Governor Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina State said Thursday night that 344 students of Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, have been released.
However, it is not clear if all the students have been released because Masari had earlier said only 333 students were abducted from the school on Friday, December 11.
- Camp attack: Reps urge FG to repatriate Nigerian refugees in Niger Republic
- APC loses out as INEC fixes date for Niger Rep re-run
Also, the school register sighted by one of our reporters indicated that 668 students were missing after the attack.
One of the students, who escaped, said 520 of them were counted in the bush.
Governor Masari, while speaking to journalists at the Government House in Katsina, said no ransom was paid to secure the release of the students.
“All the students are in good condition of health,” he said.
He said the students were fatigued from trekking and days spent in captivity, adding that they were on their way to Katsina for medical check-up and data capturing.
Daily Trust was told that while in the bush, the students were kept in clusters in three different locations by three different groups with different motives.
It was learnt that the 344 students regained freedom after a series of negotiations at different levels between governments at the national and state levels on one hand, and the abductors on the other.
How the students regained freedom
A source said, while the abductors insisted that security operatives must not be involved, officials of the Katsina State government with others deployed by the federal government involved traditional rulers (village and district heads) in securing the release of the students.
The students were reportedly kept inside the bush in parts of Zamfara State.
Another source said after the negotiation was successfully sealed, the abductors handed over the captives to some village heads in batches.
The source said the released abductees were first taken to a village called Hayin Alhaji by the negotiators who are mostly Ardo’s using Hilux vans.
“From Hayin Alhaji, the students were moved to another village called ‘Yan Warin Daji where they were handed over to security personnel,” the source said.
During the evacuation, locals in villages around Zamfara and Katsina said hundreds of security operatives, some in uniform and others in plainclothes were seen patrolling the area.
During the day, helicopters and fighter jets were also seen hovering around the Rugu Forest, which traversed many local government areas in Zamfara, Katsina and part of Kaduna State.
When contacted, the Principal of the school, Malam Usman Abubakar, told Daily Trust that his team arrived Katsina to meet with the executive secretary and other principal officers of the Katsina Science and Technical Schools Board to receive the students.
“We will receive them and proceed to the government house to meet the governor,” he said.
Story pleasing – Buhari, Atiku
President Muhammadu Buhari last night expressed joy following the return of the Kankara schoolboys.
Buhari, in a statement issued by his spokesman, Garba Shehu, described their safe return as a big relief to their families, the entire country and the international community.
The President said it was unfortunate that the bandits and terrorists continued to get weapons under the circumstances of the border closure, promising that: “We are going to dare them. We will deal with all that.”
The president, who urged the citizens to be patient and fair to the administration as it deals with the problems of security, economy and corruption, said he was fully aware that he was elected to resolve challenges.
“When we came, we made efforts that yielded the return of the Chibok Girls.
“When a similar incident of school abduction happened at Dapchi, we successfully returned all but one of the more than one hundred abductees.
“When this latest incident happened, we put in our efforts and today we have this result to show,” he added.
A former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, has expressed happiness over the release of kidnapped students.
The Wazirin Adamawa, in a thread of tweets on his Twitter handle @Atiku, said: “I am happy about reports that abducted schoolboys of GSSS Kankara, Katsina State have been rescued.
“As a father, I know how much joy it will bring to the traumatised parents who have practically kept vigil in the school premises.
Parents elated, grateful to God
A father, Aminu Dayyabu, said he was elated and full of joy.
“I will start by thanking Allah for this joyful news of the rescue of our children.
“I will today sleep with all my eyes closed unlike in the past six days when it was nothing but nightmares,” he said.
Abdulkarim Ikaramu said he was grateful to God and also thanked relevant authorities for their efforts.
Abubakar Lawal, who relocated to Kankara from Zaria over his missing two children, said: “I will wait to take them back home.
“I will think before deciding in respect of them continuing with their education in that particular school,” he said.
Why negotiation took long
A credible source with knowledge of what happened said the schoolboys could not be brought out of the bush as earlier anticipated because of misunderstanding among the three groups that connived and abducted them from their school.
“There are three groups in the deal and these include the Boko Haram elements from Abubakar Shekau that infiltrated the Rugu forest; a group of bandits from Katsina and another group of bandits from Zamfara,” the source said.
According to him: “The three groups are partners in crime.
“The abduction was not exclusively carried out by the Shekau’s Boko Haram faction; they connived and carried it out with the intent of gaining from it.
