The latest mass abduction which happened at the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, Kaduna has left the school in shock but eyewitnesses tell a story of bravery and how soldiers missed the chance to rescue the kidnapped students.
It was 10 pm, Thursday, March 11, exactly a week to the commencement of the second-semester exams, and a day after their first semester results were released.
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Most of the students of the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, Kaduna, just a stone throw from the permanent site of the prestigious Nigerian Defence Academy across the street, were getting ready for bed.
Some, like Ife, a brilliant Agricultural Engineering student, were hungry and decided to fix something quick for a late dinner.
In the main hall of the college, some students, Julius Ali and Gaida Christy were studying while best friends, Julius Sunday and Umaya Alhamdu, were in the drawing studio.
None of them was aware of a gang of armed men making their way into the college from the right side of the perimeter fence and were heading for the female hostels that were conspicuously in the middle of the school.
In the old female hostel, where Ife was boiling water for pap, her friend Kudirat breezed by and complained of the excessive heat. She wanted to step outside for some fresh air, she said.
No sooner had she stepped out than the abductors arrived at the female hostel. She had no hiding place and was promptly abducted at gunpoint.
The commotion of Kudirat’s capture alerted some of the women who looked for hiding places, some under their beds. The kidnappers made their way into the hostel and dragged some of the women out of hiding. Somehow, they missed Ife.
In the new female hostel, the noise from the other hostel informed them that something was amiss. They switched off the lights and held their breaths.
The kidnappers did not notice them and went to one of the male hostels, the second is tucked away far into the school premises that only those who know of it would find it.
They broke through the fence and accessed the male hostel where they rounded up all the students in residence. It was a small hostel and there weren’t many students there.
The operation had been mostly silent all along as they gathered the students, prodding them with their guns. They accessed the drawing studio, next to the hostel and collected Julius and Umaya who had been there.
Then Zakari happened
Zakari was one of the students they had abducted from the hostel and ordered him to take them to the female hostel.
According to him, they said the females would fetch them more ransom hence their desperation to get as many of them as they could.
By this time, some of the kidnappers had led the male students they had abducted from the hostel into the forest, through the “eye of the needle” hole they made in the fence, not far from the first male hostel.
Instead of leading them to the female hostel, Zakari misled them to a building called JICA, which they found locked.
They assumed students must be hiding inside so they shot at the padlock and forced it open. They found themselves in a big block of offices, originally constructed for Trial Afforestation by the Japanese.
That gunshot alerted some students who scampered in search of safety. But that was not the first time they would hear gunshots nearby. Soldiers and bandits have often exchanged fire close by and some of the students assumed that was what was happening at that time. All this was before the perimeter fence had been constructed.
Some students however ran towards the main gate where they were told by other students to return to their hostels as the shooting was outside the school. They walked back and fell into the hands of the kidnappers.
While this was happening, the kidnappers were demanding Zakari show them the female hostel, which was no more than 100 meters from JICA.
But Zakari was defiant. He struck one of the bandits on the chest and sprinted into the night. Startled, the abductors shot at him twice. They missed both times.
When recounting the incident, Zakari said he knew he has a temper and if taken into captivity, he would not corporate and might do something rash that could jeopardize his life or the lives of the other students. He would rather the bandits killed him there where his corpse could be found.
Fortunately, that didn’t happen so he escaped to the other male hostel and warned them of what had been happening. They all left the hostel and took cover in the bush.
The bandits, not knowing of the other hostel, did not follow him. After all, they had many other students in their net already. By the time they made it to the hostel eventually, they only found Gabriel, Israel and Shebna, three students who were trying to hide a female student, Peace, whom they had rescued.
Seeing the kidnappers approaching, they ran and helped Peace over the perimeter fence and escaped capture.
But the shots the kidnappers fired at Zakari ended their silent operation and one of the students who escaped the raid, ran to soldiers on duty close to the train station and reported what was happening to them. The soldiers mobilised and stormed the school. They met the gate padlocked. Because of the incident, there was no one who could open the gate for them and the soldiers, instead of forcing the gate open, honked their car horn for between 10 and 20 minutes, duly announcing their arrival to the kidnappers and giving them the chance to escape.
This distraction allowed some kidnapped students like Julius, Umaya’s friend, to escape. He was struck by the kidnappers as he made his daring escape, as did another female student. She needed stitches on her forehead but at least she and Julius were free.
By the time the soldiers used their armoured vehicle to force the gate open, the kidnappers had fled with their captives into the bush.
When the soldiers tried to recover some of the students who had fled into the bush, the students were not sure if the soldiers were real or just part of the kidnappers. After all, the kidnappers were dressed in military fatigues as well.
A female student said she and two others were hiding in the bush when a man in army uniform asked them to come. Thinking he was a soldier, two of the students came out of hiding and fell right into the kidnappers’ trap.
Even when some students leaders like Theophilus, Julius Ali and others led the military to the bush and called on those hiding to come out because help had come, not all the students did. Many waited until morning.
It was these students that the government claimed to have rescued from the kidnappers who had in fact made off with 39 students during the night raid.
Many students were injured during the incident. Many others are in shock. Ife and Kudirat were together only minutes before but Kudirat was taken and Ife escaped. Umaya and Sunday were together in class studying but Umaya was taken while Sunday narrowly escaped.
Sunday is currently on admission in the hospital. He is inconsolable. He feels he could have done something to save his friend and the others.
By morning, the extent of the damage done hit the school. Mr Sani, a staff of the college, has two of his daughters abducted. He is distraught. Two other sisters were taken that night. One of the kidnapped students is heavily pregnant.
These are poor students struggling to get an education. Now they have spent days in captivity being tortured by their kidnappers who are demanding a huge sum in ransom.
For those who witnessed the incident, those who were taken and those who escaped, one thing is clear, life would never be the same for them.
Zakka, an engineer, lectures at the FCFM, Afaka, Kaduna