Some of the 344 schoolboys kidnapped in Katsina State by suspected bandits and released on Thursday, six days later have recounted their experiences in the den of the kidnappers.
The pupils were kidnapped last Friday from the Government Science Secondary School in Kankara. Boko Haram had on Tuesday claimed responsibility for the kidnapping though some government officials had refuted the claim that the terrorist group was involved in the mass abduction.
Following their release, the pupils looked dirty and tired when they arrived in Katsina on Friday morning where they narrated their ordeals in the hands of the bandits.
They said shortly after their abduction, the abductors divided them into groups and marched them into a forest with thorny plants, where they slept in the cold.
The kidnapping raised concerns and anger about worsening insecurity and violence in the country.
The pupils said food was rationed for them and they were given cooked cassava and potatoes every other day. According to the victims, some of them who could not keep pace with the kidnappers and other victims in the bush were flogged. Those who spoke with Saturday PUNCH however said none of those in their groups died.
For instance, one of the pupils, Farouq Aminu, said, “Right now, I’m not feeling well and it is because of the terrible experience I had. The people (bandits) forced us to walk throughout. They flogged those who were not keeping up with others. We were fed Dankali (potatoes) and cassava and we were not fed every day. But some of us were able to get some fruits that we also ate. I did not hear that anybody died among us. I thank God for bringing me back home. After we were released, we were first taken to some areas in Zamfara State. We were taken to Tsafe (in Zamfara) and eventually brought to Katsina.”
According to another pupil, Abubakar Sodiq, the bandits exposed them to “every dehumanising condition.”
He said, “Our ordeals began from when we were abducted from our school. The bandits kept on shooting in the air to scare us and they warned us against making any attempt to escape. They gave us food when they felt like and gave us dirty water to drink. This made some of us to fall sick but they were able to recover without being attended to. As I’m talking to you, I’m not feeling well. I want to go home.”
A senior secondary school 1 pupil, who was also a victim, Yusuf Sulaiman, said he would not like to return to the school. “I thank God for bringing us back home. The bandits took advantage of the weak security in our school. I will advise my parents to help me seek transfer to another school. I did not see anyone who died but I can only speak for my group as they divided us into groups when they took us into the forest,” he said.
Another victim, Abdulmajid Umar, who noted that the location of the school exposed them to the attack, said, “The location of our school made us vulnerable. When the bandits came, the policemen could do little or nothing because the bandits were many and also because of their weapons. I thank God that we have been freed. I will not be surprised if many of us prefer to go to another school when schools resume.”
Boys with big guns ordered me to say they were B’Haram members in video –Kankara schoolboy
One of the freed schoolboys featured in a video purportedly released by Boko Haram on Thursday said he was ordered by the kidnappers to speak in the video.
“I don’t know who they were but they said I should say they were Boko Haram (members)—gang of Abu Shekau,” the pupil said at the Katsina State Government House on Friday, shortly after they were received by Governor Aminu Masari.
The abduction took place some hours after the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), arrived in Daura, Katsina for a week-long private visit.
A video purportedly released by Boko Haram had claimed that the terrorist group was responsible for the abduction.
But speaking on Friday after their release, the pupil, who said he was the teenager who featured in the video, said from “what I experienced, they (his captors), are not Boko Haram.”
The teenager, who spoke during a programme on Arise TV monitored by one of our correspondents, further said, “Sincerely speaking, the gang of armed robbers was very scared of what was happening from the jets. They assigned me to speak directly from the video to tell the government to stop sending the army and jets, if not they were going to kill us (sic).
“We suffered a lot physically; they beat us morning and night. They only gave us food once in a day and water twice in a day. Some of those who beat us are just tiny boys with big guns.”
The Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, had deployed a special strike force tagged “Operation Puff Adder ‘ in Katsina State late last year as part of efforts to improve security in the state.
Members of the special force were deployed to the nine front-line local government areas in the state. In the same vein, the Nigerian Army in May commenced Operation Sahel Sanity and its troops have been based in Faskari. The troops operate essentially in the state and in other states in the North-West and in other parts of the North, including Sokoto and Niger states.
Despite all the efforts, there is hardly any week that bandits do not unleash terror on communities in the region. The development has made many residents to relocate from rural communities, particularly in Katsina State to its capital city, Katsina.
