Outrage, Protests As Military, Police Helicopters Search For 317 Zamfara Schoolgirls

Why Buhari hasn’t used force against bandits –President’s aide

The Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, has dispatched two helicopters and operatives for the rescue of about 317 abducted schoolgirls in Jangebe, Zamfara State.

The IG also disclosed that the military, police and the Department of State Services operatives have commenced a coordinated search towards the rescue of the schoolgirls.

Suspected bandits in Hilux vehicles and a number of motorcycles had, on Friday, kidnapped over 300 students of Government Secondary School, Jangebe in the Talatar Mafara Local Government Area of Zamfara.

A statement by the force spokesman, Frank Mba, titled, ‘Police commence coordinated search and rescue operation for abducted Zamfara schoolgirls,’ said the deployment was in addition to the personnel of Operation Puff Adder II earlier drafted to Zamfara State to support efforts by the command to combat banditry, kidnappings and other related crimes.

Mba said the rescue operation, “involves the deployment of both ground and aerial assets, aimed at locating and rescuing the students of the Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe, Zamfara State abducted in the early hours of Friday, February 26, 2021.”

“To ensure the success of the ongoing operation, the Inspector-General of Police, M.A. Adamu, has ordered the immediate deployment of two operational surveillance helicopters in Zamfara State,” the statement added.

While condemning the incident, the IG gave the assurance that “the police and other security forces will not relent until the abducted pupils are successfully rescued and reunited with their families.”

Bandits have been on the rampage in the northern part of Nigeria, kidnapping for ransoms, killing, pillaging and displacing many from their homes.

Only last Wednesday, bandits invaded the Government Science School, Kagara in the Rafi Local Government Area of Niger State, whisking away 42 schoolchildren and officials.

The Jangebe abduction of 317 schoolgirls happened in Zamfara when efforts to rescue the Niger schoolchildren had not yielded a positive result.

In December last year, more than 300 schoolboys were kidnapped by bandits from a school in Kankara, Katsina, the home state of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.).

The abduction took place while the President was in the state on a visit. The schoolboys were released following a negotiation with the bandits.

Zamfara, Kano shut boarding schools

Following the abduction of 317 Jangebe schoolgirls on Friday, the Zamfara State Government, as well as the Kano State Government, announced the closure of boarding schools in their states.

Briefing newsmen at the state Government House in Gusau, Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State said boarding schools would remain closed till the security situation in the state improves.

“We have no alternative but to close down all boarding schools so as to douse the fear being entertained by parents and guardians due to the recent abduction of the schoolgirls in Jangebe,” the governor said.

“We are, however, doing everything possible to rescue the children and reunite them with their families,” he added.

Also, the Kano State Government said in order to avert the Zamfara experience, it was shutting down 10 boarding schools located on the outskirts of the city.

The Kano State Commissioner for Education, Muhammad Kiru, who made the announcement, listed some of the affected schools to include, Maitama Sule Science College Gaya; Girls Secondary School Kachacko; GSS Ajingi, Sumaila, Albasu and Kafin Maiyaki,GGSS, Jogana, Gezawa and Kunci.

The commissioner said the closure of the schools was with immediate effect and advised parents to rush to the school premises to evacuate their children.

Schoolgirls’ abductors yet to contact us – Zamfara commissioner

Meanwhile, Commissioner for Information in Zamfara State, Suleiman Anka, told Saturday PUNCH on Friday night that the state “is worried that up till now, we have no clue on where the girls were taken to.”

Anka said, “Up till now, we do not know the whereabouts of our schoolgirls. We are sad and heartbroken. We do not know their conditions. That is seriously affecting us.

“We actually do not know the group of the bandits that was responsible for the abduction. They have yet to contact us to either inform us or make any demands.

“However, the security agents are combing the forests, searching for the whereabouts of the schoolgirls with the hope of rescuing them. We want them back in peace. That is our prayer.”

