By Henry Umoru; Marie-Therese Nanlong; Adesina Wahab; Bashir Bello; Luminous Jannamike; Ibrahim HassanWuyo and Nasir Muhammad
Nationwide outrage has greeted yesterday’s abduction of more than 300 school girls of Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe in Talata-Mafara Local Government Area of Zamfara state by bandits even as aggrieved residents of the community took to the streets destroying vehicles entering the village in protest.
The abduction was carried out about 10 days after over 40 students, staff members and parents of a school in Kagara, Niger State were kidnapped by armed bandits and were yet to be released.
Confirming the abduction earlier, Zamfara State Commissioner for Security and Home Affairs,
Alhaji Abubakar Dauran, said that “the abductors invaded the town and took away the students at about 2 a.m. but we have already mobilised security men and members of the vigilantè who are now in pursuit of the abductors”. The school girls were taken to an unknown destination by armed gunmen who invaded the school in early hours of Friday.
Reacting to the development, the residents of Jangebe, including women and children stormed the streets in their hundreds, armed with sticks and stones to attack vehicles.
The angry mob attacked two vehicles conveying journalists from various media houses, including NAN, AIT, TVC, Channels and an online media Thunder Blowers whose cameraman was seriously wounded on his forehead and was rushed to Gusau, the state capital for treatment.
The state Commissioner of Police, Mr Abutu Yaro, alongside the Commissioner for Security and Home Affairs, Alhaji Abubakar Dauran, made frantic efforts to pacify the protesters.
Following the abduction, parents of some of the students of the school stormed the school in search of their children. The school authorities initially prevented them from going with the remaining students but they got angry and began to pull down doors and windows of the buildings in the school and the authorities had to yield to their demands,” a teacher of the school was quoted to have said.
The teacher reportedly said after the abduction, not more than 50 students could be accounted for in the school which has a population of over 600 students.
A staff of the school who also spoke to NAN on condition of anonymity said: “The gunmen in their hundreds invaded the town about 2am on Friday, shot sporadically in the air to scare the residents before coming into the school. After taking away most of the students, we rounded up those that escaped or hid them from the bandits and conducted a census where we counted 54 students and we are still searching to see if we can get more.”
An activist in Zamfara, Kabiru Sani, who said three of his nieces were among the abductees, said “the gunmen forcefully broke the main entrance to the school, overpowered the security guard manning the gate before they led the students on a long trek.
The gunmen abducted over 374 students who came from different states. Some came from Kaduna, others from Sokoto, Kano, Jigawa and Kebbi. When the gunmen came, they blocked all the roads where security agents would come through.
After breaking the main gate, they shot the security guard but he managed to run away. They then started going from one hostel to the other asking the girls to wake up and perform Sallat. The girls woke up to see the gunmen with weapons. That was how they gathered the schoolgirls and herded them away,” he said.
He said the remaining 54 students in the school,were kept in a nearby house. As of Friday afternoon, many of the students left the school to their respective states,in company of their parents or guardians. However, there was heavy presence of security personnel in the troubled community,even as the military and other security agents continued to comb Zamfara bushes in search of the schoolgirls.
Describing how they pursued the bandits who kidnapped the school girls, a local vigilante, Abubakar Adamu said he was with the soldiers that gave the bandits hot chase inside the bush but the vehicle conveying them got stuck due to the undulating terrain and they couldn’t go further.
He said, “while we were chasing the gunmen,we exchanged fire with them and we could hear children crying. We got so close that one of the gunmen on a motorbike had to abandon his bike and ran into the bush.” Abubakar said the gunmen came at night in large number and encircled the school making it hard for anyone to escape.
An aggrieved father, Mukhtar Sani who claimed three of his daughters were among those abducted explained that “initially, people nearby thought it was the normal cattle rustlers who perpetrate their nefarious acts under the cover of the night that attacked the community. It was the wailing and cries of the female students that woke them up suggesting that something serious had happened in the area”.
According to reports, there was confusion in the school premises on Friday when some parents went to check on the lucky students who were not abducted. It was said that security agents had tried to prevent them from taking away their daughters which led to a serious altercation in the school compound.
The Police in a statement on Friday issued by the PPRO, SP Mohammed Shehu, said “the Zamfara State Police Command in Collaboration with the military have commenced a joint search and rescue operations with a view to rescuing the 317 students kidnapped by the armed bandits in Government Girls Science Secondary School Jangebe in Talata Mafara LGA on 26th February 2021 at about 0100 hours. “The Commissioner of Police CP Abutu Yaro, the Force Commander Operations Hadarin Daji, Major General Aminu Bande, Brigade Commander 1 Brigade, Nigeria Army Gusau and other state government officials led a heavily armed Re-enforcement team to Jangebe to complement the ongoing rescue operation in the locations where the students were believed to be taken to. “
“The CP while interfacing with the Principal of the school and the parents, appealed to them to be calm as joint efforts of the Police and other security agencies will assuredly lead to the successful rescue of the students.”
