More than two weeks after the abduction of 39 students from Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation in Afaka, Kaduna State, parents say they are not getting the right answers from government and security agencies.
Mrs Angelina Babale is angry, distraught, and sometimes becomes inconsolable. The thought of her 25-year-old daughter, Blessing, among the 39 students abducted from the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, in Igabi Local Government Area of Kaduna State, continues to haunt her. Since the abduction, Angelina told Daily Trust that she has been unable to eat and sleep, the resultant effect has been a mandatory visit to the doctor where she was told her blood pressure had gone up. Even though doctors had rebuked her for her dramatic weight loss, Mrs Babale says she cannot help it; the thought of her daughter and others in captivity by gun-wielding bandits constantly leaves her in despair.
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More than two weeks after the abduction of what colleagues, friends and family have tagged as Afaka39, the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation has become a shadow of itself. The gates of the school have closed as academic activities have been suspended till further notice. But many students have still lingered within Kaduna hoping there is something they could do to help recover their colleagues. Two protests have so far taken place with the first staged by students of the school and another by students, parents and relatives of the abducted students. During the most recent protest on Monday, parents and relatives had blocked the Kaduna Airport road and, in the process, given the government 24 hours ultimatum to ensure the release of the students.
Angelina tells Daily Trust Sunday that there haven’t been soothing words from the Kaduna State government, while all that comes from the school management have been repeated monotones asking them to be patient. “That was why we went on protest; because nobody was talking to us. The government was not talking to us, the school was not talking to us. So, who is going to tell us the status of our children,” she cried out.
In Angelina’s modest family home in Mando-Bable, less than two kilometres from the school where her daughter and other students were abducted, the mother of five, in misty eyes, said she and other parents want answers; they want the federal government or Kaduna State government to talk to them.
Sunday Musa whose daughter, Sarah, is among the abducted students said even though the 48-hours ultimatum given by parents had expired, they will return to the school and continue to press for the return of their children. Musa, who is equally angry that Nigeria’s insecurity had degenerated to the extent it has, said his daughter had been engaged to be married before the abduction. “They did not abduct our children from a hotel or drinking parlour; they took them from their school. We kept our children in the custody of the government, in a government school, so we have every right to demand answers from the government,” he said.
He lamented the tardiness in rescuing the students, saying the government could have shown more tact if the victims were children of the rich.
The father of four said his eldest daughter was not meant to pass the night in the hostel if not for a late evening lecture. Musa explained that his eldest daughter intended to return home after the lecture but had called her mother to inform her that she did not get a vehicle to return and so decided to pass the night. “If I had known, I would have gone to carry her,” he lamented.
“Government asked us to go to the farm, they asked us to take our children to school and we have done so but we are being abducted in our farms and our children are abducted in their schools, so what do they want us to do? Some of the children abducted are orphans and now they are in the wilderness,” he said.
Bandits cut off parents, prefer to deal with government
A day after the abduction of the students, a video clip showing the victims in what appeared to be a forest area had emerged. The bandits had posted three video clips using the Facebook accounts of two students in captivity. The Facebook accounts had also made a post demanding N500 million and also posted a phone number of one of the students as means of contacting the bandits.
A few days after the abduction, our correspondents had dialed the number and a male voice had confirmed they had the students but insisted their demands must be met before they release them. The speaker had then abruptly disconnected the line. Daily Trust also gathered that a few of the parents had also reached out to the bandits but have now been warned against doing so.
Pastor Joshua Pyan whose two granddaughters were abducted explained that the parents had gathered from the school that the bandits had warned that they would not speak with parents and insist they can only engage with the government. “We are not the government but subjects of the government and citizens of the state. We are under the state governor so our special appeal to the governor is to tender mercy and help rescue the students,” he said.
This information was buttressed by Angelina Babale who said: “They told us in the school that the bandits have said no parents should call them otherwise they will kill the students; that they will only engage with the government. It is why we staged the protest,” she said, adding that, “Government was not talking to us, the school was not giving us adequate information and now the bandits don’t want to talk to us, it is frustrating.”
Pastor Pyan said he was devastated when he saw his granddaughters in the released video clips two days after the abduction, and expressed worry that days have gone by without a word from the bandits. “It is taking too long; it is more than two weeks now and all we can do is to pray and make appeals to the government to get these children out of harm’s-way,” he said.
Mrs Babale also said she identified her daughter in the video clip. “I saw Blessing and her friend Pamela who used to stay with us before they resumed to the dormitory. The day I saw the video, I broke down and many people came around and were consoling me. I just want them all to come back home,” she said.
We are ready to assist in the rescue of our children – Parents
With the release of students of GGSS, Jangebe and GSS, Kankara in less than one week after their abductions, parents of Afaka 39 say they are worried that the rescue of their children was taking too long. “We have seen how other states have rescued their children; it didn’t take this long, but we do not know what is happening in Kaduna State. We no longer sleep, we are ill, we cannot eat and we have lost a lot of weight,” Sunday Musa said.
“My wife is sick and she has High Blood Pressure because of this. She is not sleeping and she is not eating. I keep wondering where my daughter is and in what condition she is in,” he said.
Angelina Babale says she is willing to go to the forest to look for her daughter if the government allows it. “I don’t know how to hold a stick or a knife or even a gun but if they want us to go to the forests to fight for our children, I’m ready to go. If they want me to carry a bowl and go from house to house to beg for money to pay for ransom, I’ll do it. If we are to die, then it’s fine, let us all die,” she said.
“As far as we know, the gunmen are communicating with the government and the provost of the school keeps telling us that the government is trying its best. If it is going to overwhelm the government then we expect them to call the parents and ask us to contribute, we can work together,” Sunday Musa said.
According to pastor Pyan, the only two available options are to plead with the government to intervene and rescue the children and for the government to allow the kidnappers to negotiate with the parents.
“If you see the clip, you will agree that the students are in a confused stage because many of them are without clothes and only God knows how traumatic they are. Parents at home are already confused. A lot of them are in the hospitals due to High Blood Pressure,” he said.
Even though the Kaduna State Police Command and the Commissioner of Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan, have not responded to enquiries on efforts to rescue the students after several calls, Pastor Joshua Pyan said: “We know they are trying and that is why we are still pleading with them to put more vigour to rescue the students. The rainy season has just come. There would be a lot of mosquitoes, snakes and other dangerous animals in the bush. Some of them may be sick.”
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