In 10 days, 11 female students of the Federal Government College, Birnin Yauri, in Kebbi State, would be clocking ten months in captivity following their abduction by a prominent banditry kingpin, Dogo Gide.
Their school, FGGC Birnin Yauri was ransacked on June 17, last year and dozens of students and five teachers were kidnapped from the federal government-owned mixed boarding school.
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The 11 schoolgirls remain in captivity despite payment of ransom and prisoner swaps, at different times.
On February 21, Daily Trust exclusively reported that no fewer than 13 of the female students were married off to bandits with some of them already pregnant.
Daily Trust recalls that at least 10 schools abductions were recorded last year as bandits’ gangs targeted schools in Zamfara, Kaduna, Niger and Kebbi States.
The abductions followed the first of such attacks by bandits operating in the North West in December 2020 when a gang led by one Auwal Daudawa attacked Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, in Katsina State and abducted over 200 students.
Long in despair
The FGC Yauri attack, which occurred less than 20 days after the mass abduction of pupils from Salihu Tanko Islamiyya School, Tegina, Niger State, caused a stir at the time on the safety of students, especially in schools around areas affected by security challenges.
Immediately after the abduction, a few of the victims were retrieved by security forces while others were released by the bandits as part of negotiation talks.
Dozens of the abductees were subsequently released in two batches to negotiators in October and January.
Gide, who is believed to be the bandit closest to jihadi groups due to his long association with the Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Bilad as-Sudan, better known as Ansaru, had in a telephone conversation threatened to convert the students by training the males on gun-handling and marrying off the females.
The terrorist group, Boko Haram, had meted out similar treatment to captors, notably the Chibok girls abducted in 2014.
Persons familiar with efforts to secure the release of the victims told Daily Trust that the bandits’ kingpin had made good his pledge as he married off at least 13 of the students.
The girls were said to be given out to bandits and members of the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), according to a parent of one of the girls who did not want to be identified.
ISWAP and Ansaru are believed to have camps in the vast Birnin Gwari forests and areas intersecting Kaduna, Niger and Zamfara states.
Some of the girls are also said to be married to a few interested persons living in villages around areas controlled by Gide, off Birnin Gwari.
The bandits’ kingpin is holding on to the students despite receiving huge amounts in ransom and two of his men freed as part of negotiations in October, as reported by Daily Trust at the time.
The Special Adviser on Security to Kebbi State Governor, Garba Rabiu Kamba, did not respond to telephone calls for comments on this story, but he had, in February, told Daily Trust that there were 14 students yet to be released by the bandits.
However, an intermediary negotiating between parents and the kidnappers had said that three of the schoolgirls were released to their parents in mid-January, reducing the number to 12.
The three girls were said to have returned with young pregnancies.
But Daily Trust understands that with the release of one more girl, simply identified as Ummi by a family source, on Monday, eleven girls are now with the notorious bandit.
Our reporter gathered that Gide was insisting on negotiating with the government, demanding that N100 million be paid for the girls. There was however no progress in this regard.
“With the government disregarding the negotiating overtures, Gide routinely engages parents for individual negotiations,” a source familiar with the negotiations said.
A mother of one of the girls who fell sick after discovering her daughter was not among the last batch of students released by the kidnappers in January was personally contacted in mid-March with the captors asking the family to pay N10 million in exchange for their daughter.
A family member told Daily Trust that the girl’s mother negotiated with the abductors and agreed on N2 million, which was sent through an intermediary in Birnin Gwari through transfers to POS operators in the town.
“The money was cashed and taken to them in their location around Kamfanin Doka. They collected the money but refused to release the girl,” said the source.
In an audio clip obtained by Daily Trust, the bandit who negotiated and received the ransom was heard denying being in a position to get the girl freed, even after initially promising to meet Gide and secure her release.
He claimed that his identity was mistaken with that of Gide warning the caller to desist from calling him saying he had also stopped picking up calls from the student’s mother.
Living largely, freely
Like many other armed groups operating in the forests straddling Kaduna, Niger and Zamfara States, Gide and his men are said to be living freely in Birnin Gwari suburbs of Kamfanin Doka and Gwaska general area.
“Gide has built a good modern house in the area he resides and he recently invited his mother to the place. He introduced the mother to the girls and she interacted a lot with them, including talking to some of their parents over the phone,” said a parent who communicates with one of the girls being held.
He said while the girls were at the beginning denied regular communication with their relatives, communication lines were recently opened between the abductees and their parents.
“My daughter speaks with her mother very frequently but most times under watch as the bandits would insist on knowing what they discuss to avoid letting out sensitive information”.