deep concerns over the alleged involvement of some locals in the dastardly acts.
He added, “The governor appealed to citizens to allow investigations proceed and not usurp the process, reminding them that jungle justice is a grievous form of self-help and remains a crime. Security agencies have thus been directed to identify the perpetrators of the lynching for prosecution.”
The wave of the banditry attack also hit Kunduru town in Katsina State on Friday night when the rampaging gunmen abducted the village head, Alhaji Ibrahim.
It was learnt that the 91-year-old monarch was whisked away on one of the motorcycles they rode to the community.
One of his children, who spoke to one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity, confirmed the incident, adding that the case had been reported to the police.
It was gathered that the nonagenarian was battling health challenges before his abduction.
Sources said the abductors had not contacted the family.
When contacted, the spokesperson for the Katsina Police Command, SP Gambo Isah, said he was not aware of the incident.
Isah however confirmed the kidnapping of 13 persons, comprising 12 women and a driver, in the Faskari Local Government Area of the state.
He explained that the victims were travelling to Funtua from Mai Gora to administer a family support programme loan facility provided by a bank.
The police spokesperson said three of the victims escaped from the bandits, adding that the police were making efforts to ensure that the remaining 10 hostages were rescued alive.
Isah said, “What happened was that 13 women from Mai Gora were travelling to Funtua for a family support loan facility from a bank. Somewhere, before Dan Rimi village, these bandits came from the bush and shot at the tyres of the vehicle they were travelling in, forcing the driver to stop.
“Three women escaped while the remaining nine and the driver were abducted. The incident happened around 10 am on Wednesday.”
In the invasion of the Gurmana community in Niger State on Saturday, many people were feared killed and several others abducted.
A source in the neighbourhood confirmed to Sunday PUNCH that people scampered to safety during the attack with an unspecified number of people drowning in a river.
“The bandits were shooting indiscriminately. The attack has resulted in many casualties but I don’t know the actual number at the moment,” the source told Sunday PUNCH.
Niger govt abandoned us, kidnapped victims’ fathers cry out
Meanwhile, the fathers of some of the abducted pupils have berated the Niger State Government, saying it has yet to meet with the victims’ relatives.
In separate interviews with Sunday PUNCH, some of the kidnapped pupils’ parents stated that the only contact made by the state government was on the pages of newspapers and social media.
One father, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “Up till this minute, the kidnappers have not contacted us, neither has the state government reached out to us officially. All we hear is on social media and pages of newspapers.
“The state government has not addressed us; nothing has been said. All we hear is the assurance made on the pages of newspapers. We get to know what is happening on social media at times, though we have been reaching out to the school to know the progress being made. The bottom line is that they are still in captivity.
“Nobody has reached out to us. They (the kidnappers) have not demanded any ransom. This experience is better imagined because I would have preferred 100 times for me to see the corpse of my child. I would rather know that my son is dead, see the corpse and honourably bury my child than go through this trauma.”
He lamented the psychological trauma of not knowing how his child was doing, describing it as painful.
“We know death is inevitable, but this situation is something else because you don’t know how the child is faring. I don’t know how people can be without pity, sympathy or piousness as to just pick someone you love, without human dignity,” he said.
Another father, Alhaji Adamu of Gbako Local Government Area, berated the state government over its handling of the abduction, saying a serious government would have reached out to the family.
He maintained that government should be blamed for the abduction.
Adamu said, “I can’t imagine my two sons sleeping with unknown gunmen inside the thick forest for this long under the harsh weather. This is too unfair of the government.
“Imagine having two sons in a kidnappers’ den. We were expecting the governor’s invitation to brief us, but we only saw him fly into the place of the abduction and Abuja by chopper. He has not for once briefed us.”
A father of an SSS2 pupil, who escaped as the bandits led the victims to the bush, recounted his son’s ordeal at the hands of the kidnappers.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said his son escaped at the point of the victims’ headcount as they were being paraded.
He said, “He has been in the hospital because the kidnappers shot at him but the bullet did not penetrate. He sustained several injuries and ever since he came back, he has been complaining of dizziness and tiredness. While they were chasing him, he was falling on rocks and big stones.”
According to him, around 2am, the pupils heard a noise and started running out of their hostels. The father explained that by the time the pupils got out, the bandits had surrounded the entire school, so they led them out to the bush.
He added, “It was there that my child burst out, while they were parading them to count them. That was when my child was able to escape and they started chasing him. He told me they followed him but later returned. He slept in the thick forest for five hours. It was in the morning that he came back to the school compound.
“As a father, I was very disturbed when I heard about the incident. I did not believe he had escaped until I heard his voice and saw him. Initially, I was told he had not been seen, but once they saw him, I heaved a sigh of relief and immediately arranged for his transport back home.”
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