Bandits disguised as security agents – school staff

A staff member of the Government Secondary School, Jangebe, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Saturday PUNCH that the bandits arrived in the school around 1 am on Friday, disguised as security agents.

The staff member said the bandits broke into the hostels and forced the schoolgirls onto the Hilux vehicles and motorcycles they came with.

“When they came into the school, we thought they were security personnel but to our utmost dismay, they started putting the girls into Hilux vehicles and motorcycles then drove out of the school,” the staff said, adding that the operation lasted several hours with no security agents on hand to challenge the bandits.

I nearly fainted, says parent of abducted schoolgirl

A parent of one of the abducted schoolgirls, who gave his name as Mallam Lawal Jangebe, told one of our correspondents that “I nearly fainted when I heard about the abduction of the students, including my daughter.”

Angry Zamfara residents protest schoolgirls’ abduction

Following the news of the mass abduction of the schoolgirls, scores of aggrieved residents of Jangebe took to the streets, destroying vehicles and other things with stones and sticks, in protest against the incident.

The angry mob attacked two vehicles conveying journalists from various media houses, while the cameraman of Thunder Blowers was seriously wounded on his forehead and was rushed to Gusau, the state capital, for treatment.

Our correspondent in Zamfara reported that the Commissioner of Police in the state, Mr Abutu Yaro, and the Commissioner for Security and Home Affairs, Alhaji Abubakar Dauran, appealed to the angry residents for calm.

Northern youths accuse military of complicity

But the Northern Youths Movement has accused the military of complicity in the Jangebe’s schoolgirls’ abduction.

In a statement on Friday by its Chairman, Mallam Ishaya Jato, the NYM said it was surprising that the bandits operated unchallenged while there was a military checkpoint less than 100 metres from the school.

The northern youths demanded the removal of the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno.

According to them, it was becoming obvious that the military authority did not want banditry in the North-West and Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East to end because of the benefits being allegedly derived by them.

The NYM said, “It is on record that at about 11 pm on Thursday, soldiers stormed Jangebe, ordering all the residents to return to their houses immediately. These same soldiers, who stormed the town, were nowhere to be found when the bandits invaded the town at about 1am, two hours after the military men came.

“Also, there is a military checkpoint located not more than 100 metres from the school. The questions are: where were the soldiers who stormed Jangebe at about 11pm on Thursday when the bandits invaded the town two hours later? Why was it that there was no response from the soldiers stationed less than 100 metres to the school? For what reason did the soldiers order residents of Jangede to return to their houses at about 11pm? Were they aware of the bandits’ invasion? Why was it that it was a distance of 400 metres from the school that a police officer, Sgt Hamza Sulaiman, was killed?”

Senate President condemns abduction

The Jangebe schoolgirls’ abduction has attracted widespread condemnation.

‌The President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, in a statement by his media aide, Ola Awoniyi, said it was sad and outrageous that the Jangebe students were abducted while efforts were still being made to rescue the Kagara schoolchildren from bandits.

Lawan also expressed his sympathy for the abducted schoolgirls and urged the authorities at all levels to work together to ensure their immediate rescue.

Zamfara senators beg bandits to free schoolgirls

Similarly, senators from Zamfara State on Friday condemned the abduction of the 317 schoolgirls.

The senators, in a statement signed by their caucus leader, who is also the Deputy Minority Whip of the Senate, Senator Sahabi Ya’u, appealed to the bandits to choose a more profitable venture and be re-integrated into society.

They called on the families of the abducted children to “remain prayerful as the government will do all that is possible to secure the release of their children.”

PDP, Atiku demand action from FG

The Peoples Democratic Party and former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar also condemned the abduction of the schoolgirls.

They both called on the Federal Government to expedite action on securing the release of the abductees and ensuring that the security situation in the country was improved.

The PDP, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, called on Buhari to “wake up from slumber.”

The opposition party said it was “alarmed by the current situation wherein outlaws have turned the kidnapping of innocent schoolchildren and other vulnerable citizens for ransom, into a lucrative business following the lethargic approach and compromises under the Buhari administration in the fight against terrorism in our country.