Condemning the latest attack on the school, the northern states governors said ‘enough is enough’ as this calls for serious concerns among all Nigerians. In a statement, Chairman of the Northern States Governors Forum and Governor of Plateau State, Simon Lalong through his Director of Press and Public Affairs, Makut Macham said “this trend is unacceptable and strong measures must be taken to put an end to it before it escalates into a monster that will consume educational pursuit and national aspirations.
According to him, “as Northern Governors, we are deeply saddened by this embarrassing and unfortunate attack on our children who are in schools to seek knowledge and build capacity to impact the nation and create a better society. The assault on schools where innocent and harmless students are targeted should not be condoned in any way because it has the tendency to set the nation back to ignorance and more poverty. The Northern part of the country in particular is more educationally disadvantaged and cannot afford to have these disruptions. Enough is enough.”
The Northern Governors therefore urged security agencies to use every asset at their disposal to rescue the children and bring to justice those behind the act. They also want Nigerians to support the security agencies and government with credible information that will lead to swift resolution of the situation.
Lalong sympathised with the families of the abducted school children, the people and Government of Zamfara State, assuring them of the support of the Forum in tackling the problem.
Recall that the Northern Governors Forum rose from their meeting in Kaduna on Thursday where they resolved to take far reaching measures to address insecurity and other challenges of the region and the nation at large.
Also reacting to the abduction, Special Adviser to Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje of Kano State on Media, Salihu Tanko Yakasai asked APC governors to resign or deal decisively with terrorists and bandits terrorizing the country. He said the ruling party, All Progressive Congress, APC governments at all levels have failed particularly in their major responsibility to secure the lives of the electorates who brought them into power.
Yakasai stated this in series of tweets on his verified twitter handle @dawisu on Friday. Some of the tweet reads: “Clearly, we as APC government, at all levels, have failed Nigerians in the number one duty we were elected to do which is to secure lives and properties. Not a single day goes by without some sort of insecurity in this land. This is a shame! Deal with terrorists decisively or resign.
“Just last week it was #freekagaraboys, today we have a new hashtag #RescueJangebeGirls, who knows tomorrow what hashtag we will come up with? Perhaps one for ourselves when we get caught up in one of these daring attacks. This is sad and heartbreaking, I feel helpless and hopeless.
“I completely agree. Hypocrisy is in our DNA. Imagine what’s happening in the North now was under GEJ or OBJ, sai dai ka ji ana makiyin arewa ne, makiyin musulmi ne (meaning you will hear it’s the enemy of the North and Muslims), but here we are, being ravaged by all sorts of insecurity but no collective rage, sai useless lamentations. SMDH,” Yakasai tweeted.
Recall that Yakasai was sometimes last year October suspended before he was reinstated over what was termed as unguarded utterances on the person of President Muhammadu Buhari on the social media platform.
On its part, the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, tasked President Muhammadu Buhari to “wake up from slumber and deal decisively with the escalated scourge”, while lamenting that the terrifying spate of abduction and acts of terrorism in the country validates concerns that “the All Progressives Congress, APC, and its administration have become bereft of solutions to the escalated insecurity under their watch.”
In a statement signed by Kola Ologbondiyan, National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, the party demanded immediate full scale investigation into abduction “given some worrisome reports going round in the public space.”
The statement read: “The PDP is alarmed by the current situation wherein outlaws have turned the kidnapping of innocent school children 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.
Only last week, gunmen had a field day invading communities after communities in Niger state, killing and maiming our compatriots after which they descended on Government Secondary School Kagara where they killed a student and abducted 40 others alongside their teachers. In December, just two months ago, the nation was jolted when gunmen invaded President Buhari’s home state, Katsina, at the time he was holidaying in the state and abducted over 600 students of the Government Science Secondary School, Kankara.
“The party therefore charges President Buhari to step out of the Aso Rock presidential villa and ensure the immediate rescue of the abducted students. Mr. President should also do the needful, as the commander-in-chief, to put an end to this high level insecurity under his watch, before our nation is consumed in his hands.
In its own reaction, the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF called on the government to as a matter of urgency take steps to rescue and ensure safe release of the female students.
