School mass abduction: Kaduna hires private negotiator to free 287 pupils

9th March 2024

Negotiations for the release of no fewer than 287 abducted pupils and teachers of the Government Secondary School and LEA Primary School, Kuriga 1, in the Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State, have begun.

A highly placed source in the Kaduna State Government House, who is close to the negotiations but pleaded not to be identified because of security reasons, confided in Saturday PUNCH that the state government had reached out to the bandits through a private negotiator (names withheld) for the release of the pupils and their teachers.

The private negotiator is a highly influential negotiator who has been involved in negotiating several abductions with bandits in the past.

Bandits had stormed the LEA Primary School, Kuriga, around 8.30am on Thursday shortly after the assembly gathering and abducted the pupils and some staff members of the schools.

It was learnt that the secondary school was relocated to the primary school premises as a result of insecurity in the area.

Governor Uba Sani, who visited the school on Thursday, gave an assurance that the abducted pupils would be rescued unhurt.

Sani while addressing the community members said, “In my capacity as your elected governor, I am assuring you that by the grace of God, all the children will return unhurt.”

However, less than 48 hours after the abduction, which triggered national outrage, an official source said the government had reached out to the bandits for negotiations to release the 287 abducted pupils and the staff members of the school.

The source said, “The military has begun combing the forests in search of the children kidnapped by the bandits. Security agents have cordoned off the area and they have started searching for the abducted pupils.

“The government is doing all it can for the speedy release of the abducted school pupils.

“The government has established contact and reached out to the bandits for negotiation through a popular bandit negotiator. The negotiator was the one who worked for the return of some of the students abducted some years back.

“He (the negotiator) had negotiated the return of so many abductees in the past. He negotiated the return of those students abducted in Katsina State years back.”

Two other government officials confirmed the development to one of our correspondents but insisted on not being identified because of the sensitive nature of the issue.

They also refused to provide additional information as they insisted that doing so might frustrate the ongoing efforts to secure the victims’ release and put them in harm’s way.

One of them said, “You know this is a highly sensitive issue. I can’t give more information on the negotiations because of the security implications. We don’t want the bandits to harm the pupils and their teachers, and we don’t want to put the lives of the negotiator and the security operatives at risk.

“The only thing I can say is that the Kaduna State Government will do everything humanly possible to secure their release, just as the governor promised on Thursday when he visited the affected community.”

It was gathered that an emergency security meeting was convened by the governor on Friday but details of the discussions were not available to journalists.

The state Police Public Relations Officer, ASP Mansir Hassan, confirmed the security meeting and said details would be provided later.

The Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Alhaji Mohammed Shehu, did not take his calls and had yet to respond to a text message sent to him on the development as of the time of going to press.

Bandits kill worshippers

At least two worshippers were killed during Friday’s prayers at Anguwar Makera in the Kwasakwasa community, Birnin Gwari Local Government Area of the state.

The incident happened around 2pm on Friday, according to locals in the area.

A community leader, Hudu Kwasakwasa, who confirmed the incident, said the bandits opened fire on the worshipers.

He said the worshippers were in the second raka’at of the Salat prayer when they were attacked, forcing the remaining people to run for their lives.

He added that a few days ago, bandits abducted about nine persons from the Angwar Kanawa community.

Kwasakwasa appealed for help from the authorities concerned, adding that bandits were raiding the communities unchallenged.

The state government and the police command were yet to react to the mosque incident as the PPRO could not be reached on the telephone and had yet to reply to a text message sent to him seeking confirmation as of the time of filing this report.

 Parents seek rescue

When Saturday PUNCH established contact with one of the parents of the kidnapped pupils through a Joint Task Force operative, who availed one of our correspondents of the use of his mobile telephone, the traumatised father, who spoke in the Hausa language amid sobs, said, “I never knew I would be in this situation. I heard of things like this, but I never knew I would be a victim.

“What have I done to deserve this? Please I’m not myself. I should die.

“I pray for the governor to fulfil his promise of my son’s release along with the other innocent children, otherwise, we are finished.”