One of the parents of the victims, Mallam Aminu Dayyabu, an employee of a local government in the state, described the most traumatic period in his life as the time his 12-year-old son spent with the bandits.
Dayyabu said the psychological horror of waiting endlessly for his missing child affected his family during the period, while harbouring fears that the experience could have a lasting negative impact on his son’s mental health.
After the pupils were released, Dayyabu said, “Let me first show gratitude to Almighty Allah for the safe return of Farouq and his colleagues. I’m also grateful to the state government as well as the Federal Government. It was a terrible experience for me and my entire household throughout the period that Farouq was away. My neighbours also assisted us with prayers.
“Since last Friday when the pupils were abducted, I have been going to the school, hoping to hear that my son and the other pupils had been found.
“I’m very happy that they were released but I will appeal to the governor to beef up security in the school and in the entire community.”
In the same vein, Hajiya Murjanatu Danja, whose son, Hussaina Nasiru, was also among the freed students, said she was grateful to God and the government for ensuring their release. She, however, reserved further comments until when she would have the opportunity to see her son.
She said, “I’m happy because the pupils were released. I thank God and will ever remain grateful to Him for bringing Hussaina back safely. But let me see him first, then I will talk more. I thank the state government for the rescue of the boys. The experience has been traumatic for me and my family.”
Hajiya Binta Muhammad, who said her son was among those rescued, also showed gratitude to both the state and federal governments over the development.
She said, “I understand the medical team has begun to attend to them and we need to wait a little bit before meeting them. But I thank God for their return. As a mother, I knew what I passed through when the boys were with the bandits. It was hell.”
Put your experience behind you – Buhari tells freed pupils
The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), on Friday evening met with the freed pupils in Katsina, urging them to put the experience behind them and focus on their studies.
Buhari said, “You’re lucky. Your school focuses on the sciences, and sciences are part of modernisation, which allows you to secure good jobs.
“The future is not for those that read English language or History, but for those that read the sciences. I hope you will forget what happened to you and focus on your education instead.”
The President noted that he was once in a boarding school like them and pointed out that education got him to the position he currently occupies.
He told them that some of his relations who didn’t acquire formal education were already paying the price for it as their animals and land had become less productive unlike before.
He, however, called on security agencies to weed out bad eggs in the society, and to remember they would give account of their actions to God.
I’m extremely worried, security agencies not doing enough – Buhari
Shortly before addressing the pupils, the President pledged not to betray the trust reposed in him by Nigerians. He said a lot must be done to improve security, adding that his government was aware of its responsibility to secure lives, The Cable reported.
“It is our responsibility to secure this country for all the citizens to do their businesses without any problem. We haven’t achieved that yet, but we will keep on trying
“I’ll continue to be loyal to this country. I have asked for this mandate; I got it; I must avoid any excuse for failing to perform.
“On the issue of insecurity, I’m extremely worried about it, and I hope next year it will be different. Those among the law enforcement agencies that would remain in charge would be extremely busy.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us and some of these things we may not say because I don’t want to compromise the security and efforts being put in place by the law enforcement agencies.
“But really, we are accurately aware of our responsibilities. Our responsibility is to secure the country – so we have a lot of work to do.
“Armed forces know their job. I meet them, we have security meetings from time to time, they must be very clear about my instructions, and their effort is not good enough for me.”
The President, who had been in Daura since last Wednesday, returned to Abuja after the meeting.
Earlier in his address, Governor Aminu Masari had told the President about the traumatic experience the students had in the hands of their abductors.
He said, “These students returned barefooted. None of them wore any slippers or sandals while they were being brought here.”
Masari however thanked God, Buhari and security agencies for their efforts in getting the pupils back safely.
The governor said the pupils would be taken to a secure facility, where they would bathe and change their clothes, and thereafter given medical attention. He added that the names of all the affected pupils would be documented, and that parents, guardians and the school management would be involved in identifying them before being reunited with their loved ones.
Masari said no ransom was paid before the pupils were set free, adding that security would be improved in schools across the state. He added that the release of the students was facilitated by the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, which engaged in talks with the bandits.
The pupils were brought to the governor by the Commandant, 17th Brigade, Nigerian Army, Katsina, Brigadier General Wakili Idris.