“Of course, the Boko Haram faction, which is deeply entrenched in the North East has a long-standing relationship with the bandits in terms of training, arms deals and intelligence gathering but their motives are completely different.
“In the last three years, some Boko Haram members also started living in the forests around Kaduna, Katsina and Zamfara carrying out abductions for money and other criminal activities; they rarely show the other side of their religious extremism.
“This is the biggest collaboration they ever had with the bandits that led to the abduction of hundreds of schoolboys in Kankara.
“It was the idea of Boko Haram and they brought together some bandits from Zamfara and Katsina and carried out the mass abduction.
“However, while the Boko Haram wants to dictate the negotiation process, including asking for a huge ransom and then the release of some of their high profile members in custody of the federal government, the bandits are not comfortable holding the students for a long period.
“The students were indeed kept in clusters but the Zamfara and Katsina bandits are not used to keeping many people at the same time.
“They don’t have enough food and other logistics to keep the abducted students.
“That is why the bandits established contact with the government and started negotiating but the Boko Haram faction kicked,” he said.
Asked why the Boko Haram elements kicked, the source said, “If they have their way, they would move the students to Sambisa forest where they would have absolute control of the negotiation.
“They would ask for a huge ransom and the release of some of their members.
“But for the fact that they know that the North West is not their territory and that they have been surrounded and being closely monitored by security operatives, they would have no option than soft-pedalling on their demands.
“So, while we are not sure if all the students have been released, it will not take long for all to return because the location is not conducive; they can only use the students as a human shield but this cannot last,” the source said.
The Boko Haram video
While the negotiation was ongoing, the Boko Haram on Thursday released a video showing the students.
In the video, the students were asked to relay the demands of the terrorist group, asking for vigilante groups to be dissolved and all schools excluding Islamiyyah closed.
The six-minutes 30 seconds footage showed some of the abducted students mostly between 12 and 18 standing in the bush.
One of the students, who was asked to speak, urged the Nigerian government to sort out the debacle without confrontation, saying the abductors were fully armed.
He said the use of military force in rescuing them would lead to disaster.
“Please, you have to dissolve any gang of vigilantes, close any kind of schools, excluding Islamiyyah.
“Send back all the troops who have come here to rescue, they cannot do anything,” he said.
There were conflicting figures in respect of the actual number of students taken away.
Governor Masari had put the number at 333 while the school register showed over 500 were missing.
The students were taken away from their hostels on Friday, December 11.
Few of them have escaped.
On Monday, Masari said the abductors “have made contacts with the government.”
“Talks are ongoing to ensure their safety and return to their respective families,” he said on Twitter, without identifying the kidnappers.
A joint rescue operation was launched on Saturday by Nigeria Police Force, air force, and army, according to the government.
APC wants North- West gov behind banditry unravelled
The All Progressives Congress (APC) has challenged the security agencies to investigate an intelligence report linking a North West governor to the rising cases of banditry, abductions and other violent crimes in the zone.
The APC in a statement by its Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Yekini Nabena, did not name the North-West governor allegedly indicted by the intelligence report but said the increased spate of banditry in the North- West was politically-motivated.
He said the insecurity in the North-West region was not unconnected with the unnamed governor’s alleged sponsorship of banditry and other violent crimes in the zone.
Daily Trust reports that there are seven governors in the North West. Two of them are members of the PDP while five belong to APC.
They are governors of Sokoto, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal (PDP); Zamfara, Bello Matawalle (PDP); Kebbi, Abubakar Bagudu (APC); Katsina, Aminu Masari (APC); Kaduna, Nasir El-Rufai (APC); Kano, Abdullahi Ganduje (APC) and Jigawa, Muhammad Badaru (APC).
Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna have been battling with kidnapping and banditry for long.
Reacting to the allegation, the PDP through its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, said: “The PDP will not waste precious time responding to innuendos from any impostor.”
The APC on Thursday cautioned the PDP against politicising the abduction the Kankara students, asking the opposition party to stop seeking political gains from issues of insecurity in the country.
“Our security agencies have intelligence reports linking one of the North-West governors of colluding and sponsoring the violent and criminal activities of bandits in the zone.
“I won’t give details because of the sensitivity and nature of the issue.
“However, relevant security agencies must as a matter of urgency investigate the report and determine its veracity.
“Human life is not what we should play political chess games with.
“We must shun enemies of the country including the PDP who seek political gains from issues of insecurity.
“Our security agencies must also be alert to plots to further destabilise the North-West region and frustrate the quick and safe release of students”.