The JTF source informed Saturday PUNCH that the villagers saw over 100 bandits conveying the pupils on motorcycles.

This claim was also corroborated by a community leader, Alhaji Idris Abdurra’uf.

According to Abdurra’uf, a community leader from Birnin-Gwari, a neighbouring community to Kuriga, residents of the community are fleeing the area for fear that the bandits may return.

Abdurra’uf, who expressed concern over the latest incident, added that Kuriga was the same community where a school principal, Idris Abusufyan, was killed and his wife and two children abducted about three weeks ago and were still being held hostage by the bandits.

The incident happened around 2pm on Friday, according to locals in the area.

A community leader, Hudu Kwasakwasa, who confirmed the incident, said the bandits opened fire on the worshipers.

He said the worshippers were in the second raka’at of the Salat prayer when they were attacked, forcing the remaining people to run for their lives.

He added that a few days ago, bandits abducted about nine persons from the Angwar Kanawa community.

Kwasakwasa appealed for help from the authorities concerned, adding that bandits were raiding the communities unchallenged.

The state government and the police command were yet to react to the mosque incident as the PPRO could not be reached on the telephone and had yet to reply to a text message sent to him seeking confirmation as of the time of filing this report.

 Parents seek rescue

When Saturday PUNCH established contact with one of the parents of the kidnapped pupils through a Joint Task Force operative, who availed one of our correspondents of the use of his mobile telephone, the traumatised father, who spoke in the Hausa language amid sobs, said, “I never knew I would be in this situation. I heard of things like this, but I never knew I would be a victim.

“What have I done to deserve this? Please I’m not myself. I should die.

“I pray for the governor to fulfil his promise of my son’s release along with the other innocent children, otherwise, we are finished.”

The JTF source informed Saturday PUNCH that the villagers saw over 100 bandits conveying the pupils on motorcycles.

This claim was also corroborated by a community leader, Alhaji Idris Abdurra’uf.

According to Abdurra’uf, a community leader from Birnin-Gwari, a neighbouring community to Kuriga, residents of the community are fleeing the area for fear that the bandits may return.

Abdurra’uf, who expressed concern over the latest incident, added that Kuriga was the same community where a school principal, Idris Abusufyan, was killed and his wife and two children abducted about three weeks ago and were still being held hostage by the bandits.

“The secondary school was the first structure you would see on the road when you are coming from Kaduna before you enter Kuriga, but because of the proximity to Manini (six kilometres), the school was relocated to the main town of Kuriga where the primary school is also situated; that was why when the terrorists struck, they took away pupils of both the primary and the secondary schools.”

Abdurra’uf added, “As it is now, we’re yet to ascertain the number of the primary school pupils the terrorists abandoned on their way to Zamfara. Yesterday night (Thursday), some of the locals in Doka, which is also the root of the terrorists in Zamfara, said that they saw over 100 motorbikes carrying the kidnapped students.

“As of last night, we were told that some of the abandoned schoolchildren of Kuriga were evacuated to Birnin-Gwari, and after profiling, we’ll be able to know how many students were abandoned and they’ll be reunited with their parents.

“We gathered that 220 students from both the primary and secondary schools were abducted.

“The situation in that town was highly tense even before the kidnapping of the students. Most people have evacuated their families and they’ve become IDPS; some are in Birnin-Gwari and others are in nearby Igawa, which is also a town on the Kaduna highway, and Buruku close to the Kaduna International Airport, all in the Chikun Local Government Area.”

 ‘IDPs wandered off’

The abductors of the over 200 IDPs from the Ngala camp, Gamboru-Ngala Local Government Area of Borno State have not contacted the families of the abductees for ransom.

Immediately after the report of the abduction, the state government sent a fact-finding team led by the Director-General of the Borno State Emergency Management Agency, Dr Barkindo Saidu, to the Nigeria-Chad border town.

Saidu told newsmen in Maiduguri on Friday, “No abductor has up to this moment called for any ransom on the abductees.

“We don’t even believe that they were abducted. If they were abducted, the abductors would have by now called for ransom; but nobody has called anybody for any ransom yet.”

