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LongRead: Bandits holding over 300 Nigerian kids since May. Here’s what we know



On July 7, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in a report on the abduction of children from various Nigerian schools in the North, said over 300 kids are currently in captivity after being kidnapped by bandits.

According to a statement by UNICEF’s Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, in the past six weeks alone, nearly 500 children were abducted in four separate incidents in both the North-Central and North-West, with many still in captivity.

“Over the past six weeks alone, nearly 500 children were abducted in four separate incidents across the Central and North-West parts of the country.

“Many of these children have not yet been returned. It is hard to fathom the pain and fear that their families and loved ones are suffering in their absence, Fore said, among others.

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The abductions of school children marked a spike in the last two years, peaking at the beginning of 2021, and escalating since then, and in the last three months, since May, four schools have been attacked by bandits in northern Nigeria (Niger, Kebbi and Kaduna States), with over 400 students abducted.

The ease with which the bandits gain access to the schools has shown that they have become easy targets. The schools, especially in the remote areas, are poorly secured and so it is easy for gunmen to walk in and take as many school children as possible.

Here is what we know about the abductions.

Salihu Tanko Islamic School, Tegina, Niger State

Number of pupils abducted: 150
Number of pupils released: 11
Number of pupils dead: 1
Number of pupils still in captivity: 138

What we know
On May 30, 2021, armed gunmen stormed the Salihu Tanko Islamic School in Tegina, Rafi Local Government Area of Niger State, and abducted 150 pupils aged between three and 12, and an unspecified number of teachers.

According to the headmaster of the school, Abubakar Tegina, the heavily armed gunmen invaded the school on several motorcycles and abducted the pupils as they were getting set to resume studies for the day.
“I personally saw between 20 and 25 motorcycles with heavily armed people. They entered the school and went away with about 150 or more of the students. We can’t be exact because most of them have not reported to the school as at that time.”

The head teacher of the school, Abubakar Alhassan, who gave a breakdown of the abducted pupils, said:
“As I was about to enter the school premises, I saw the bandits on motorcycles numbering over 25 with most of them carrying guns and different ammunition, and majority of them wore masks. They were shooting into the air, and they surrounded the school and some houses around the school.
“Unfortunately, security agents in the area couldn’t come to confront them because their weapons could not match that of the bandits.
“I have been able to account for 150 pupils so far, because a register has been opened for parents to come and register the names of the pupils abducted. As at today, we have registered about 150 people which the parents complained are missing.”

Also confirming the abduction, the state police spokesman said the gunmen rode into the town on motorcycles “shooting indiscriminately and abducted a yet-to-be-ascertained number of children at Salihu Tanko Islamic School.”

The State governor, Abubakar Sani Bello, incurred the wrath of Nigerians when he flew out of the country with his wife, purportedly on a security mission. But he was later seen partying and dancing at an event in the United States.

As the Nigerian populace continued to lambast him on undertaking the journey a few hours after the unfortunate incident, his Chief Press Secretary, Mary Noel Barje, said the “trip was to explore all possibilities of strengthening the state security architecture.”

She added:
“The Governor, who is expected back in the country within the shortest period, has assured the rescue and safe return of the children. Governor Sani Bello also assured all Nigerlites that Government will continue to do all it can to protect the lives and property of its citizens while guaranteeing the continued peace and stability of the state.”

Barje noted that one person was shot dead during the attack and a second person was seriously injured, while “11 of the children taken were released by the gunmen because they were “too small and couldn’t walk.”

The governor did return after a few days and met with the parents of the abducted pupils. Bello also launched a special vigilante team to deal with gangs causing crisis within the state capital and proceeded to Tegina to see the parents of the abducted children.

In a statement by Barje, Bello said, among others:
“We will give you all the necessary support to enable you to implement all your security strategies to ensure safe return of our abducted children and others, if any.”

Shortly after abducting the pupils, the bandits placed a N300 million ransom but after negotiations, reduced it to N110 million for their release. But with the parents only able to raise the sum of N20 million, the bandits refused to collect the money and went ahead to threaten that they would either kill the pupils or increase the ransom if the money was not paid within a stipulated time.

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Alhassan had said:
“The kidnappers called me on the phone and demanded N300 million ransom for the release of the students numbering over 150, according to our records. I told them we do not have such amount of money, so they reduced it to N110 million, but threatened to increase it if the money was not paid by yesterday.
“The Secretary to the State Government (SSG) was able to get across to me through the governor’s wife as the governor is said to be out of town. The governor’s wife called me and gave the phone to the secretary who promised to interfere, but up until now, nothing has been done or heard. Nobody has come to sympathise with us.”

After dilly-dallying for weeks, the abductors of the pupils reduced the N150 million to N50 million and 20 brand new motorcycles before they would release the children with a renewed promise to kill them if the money was not paid.

The parents did pay the sum of N20 million to the bandits but they said the money was short by N2 million and must be completed before they release the children.

A few weeks later, the Niger State Government confirmed the arrest of some of the bandits who kidnaped the Islamic School pupils, though the number of those arrested was not specified.

