The Government Science College, Kagara, Niger State students, staff and their relations who were abducted by gunmen 11 days ago emerged from captivity early yesterday with tales of torture and humiliation.
But they are happy they are alive to tell the stories, although one of the students had to be rushed to the hospital for what Governor Abubakar Sani Bello called excessive exhaustion.
Thirty-eight people were freed.
President Muhammadu Buhari expressed joy at their release but asked school owners to scale up security around their institutions to forestall further security breaches.
But it appears the gunmen that are terrorising Kagara are not yet done with the community, following a fresh attack yesterday.
Four residents were killed while 25 others were seized and taken away.
The Government Science College, Kagara abductees were let go as soon as the state government concluded negotiation with the bandits at 1am yesterday.
The abductees then began an eight-hour long trek to get out of their captors’ den.
Government officials who had been deployed to convey them to Minna then began tracking them before picking them up for the journey to the state capital.
They were driven straight to the Government House where the governor personally received them.
He said they went through tremendous torture at the hands of their abductors.
Consequently, they will undergo series of medical checks before reuniting with their families.
“All the rescued victims are here with us. However, one of them is in the hospital for excessive exhaustion. Thank God they are back here with us peacefully,” the governor said.
“We thank God they are back here with us peacefully, they have been medically checked and the medical team will monitor them for a few more days.
“They have been able to give a feel of what they went through and it is very unfortunate. They have been through tremendous torture from their captors. We are carefully watching their health and conditions and they will soon go back home with their families.”
He said that the children would be taken due care of and would soon be released to their families after adequate medical care.
The Governor further said that no ransom was paid for the release of the abductees.
“There was no ransom. However, it involved a lot of logistics because we involved so many groups like the security agencies, our local vigilante, local traditional rulers and other stakeholders.
“It was a very difficult task and very demanding, but at the end of the day, we are happy it yielded result.”
Government, according to him, is “putting in place a system to look at the causes of these events.”
Recounting their ordeal, the students said they were made to walk long distances and were served only beans all through their days in captivity.
Some were overcome by emotions and broke down in tears.
One of the victims, Abubakar Sidi, an SS3 student, said the bandits routinely punished them and gave them only beans to eat.
Water was so scarce that they drank only once a day.
“They punished us in whatever way they liked,” he said.
“They gave us beans to eat. The water was not much. Sometimes in a day, we drank water only once.
“Ha! It was not easy. The beating was something else.”
Another SS3 student, Suleiman Lawal, said he had never been so maltreated as did the bandits.
“We suffered very well. I had never faced this kind of situation in my life. We walked for a long distance. It wasn’t easy for us at all,” he said.
He was not sure he would return to the school.
“I don’t think I will like to go back to that school again,” he said.
Mahmood Mohammed, an SS 2 pupil, said they were beaten daily by their abductors for no reason.
He said the gunmen would just descend on them and start kicking and marching on them.
He said some of the victims fell ill in the bush but the bandits did not give a damn about their health.
He said: “I saw hell. It was not easy. I was not sure I would survive or see my people again.
“I had headache, and when I complained to them, they said that I was on my own.
“Now I feel pains all over my body because of the beating and kicking they gave me. My body is not feeling well.”
Musa Adamu was happy at the great concern shown by the government about their safe return.
He said: “I am very happy because God has given me the opportunity to be reunited with my loved ones.
“We are happy to see all the government officials who came out in their numbers to welcome us. This has shown to us the level of concern they have towards us while we were in the wilderness.
“My decision of going back to the school is in the hands of my parents, as well as the level of concern the government might show towards the security of the school.”
Saratu Isah could only say “I feel bad. It was not easy at all”, then she started sobbing.
To Lawal Bello, an SS3 student, their abduction looked like a dream.
“Everything was like a dream. It was as if I was dreaming and I just woke up,” he said.
“We suffered. We suffered. They served us beans throughout.”
Some of the parents told The Nation that they would not allow their children to return to Government Science College, Kagara or any other boarding school in the state.
Elizabeth Jonathan, whose son, Collins Vincent, was one of the abductees, said her child would now attend a school where she can see him every day.
She said she had not been able to speak to her child since the release of the abductees, as the parents were not allowed to go close to them.
She said:”I will not allow my child to go back to the school again and I will not allow him to go to another boarding school. He will be with me, going to a day school and I will be seeing him every day.”
A guardian, Abdulmalik Mohammed, said he had spoken to his ward and that what he related to him about his experience in the bandits’ den was terrible.
“I cannot imagine my brother’s son trekking that long distance that he told me. He said his legs are paining him. It hasn’t been easy for him. We thank God they are back. We appreciate the federal and state governments for seeing to the release of the children,” he said.
Another parent, John Paiko, said he would not allow his son, Emmanuel, to return to the school or any boarding school.
The Secretary to the State Government, Alhaji Ahmed Ibrahim Matene said government would give the released abductees a lot of counseling.
Speaking about his experience in creating a platform of dialogue with the bandits, Matane said it took a lot of courage to go inside the bush and speak to them.
“We were there to negotiate with the bandits, but it took a lot of courage to actually get there. And when we got there, it was a matter of life and death.
“Anything could have happened, but God in his infinite mercies knew why we were there.
“We were there to establish a platform for dialogue and, believe me, the result is what we are seeing now.”
During the early morning raid on February 17, one of the students, Benjamin Habila, was killed while trying to escape from the bandits.
Four shot dead as bandits return to Kagara
However, gunmen returned to Kagara community yesterday, shooting sporadically in their latest raid on the town.
Four residents were killed and 25 others seized and taken away.
The gunmen also reportedly rustled some cows in the area.
Scale up security around schools, Buhari tells owners
President Muhammadu Buhari welcomed the release of the abductees but charged school owners, including state and local governments, to scale up security around their institutions.
The President, in a statement through his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity Mallam, Garba Shehu, said his call for tighter security around schools was in line with the standards laid down by the UN-backed Safe School Programme of the administration.
The President commended the nation’s security and intelligence agencies and the government of Niger State for their responses in securing the release.
“We are happy they have been released,” said President Buhari, who also greatly sympathised with the staff and the students, their parents and friends on this ordeal.
He, however, warned that the country would not continue to suffer these attacks that threaten the growth of education, the security and life of the future leaders and at the same time putting the nation in a negative light.
He condemned the school abductions, with the latest one at the Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe in Zamfara State, and directed all security and intelligence agencies in the country to hunt down the culprits and bring them to justice.