The 38 abducted schoolchildren and officials of the Government Science College Kagara, Niger State, on Saturday, regained their freedom from bandits, who kept them in captivity for 10 days.
The abductees, who were received by Governor Abubakar Sani Bello at the Niger State Government House in Minna, recounted their ordeal in the bandits’ den on Saturday.
The 38 victims, comprising 24 students, six members of staff and eight relatives of the staff members, arrived in Minna early on Saturday.
They were immediately taken to a government-owned facility for medical examination and to clean up in view of their poor physical appearances.
Of the 38 victims, one was hospitalised.
Bandits had on February 17, 2021 stormed the Government Science College Kagara and taken away the abductees.
In the operation, a pupil, identified as Benjamin Habila, was shot dead by the bandits.
One of the 24 pupils, who regained their freedom on Saturday, Suleiman Lawal, said given the kind of suffering he experienced in the bandits’ den, it was unlikely he would return to the same school.
The SS3 student said, “We suffered so much. I had never faced this kind of situation in all my life. I don’t think I will like to go back to that school again.”
His colleague, Mahmood Mohammed, described the experience as hellish, saying he never thought he would regain freedom.
“I faced hell; it was not easy, I did not know I would come back. I had a headache while I was in the bush but they didn’t take care of me. They (the bandits) were many. The experience is terrible; I am not feeling well,” Mohammed said.
Another SS3 pupil, Abubakar Sidi, said the bandits starved them for several hours, adding that after they eventually fed them, they began to beat them.
Sidi said pupils who identified themselves as children of policemen or military men were even more ruthlessly beaten by the bandits.
He said, “We couldn’t get any food to eat, from 1 0’ clock till night, but they later fed us; and after feeding us, they began to ask for our fathers’ occupations and beat us. Anyone who said his father was a policeman or a soldier was asked to come out and was given extra beating. They beat us based on the work our fathers do. They beat me so mercilessly so much that I was wishing to die.
“The experience was too bad; the forest was horrific. They fed us beans every day, just as they tortured us.”
A guardian of one of the freed pupils, Abdulmalik Muhammed, said he was happy beyond description to have the child back.
He said, “If I can search for any other word greater than happiness… I am very happy. It was not an easy experience but thank God they are back.”
The guardian commended the Niger State Government and the Federal Government for ensuring the release of the pupils.
Don’t be discouraged from returning to school, governor tells pupils
Addressing the freed abductees in a solemn tone of voice at the Government House, Governor Bello urged them to take their ordeal as one of the lessons of life and not allow the experience to discourage them from returning to school to continue their education.
Bello said he was thankful to God for the safe return of the pupils from the kidnappers’ den.
He said, “We have rescued the 38 abducted Kagara students, they were rescued at about 4am this (Saturday) morning. I can confirm that all the victims from Kagara are here, 38 in number; we have one in the hospital suffering from excessive exhaustion.
“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 through tremendous torture, we are carefully watching their health and conditions and they will soon be back home with their families. The children have been taken care of. Their family members will take them back home.”
The governor thanked security agencies, the people of Niger State and Nigerians for their efforts and prayers leading to the freedom of the captives.
He added, “This (rescue operation) is a joint effort with security agencies, traditional rulers and other stakeholders, but going forward, we are putting in place a system to look into the causes (of kidnapping). In the next few days, I hope we will find solutions to this dastardly act.”
Also speaking, the Secretary to the Niger State Government, Ahmed Matane, denied the payment of ransom to bandits for the release of the abductees.
He said, “Whoever talked about ransom, it is not true. You will recall the first kidnap in the video that you saw, they were demanding N500m. There is no government that will pay such money to bandits as ransom.
“Some of the expenses, you have to hire (a) vehicle, you have to talk to people and mobilise them from one location to the other. Of course, it will gulp some expenses but the assurance that we have is that the major commanders are keying into these dialogue platform and we open up to escalate it from there.”
Buhari welcomes release of Kagara abductees
The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), on Saturday welcomed the release of the Kagara abductees.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, disclosed this in a statement titled, ‘President Buhari welcomes release of Kagara abducted students.’
Shehu said the President commended the nation’s security and intelligence agencies and the government of Niger State for their responses in securing the release.
Pupils’ abductions crippling education in the North – CNG
But reacting to the release of the Kagara abductees, the Coalition of Northern Groups expressed worry that the abduction of schoolchildren in the North was a grand design to cripple education in the region.
The CNG said while it was excited about the release of the Kagara schoolchildren, government should understand that it was not yet Uhuru.
In a statement by its spokesperson, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, the CNG said, “Beyond the jubilation, President Buhari owes the nation the duty of explaining the glaring failure of his administration in the vital area of providing security for particularly the North.”