While assuring that the pupils will be released soon, the state Deputy Governor, Alhaji Ahmed Ketso, said some of the bandits were in the custody of the state.
“Be assured that the abducted children will be rescued the same way the Kagara Science School Boys were rescued. We don’t pay ransom to abductors. We are trying to negotiate to see how we can bring them back safely.
“The government does not know their parents nor where they came from. We are still taking the census of the children to know the exact numbers that were actually abducted. Nevertheless, the government will do everything possible to ensure their safe rescue.”

Nuhu Bamali Polytechnic, Zaria, Kaduna

Number of students abducted: 8
Number of students dead: 1
Number of students released: 8
Number of pupils still in captivity: Nil

What we know
On June 11, another set of armed bandits stormed the campus of the Nuhu Bamali Polytechnic, Zaria, Kaduna State, and abducted eight students and two lecturers, while a student was confirmed dead in a shootout with security operatives attached to the school.

The State Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan, who visited the school for an on-the-spot assessment, confirmed the attack and said, among others:
“One student has been confirmed dead, one injured, and several kidnapped as armed bandits attack Nuhu Bamalli Polytechnic, Zaria.
“The bandits invaded the staff quarters of the campus, shooting sporadically. In the process, two students were hit and sustained gunshot injuries. They were identified as Ahmad Muhammad and Haruna Isyaku Duniya
“They were rushed to the hospital for medical attention. Sadly, Ahmad Muhammad succumbed to his wounds and died early this morning. Haruna Isyaku Duniya is still receiving treatment.
“Two lecturers and about eight students were abducted from the institution during the attack.”

All abducted students released
Fortunately, on July 9, the nation woke to the good news that all the abducted students and lecturers of the Nuhu Bamali Polytechnic had been released by the bandits, after spending 31 days in captivity.

The Public Relations Officer of the Polytechnic, Abdullahi Shehu, who confirmed the release of the kidnap victims, said the students and staff members regained their freedom after their parents and relatives had negotiated with the bandits, without specifically stating if any ransom was paid or not.

Federal Government College, Birnin-Yauri, Kebbi State: June 17, 2021

Number of students abducted: 30
Number of students released: 5
Number of students killed: 1
Number of students still in captivity: 24

What we know
On June 17, 2021, armed bandits raided the Federal Government College in Birnin-Yauri, Kebbi State, where not less than 30 students were abducted, with a security officer and one female student shot dead.

The gunmen were said to be more than 50 and were able to gain access into the school after they overpowered the mobile police officer in a gun battle that lasted for over an hour before whisking the students into a forest in the neighbouring town of Rijau.

Five students rescued, one dead
The Deputy Force Commander of the Joint Taskforce in the North-West Zone, Air Commodore Abubakar AbdulKadir, gave parents of the abducted students a glimmer of hope with the announcement that five of the students had been rescued but a downside was the fact that one of the students was shot dead in the operation.

He explained that the troops came in contact with the bandits and engaged them in a gun duel, which forced them to abandon five of the students and a teacher.
“In the early hours of this morning, we have come across the kidnappers. They came to our blocking point, and we engaged them. At that point, they abandoned five of the students and one of the teachers. Unfortunately, I think we have lost one of the students,” AbdulKadir said.

Abductors release video of captives, make demands
A few days after the abduction, the bandits released a video allegedly of the captives, with many of them in their school uniforms.

In the video, a bandit who gave his name as Dogo Jide who described himself as the man behind many school abductions in the past, said they were willing to release the remaining students and their teachers on the condition that security agencies release their men earlier captured prior and after the kidnap.

Jide insisted that if their members were not released, they would have no option but to kill the captives.

He also warned the Kebbi State Governor, Atiku Bagudu, against sending local hunters after them as there will be a lot of casualties, but to play a mediating role in getting his men released so that the students and their teachers can be released as well.

Gov Bagudu talks tough, vows to lead rescue operation from the front
Apparently angered by the brazen manner in which the bandits struck at FGC, Governor Atiku Bagudu vowed to lead the rescue operation of students and teachers from the front.

Bagudu who made the promise when members of the State Hunters Association visited him at the Government House in Birnin Kebbi, said:
“We will go out there and like I promised, the day we will move out, I will not be in the office because we will join you in the field. It is not weapons that win wars, but it is the will that bad people cannot triumph and we will show that, we have enough will power.
“In what the bandits are doing, they have challenged all of us, so, we can’t let them. What happened in Birnin Yauri should be the last straw. We should follow these bandits wherever they are and take them on. We will meet in the field.”

The hostage crisis remains unresolved!

Bethel Baptist High School, Kaduna

Number of students abducted: 140
Number of students released: 26
Number of students till in captivity: 114

What we know
On July 5, 2021, armed gunmen attacked the Bethel Baptist High School, a private college run by the Baptist Church located at Maraban Rido in Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State, and abducted 140 students in an early morning raid.

According to the proprietor of the school, Rev. Yahaya Adamu Jangado, 121 students were preparing for their WAEC examinations. The bandits had reportedly broken into the school in the morning after overpowering the security in a gun battle, and abducted the students in their hostels.

After taking the students into their hideout, the abductors contacted the school and allowed Jangado to speak with the students whom they said were in good condition.