Meanwhile, the debriefing of the pupils is expected to begin on Saturday (today).
Buhari didn’t visit Kankara but coordinated rescue efforts, says Mohammed
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, on Friday said although Buhari did not visit Kankara, where the pupils were abducted, he coordinated rescue efforts from his hometown, Daura.
The minister also gave an indication that the country might have received foreign support in the efforts that led to the release of the students on Friday.
Mohammed spoke at a press conference in Abuja.
Asked why the President failed to visit Kankara despite that he was in the state as of the time of the abduction, the minister said, “Yes, the President did not visit the town but he was busy coordinating the entire operation to ensure the safe return of the students within the fastest time possible.”
Also responding to a question on whether the country received foreign help in securing the release of the pupils, Mohammed said, “As to whether there was any foreign collaboration, don’t forget that I said earlier that we thank all patriotic Nigerians and all friends of Nigeria.”
The minister also said the pupils were abducted by bandits and not Boko Haram sect as claimed by Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, in a video that was released on Thursday. He said the sect leader was only trying to seek relevance by claiming responsibility.
Mohammed also insisted that the government did not pay for the release of the students.
“Money did not exchange hands. Negotiation does not necessarily mean money must be involved. They were released unconditionally,” he said.
We rescued Kankara schoolboys, DHQ claims
The Defence Headquarters has claimed that troops rescued the over 300 pupils.
The DHQ spokesman, Maj. Gen. John Enenche, in a statement on Friday, said the military kept its promise to ensure the rescue of the hostages.
Enenche’s claims, however, contradicted the statement by Katsina State Governor, Masari, that the pupils were released following negotiations with the bandits by the leadership of MACBAN.
The DHQ in its statement on Friday, titled, ‘Troops of Operation Hadarin Daji rescue abducted students of Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina,’ said, “Keeping to its promise to ensure the safe return of all abducted students of Government Science Secondary School Kankara, Katsina State, troops of Operation Hadarin Daji rescued all 344 abducted students on Thursday 17 December 2020.
“The students were rescued on the heels of credible intelligence by our gallant troops, with high degree of professionalism to ensure they were all rescued alive.”
Our air presence denied abductors freedom of action – NAF
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Air Force said it provided persistent air presence to ensure the safety of the pupils. NAF highlighted its roles in a series of tweets on Friday.
NAF said its air presence also denied the abductors freedom of action.
NAF tweeted, “344 boys abducted from GSSS Kankara, Katsina State on 11 December 2020 were safely returned to the Katsina State Government House this morning, escorted by a combined team of personnel from various security agencies with air cover provided by @NigAirForce.
“From the time of the incident, @NigAirForce deployed additional ISR and other air assets to provide persistent surveillance over areas of interest in Katsina and Zamfara states, whilst maintaining offensive air presence to deny the abductors freedom of action.
“Medical personnel were also part of the Team that provided immediate medical care to the boys after their release from the forest. Additional @NigAirForce Special Forces personnel were equally deployed to provide support.”
Afenifere mocks Buhari, says Nigeria finished
The Pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, on Friday mocked Buhari for the abduction of the pupils and the general level of insecurity in the country.
The organisation said from the happenings in Nigeria, it was obvious that everything had collapsed.
The National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, raised these concerns in a statement entitled: ‘Kankara Boys: Now Nigeria is finished!’, obtained Journalist in Abuja on Friday.
He said, “This time round, those who celebrated Chibok to the hilt in 2014 are now in power and fumbled like amateur comedians in a big revelation that what is called terror in Nigeria is most likely a big scam being played at our expense.
“At a point, presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, who on different occasions had given impressions that he had never been too far from the key room of Boko Haram, told what he regarded as a silly nation that only 10 boys were kidnapped as against 344 figure given by Governor Aminu Bello Masari. A more accurate figure would have been given by this administration if their precious cows were the ones rustled.
“The height of stupidity in governance was when it officially came out that another terror group called Miyetti Allah was the front for negotiation, confirming our suspicion that this government rolls with all that troubles this country.”
Afenifere further said the “Army who went after peaceful protesters in Lekki and killed mercilessly would not go after these Fulani terrorists.”