UNICEF Nigeria Representative, Peter Hawkins in a statement described the incident as a gross violation of the children’s rights. According to him, “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 them 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. Children should feel safe at home and at school at all times – and parents should not need to worry for the safety of their children when they send them off to school in the morning”.
Meanwhile, Governor Bello Matawallen Maradun of Zamfara state has closed down all boarding schools in the state. Matawalle who expressed worry over the unfortunate incident assured the people of the state of his administration’s commitment in securing the release of the children. He said, “we have put in place all necessary measures in ensuring that we reunite the students with their parents. All the security agencies were deployed to the area and very soon the abductees will be found and released.” The governor added that all the northern governors will unite and work together in fighting the bandits, maintaining that his current peace initiative with the bandits was yielding a positive result.
“We have made huge success in our disarmament process and have succeeded in collecting a lot of arms and ammunition from repentant bandits”, he said
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT and the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, on Friday said they would shut down schools since the lives of students and teachers were no longer safe.
Speaking in separate interviews with Saturday Vanguard, the National Secretary of the NUT, Dr Mike Ene and the Southwest Coordinator of NANS, Kappo Olawale Samuel, noted that it was apparent that some people were all out to discourage and put a setback to education in Nigeria.
“These abductions here and there are deliberate steps to discourage education and encourage school drop out. It is unfortunate that schools have now become soft targets and we appear helpless. You can see that by targeting boys only schools and girls only schools, their aim is to discourage both male and female from going to school. We will not succumb to their threat and harassment. We are still battling with the Kagara boys matter and now this one.
‘We will also not hesitate to shut down all schools if the lives of the students and teachers are not safe. The Zamfara State Governor who said his amnesty programme is working, where is the result now?
Ene said the government should adopt the Safe School Initiative to make our schools safe from Intruders. All the schools should be fenced and the walls high so that anybody who manages to scale it would do that in a way that he would make noise that would attract the attention of security people. Also, schools should have military and local vigilantes guarding them. The local vigilantes would help provide necessary security information and tips for the military to work on, “ he added.
He also called for the deployment of sniffer dogs in the schools.
The latest abduction took many by surprise considering how the Zamfara State Government had embraced bandits who were willing to repent and lay down their arms. Two weeks ago, the governor was quoted to have said: “I have been saying the best solution and option to tackle banditry is to seek for dialogue with the bandits. If really we want to end this banditry activity, we have to sit at a roundtable and negotiate, because, through dialogue and reconciliation, we were able to secure the release of many people who were under the captivity of kidnappers. So, the best way out for my colleagues, governors, is for them to subscribe to dialogue.”
The governor has pardoned and rewarded repentant bandits to discourage them from crime. In 2020, he offered bandits two cows in exchange for one AK-47 rifle surrendered.
“For every rifle submitted by a repentant bandit, there would be compensation of two cows. We don’t want to give them money, so they wouldn’t use the money to purchase new weapons,” he had said.
The irony is that Friday’s attack happened just 72 hours after the governor received three bandits, including one of their leaders after they “surrendered their weapons and took an oath never to engage in banditry again”.
In his own reaction, Senate President, Ahmad Lawan said that the recurrent attacks on schools and other acts of banditry across the country, call for intense soul searching on how the nation arrived at this very sorry situation.
Lawan who condemned in very strong terms, the attack on Government Secondary School, Jangebe in Zamfara State where over 317 schoolgirls were abducted from Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe,Talata-Mafara Local Government Area of Zamfara State, said that the time has come for Nigeria and Nigerians to come up with ways on how to cage the monster of violent crimes in Nigeria.
In a statement yesterday by his Special Adviser, Media, Ola Awoniyi, the President of the Senate expressed sadness and outrage that the incident happened while efforts were still being made to rescue those abducted just over a week ago at another secondary school in Kagara, Niger State.
Lawan expressed his sympathy for the abducted schoolgirls and urged the authorities at all levels to work together to ensure their immediate rescue. The President of the Senate reiterated his call on the state authorities to accord priority to securing schools and other locations now seen as soft targets by savage criminals.
Simlarly, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Youth Wing, urged the Federal Government to seek aggressive measures in addressing the rising rate of mass kidnapping of students in school across the country. The National Chairman, CAN Youth Wing (YOWICAN), Mr. Belusochukwu Enwere, said that it was time the President acted more aggressively by prompting the security agencies to address the nation’s security challenges.
According to him, unless the recurring problem was addressed, it would affect the corporate existence of Nigeria. “All hands must be on deck; the military, police, civil defence, local security and religious leaders should collaborate to stop the insecurity in Nigeria. The Federal Government led by Buhari should find a lasting solution to the social malady of insecurity before we are all consumed by terrorists, bandits and kidnappers”.