According to him, he spoke with the students in captivity who confirmed that the number given by the bandits was accurate.
“Today, by the grace of God, we had a call from the bandits and they assured us that our children are well and doing okay.
“In fact, we had the privilege of speaking with few of them. They counted themselves in the jungle and they gave us information that they are 121 and when we put the number together with what we have recovered, we discovered that the number is exactly the same with the number of students we have in the hostel,” he said.

26 students rescued
A few days later, the police came up with the good news that 26 of the students had so far been rescued.

The state police spokesperson, Muhammad Jalige, in a statement, confirmed the rescue of the 26 students by the police and other security operatives who had swung into action with the view to rescue all the abducted students.

“In the early hours of today Monday 5th July, 2021, at about 0143hrs, the Command received a report that armed bandits in large number had gained access into Bethel Baptist Secondary School Kujuma in Chikun LGA of Kaduna State.
“They shot berserkly, overpowered the school’s security guards and made their way into the students’ hostel where they abducted an unspecified number of students into the forest.
“On the receipt of the unfortunate incident, a joint team of the Nigeria Police, Army and Navy operatives were immediately mobilised to the area with a mission to rescue the abducted students unhurt.
“The operatives gave the bandits a hot pursuit occasioned by a tactical application of weapons and succeeded in rescuing twenty six (26) students including a female teacher safely.
“However, the rescue operation is still ongoing to ensure that all victims are safely returned. Officers involved in the said operation are charged to ensure no stone is left unturned with a view to successfully accomplish the rescue mission since resources will be availed them without delay.”

Bandits demand for 30 bags of rice, 20 bags of beans
In a turn of events, the abductors of the students made a call to the school management demanding that they should give them food items, including 30 bags of rice, 20 bags of beans, kegs of palm oil, groundnut oil, salt, crayfish and seasoning to feed the students as they had run out of food. They threatened to starve the children to death if their requests were not met.

A father of one of the abductees, who spoke to journalists on the condition of anonymity, said the school had asked parents to pay any amount they could afford so they could purchase the food items for the bandits to feed their children.
“The school has asked us to donate any amount we can afford. It is not compulsory but many parents are eager to pay because the bandits threatened to starve the children. There are fears among parents when they heard that the hoodlums threatened to starve the students.
“They have yet to ask for any ransom, but they reiterated their demand for rice, beans, oil and other foodstuffs. They insisted that the foodstuffs must be supplied before any negotiation would start. They also said they had run out of food to feed the 121 students and that the abductees would not be fed if the items were not provided.”

The school’s Vice Principal, Wakili Madugu, also confirmed the demand on the specific quantity of food the bandits were demanding.

Madugu said the gunmen rejected nine bags of rice as well as other food items offered by the school and insisted on the exact number they wanted.
“I told them this is what we have on hand and they started insulting me, threatening me and they switched off the phone. That means what I have is not enough.

“They said we should bring 10 bags of imported rice, 20 bags of local rice, 20 bags of beans and then 10 cartons of Maggi (seasoning) and then 10 kegs of oil as well as two bags of salt. These were the items they demanded.
“We (management) have bought the rice and other foodstuffs (food items). We are waiting for the call from them (bandits) for direction for where we will meet. We have been waiting for their calls since morning. We have bought all the foodstuffs and all is set. The school didn’t make it mandatory for parents to pay, but some of them volunteered to give for the purchase of the foodstuffs.”

No ransom payment, NBC
In an interview on the possibility of paying ransom for the release of the students, the President of the Nigerian Baptist Convention (NBC), Rev. Israel Akanji, said the church would not encourage payment of ransom for the abducted students.
“As a church, we don’t take the position of payment of ransom for innocent children carried away from their school. We don’t think it is the right thing to do and we will not encourage that; that should be done.
“We are not for ransom. We are for the release of these children because it is criminal for people to take away other people from their freedom and take them into incarceration and begin to make demand. As a church, we don’t encourage that; we will not want to do that.
“As a denomination, we are to pray to God for His intervention. So, we mounted up prayers. We also got in touch with the Kaduna State Government. We are able to speak with a number of top officials. Finally, I got to speak with the Executive Governor of Kaduna state, Mallam Nasir el Rufai.
“He assured us that he was already working. He told me that Nigeria Army, the Air Force and other security agents are already collaborating and ensure that everything possible was done so that the children will be released.”

Kaduna Govt closes 13 schools
In the aftermath of the abduction of the Bethel School children, the Kaduna State government hurriedly ordered the closure of 13 schools that were prone to attacks across the state.

The Director-General of Quality Assurance Authority in the state’s Ministry of Education, Umma Ahmed, who gave the directive in a memo to proprietors of private schools in the state, said the measure was with immediate effect.
“You are hereby advised to adhere to the contents of this letter as appropriate sanctions shall be meted out to schools that are found wanting for non-compliance, please,” the memo said.

In the final analysis, the UNESCO report that 300 Nigerian students are still in captivity may not be far from the truth.

Analysis show that from the number of students abducted and released so far, the number still in captivity is estimated at about 276, which means that the number of those either killed or rescued stands at 24.

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