Buhari’s spokesperson mocked victims of crime —Falana Group
Meanwhile, a group, Alliance for the Survival of COVID-19 and Beyond, on Friday, said the Federal Government, through its utterances worsened the prospect of an early release for the kidnapped pupils.
ASCAB described the release of the pupils as a welcome development but cautioned against government spokespersons feeding Nigerians with fake news.
A statement signed by the coalition’s Chairman, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), said Buhari’s spokesperson, Garba Shehu, appeared to “relish in harvesting political capital out of the misery of the kidnapped students.”
ASCAB said statements from the spokesperson focuses more on defending the image of the government, rather than sharing the grief of victims, their troubled relatives and restoring hope in a despairing population.
“The release of the students has exposed the hypocrisy of the Presidency and its penchant for spreading fake news. Even in the face of figures given by Governor Aminu Masari, the Katsina State Governor, Garba, for instance, kept quoting numbers far less than the well-known facts. He started by saying escaped students claimed 10 students were in the kidnappers’ den. But the official figures from the Katsina State government which should know better put the figure at no fewer than 333 students,” the group said
Buhari’s aide apologises for claiming ‘only 10 pupils’ abducted
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, however, apologised on Friday for his earlier comment that “only 10 students” were in the custody of their abductors.
In a message posted on his Twitter handle, @GarShehu, and his Facebook page on Friday, the presidential aide said he had since discovered his figure to be wrong.
He said he was misled by some people who he said were expected to be conversant with the issue.
Shehu said he did not give the figure with the aim of deliberately downplaying the issue as of the time he did so.
UNICEF welcomes release, seeks protection for pupils, schools
The United Nations Children’s Fund on Friday welcomed the release of the pupils, saying “schools must be safe places to study and develop, and learning cannot become a perilous endeavour.”
UNICEF Country Representative in Nigeria, Peter Hawkins, spoke in a statement.
Pupils’ freedom’ll allay fears – NUT
The Nigeria Union of Teachers, on Friday, expressed delight, following the release of the pupils, saying it would allay the fears regarding safety within the school system.
The Press and Public Relations Officer of NUT, Emmanuel Hwande, in a statement, expressed hope that the government would, henceforth, provide adequate security and protection to all schools nationwide.
“It is our sincere hope that the government would, henceforth, provide adequate security and protection in and a round all schools across the country, as well as implement hazard allowance and life insurance for teachers,” the statement credited to the NUT National President, Dr. Nasir Idris, said.
Masari laid foundation for kidnapping in error – Ex-DSS director
A former Director of the Department of State Services, Mike Ejiofor, has knocked Masari, and his Zamfara State counterpart, Bello Matawalle, for laying the foundation for kidnapping in error, by negotiating with bandits.
“The state governments – both Zamfara and Katsina states –mistakenly laid the foundation for what is going on now; they started negotiation with the bandits who were not even ready to give up on their activities and this is what we are witnessing now.
“Even after this Kankara incident, the governor came out to say they were negotiating; that is unacceptable. And you give these people the boldness and courage to continue to perpetrate this act,” Ejiofor said on Friday morning.
Ejiofor added that best practices all over the world were not to negotiate with bandits but to strengthen the security apparatus and crush the criminals.
Name governor encouraging insecurity, Tambuwal tells APC
Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal of Sokoto State has challenged the All Progressives Congress to name the North-West governor allegedly encouraging insecurity.
He stated this in his reaction to a statement by the APC acting National Publicity Secretary, Mr Yekini Nabena, titled ‘One North-West Governor Behind Banditry, Killings.’
Nabena, in the statement widely circulated in the media, had challenged “security agencies to investigate an intelligence report linking an unnamed governor to the increasing wave of banditry, abductions and other violent crimes in the zone.
But Tambuwal said, “Playing blame games is not a panacea to the security problem at hand. None of us should play politics with security matters. We should also not play politics with the lives of those we swore to protect. Instead, all hands must be on deck to ensure the collective security of the North and the country in general.
“For this reason, the onus of proof of his allegation rests on Mr Nabena. He should name the governor he is alluding to as the sponsor of banditry and sundry crimes in the North-West and provide evidence that he (the governor) is involved in all of that which he alleged.
“Otherwise, the security agencies in the country should invite Mr Nabena to provide evidence of his allegation, assist them in investigating the matter and make sure that justice is done.”