The DG argued that the IDPs probably lost their way back home from wherever they went in the bush, adding that some of them had already returned to the camp.

“Already, the IDPs, who could trace their way back home, are trickling back home. Even when I returned to Maiduguri from there yesterday (Thursday), I was called and told that two of the so-called abductees had found their way back to the camp,” he added.

The military refused to say anything other than the initial assurance by the spokesman for the 7 Division of the Nigerian Army, Lt. Col. Ajemusu Jingina, on Wednesday that troops, with the help of the air component of Operation Hadin Kai, had been despatched for search-and-rescue operation for the abductees.

 Lawmaker, others react

The Chairman, Chikun Local Government Area, Salasi Musa, said the communities that made up the council area were in prayers for the safe return of the pupils.

“We have nothing to say other than to pray for their safe return. The list of the kidnapped pupils is being compiled. So we cannot say anything specifically now about the number of the pupils abducted,” he said.

Meanwhile, Senator Lawal Usman, who represents the Kaduna Central Senatorial District in the National Assembly, condemned the kidnapping of the pupils.

The lawmaker said he was saddened by the incident and extended his deepest sympathy to all the parents and families of the victims.

According to him, it is time the security agencies take the battle to the enclave of the bandits terrorising the state.

Usman stated, “In the last few weeks, the Kaduna Central Senatorial Zone has witnessed the escalation of tension as result of terrorists’ attacks, killings and abduction in several communities in the Kajuru, Chikun, Birnin-Gwari, Giwa and Igabi local government councils.

“Today, I am saddened and in a state of rude shock over the abduction of pupils of the primary and secondary schools at Kuriga, Chikun Local Government Area, along the dreaded Birnin-Gwari-Kaduna highway.

“The spate of gruesome attacks and abductions in recent days has demoralised the citizens and further put them in a traumatic condition without any sign of relief.

“As a senator representing the area, I extend my deepest sympathy to all the parents and families of the pupils abducted at Kuriga and all those who lost their precious lives.

“Although our security forces are working assiduously to bring our children back safely, I urged the government at all levels and our security forces to be more proactive rather than reactive in dealing decisively with miscreants terrorising our communities.

“The spate of gruesome attacks and abductions in recent days has demoralised the citizens and further put them in a traumatic condition without any sign of relief.

“As a senator representing the area, I extend my deepest sympathy to all the parents and families of the pupils abducted at Kuriga and all those who lost their precious lives.

“Although our security forces are working assiduously to bring our children back safely, I urged the government at all levels and our security forces to be more proactive rather than reactive in dealing decisively with miscreants terrorising our communities.

“Despite all the efforts and successes recorded by the security forces to curtail attacks by terrorists, there is the need to take the fight to the doorstep of the terrorists.”

Recall that penultimate Thursday, bandits invaded Gonin-Gora in the troubled Chikun LGA, forcing the residents to barricade the Kaduna-Abuja Expressway in protest against the abduction of an unspecified number of people in the area.

Tinubu promises rescue

President Bola Tinubu has condemned what he described as “heinous incidents of abduction” involving vulnerable victims, internally displaced persons in Borno State, and students in Kaduna State.

The United Nations had condemned the abduction of over 200 persons from an IDP camp in the Ngala Local Government Area of Borno State.

In a statement on Wednesday, the UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria, Mohamed Fall, said the abductees, including women, boys and girls, were captured while fetching firewood.

Although the actual number of the IDPs abducted remains unknown, Fall said they might be over 200 persons.

He added that the terrorists released some older women and children below 10 years old.

Barely 24 hours later, terrorists kidnapped over 280 pupils and teachers of Government Secondary School and LEA primary school at Kuriga, Kaduna state, on Thursday.

Tinubu, who said he had been briefed on both incidents, assured Nigerians of ongoing rescue efforts.

In a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, the President said, “I have received a briefing from security chiefs on the two incidents, and I am confident that the victims will be rescued. Nothing else is acceptable to me and the waiting family members of these abducted citizens. Justice will be decisively administered.”

SOURCE:PUNCH

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