“Indeed, our party weeps over the unfortunate situation that our nation is being plunged into by the incompetent, deceptive and uncoordinated APC and its administration that not only caused the escalation of acts of terrorism in our country but also failed to run an effective command structure to secure the nation.”

Atiku, on his part, said the insecurity in the country had reinforced his call for states to be given control of internal security.

He said, “The Federal Government cannot expect the states to provide security of lives and property in their domain, without giving them control over internal security. This is now a necessity. Thus, I call on the National and state Assemblies to begin the process of constitutional and legal reforms that will make this a reality.”

Sultan, Tambuwal condemn abduction

Also, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammed Saad Abubakar lll, and the Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, described the schoolgirls’ abduction by bandits as pathetic and an abuse of human dignity.

A statement by the Press Secretary to the Governor of Zamfara State, Jamilu Magaji, said the Sokoto governor and the monarch stopped by Zamfara Government House to sympathise with Governor Matawalle.

They “prayed God to make all criminals better citizens in the country and also urged them to always have the fear God in their ways of life.”

UNICEF, YOWICAN, Women Arise condemn abduction

Also, the United Nations Children’s Fund expressed anger over the schoolgirls’ abduction in a statement on Friday by its Country representative in Nigeria, Peter Hawkins.

UNICEF said, “We are angered and saddened by yet another brutal attack on schoolchildren in Nigeria. This is a gross violation of children’s rights and a horrific experience for children to go through – one which could have long-lasting effects on their mental health and well-being. We utterly condemn the attack and call on those responsible to release the girls immediately and for the government to take steps to ensure their safe release and the safety of all other schoolchildren in Nigeria.”

Similarly, the Christian Association of Nigeria (Youth Wing) called for the immediate release of the abducted schoolgirls.

In a statement on Friday by its National Chairman, Belusochukwu Enwere, YOWICAN called on the President to find a lasting solution to the security challenges in the country “before we are all consumed by terrorists, bandits and kidnappers.”

In the same vein, the Women Arise for Change Initiative, in a statement by its President, Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin, described the Jangebe schoolgirls’ abduction as sad, saying it brought to mind the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno State, about seven years ago.

Why we’ve not deployed force against bandits – Buhari

But the President on Friday said the Federal Government had the capacity to deploy massive force against bandits and rout them from their bases in villages.

Buhari, however, said his government was exercising restraint for fear of heavy casualties of innocent villagers and hostages who might be used as human shields by the bandits.

In a statement on Friday, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, quoted Buhari to have made the declaration while reacting to the Jangebe schoolgirls’ abduction.

In the statement titled, ‘We will not succumb to blackmail tactics – President Buhari warns,’ Garba quoted his principal to have described the latest abduction as inhumane and totally unacceptable.

“This administration will not succumb to blackmail by bandits who target innocent school students in the expectations of huge ransom payments.

“No criminal group can be too strong to be defeated by the government. The only thing standing between our security forces and the bandits are the rules of engagement.

“We have the capacity to deploy massive force against the bandits in the villages where they operate, but our limitation is the fear of heavy casualties of innocent villagers and hostages who might be used as human shields by the bandits.

“Our primary objective is to get the hostages safe, alive and unharmed,” Buhari was quoted to have said.

The statement further quoted the President as saying that “a hostage crisis is a complex situation that requires maximum patience in order to protect the victims from physical harm or even brutal death at the hands of their captors.”

He, however, warned the bandits not to see government’s restraint as a sign of weakness.

“Let them (the bandits) not entertain any illusions that they are more powerful than the government.

“They shouldn’t mistake our restraint for the humanitarian goals of protecting innocent lives as a weakness or a sign of fear or irresolution,” he said.

The President appealed to state governments “to review their policy of rewarding bandits with money and vehicles, warning that the policy might boomerang disastrously.”

He also advised states and local governments to be more proactive by improving security around schools and their surroundings.

Saturday Punch

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