The release of 344 boys abducted from GSSS Kankara in Katsina State has brought joy and relief to the parents of these children.
However, with Katsina State Governor Aminu Masari saying their release was negotiated while the military insists they rescued the boys, Nigerians are wondering what side of the story to believe.
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The Kankara abductions have had a happy ending.
The 344 boys kidnapped en masse by bandits in coalition with elements of Boko Haram from their hostels in Kankara, Katsina State on December 11, have been freed and have returned home.
However, a few people have been left with eggs on their faces.
The Nigerian military said it “rescued” the boys from the bandits. But that they did not eliminate the bandits during this rescue mission triggered questions in the minds of Nigerians.
The Coordinator, Defence Media Operations, Maj. Gen. John Enenche and a retired Maj. Gen. Ahmed Jibrin, while featuring on a special edition of the Nigeria Television Authority programme, ‘Good Morning Nigeria’ said that troops surrounded the forest where the abducted boys were kept.
Jibrin, a former Director, Military Intelligence and current Special Adviser, Technical, to the Minister of Defence, retired Maj.-Gen. Bashir Magashi said the minister led a delegation, including the Service Chiefs and National Security Adviser, to Katsina and Kankara for the operation.
He said the minister set out the rules of engagement directing troops to rescue the boys without casualties and within the shortest time possible.
“Following the directive, troops closed-in on the abductors from four different fronts, including the reinforcement that was made from other divisions to ensure that the entire location was sealed off.
“The bandits were all under siege and they were fully aware of that, feeling the impacts of the presence of the troops both from the air and on the ground.
“When they approached the location where the boys were held, the troops encountered some pockets of opposition which they cleared and moved deeper into the forest.
“Although there was no casualty on the part of the boys, a lot of the bandits were neutralised because, in the attempt by the military to move forward, they laid an ambush in two places along the way.
“In fact, in the second place where they laid an ambush, there was serious resistance because they were hiding and occupied the road.
“They delayed the movement of the troop for some hours before they were neutralised,’’ he said.
The bandits are believed to have established a domain inside the vast Rugu Forest, Daily Trust exclusively reported, with several camps led by bandit kings, one of who was reported to slaughter seven cows to feed his men and the people he has kidnapped and is holding in the forest.
Enenche on his part, said the rescue mission, like any other one, was a delicate operation because if it was not carried out professionally, could turn negative.
“This is an operation where you do not rely on your capacity on platforms and mechanical weapons but your ability to effectively carry out the mission with unarmed combat.
“This means you have to silence your enemies and take your objective away without firing a shot.
“It is very delicate in the sense that if you do not manage the operation well, the children who are between you and the enemies will now become the victims,” he said.
However, these statements have confused many Nigerians who understood that a negotiated settlement was reached for the release of the boys, as confirmed by the Katsina State Governor, Aminu Bello Masari.
“Based on what I have read, it is quite confusing and one thing we have to understand about the Nigerian security structure [is that] they love to get things confused because, in the confusion, they believe that those with eagle eyes would not see the gaps in the processes and in their stories,” Vincent Onyekwelu, a security expert, said.
“Many schools of thought believe that there was no kidnapping really. Many people believed that this was all staged,” he said.
“A lot of schools of thought would ask what would the government benefit from carrying out such a script; is it about money? Is it about trying to influence? Or is it about foreign aid?
“For instance, a few days ago after the Kankara abduction, the UN released about $1.6 to the Nigerian government to help fight insecurity and for development. What happened to that money?
“Did the media know about that money?
“So, a lot of money is involved in what happened in Kankara.
“That is why it is difficult to ask what is the implication of allowing the bandits to return to the forest after military ‘combed’ it,” he said.
He said such kidnappings are only possible because there are many ungoverned spaces in Nigeria, saying that the movement of 344 students from their schools into a forest all the way to Zamfara without encountering law enforcement along the way is a testament to this.
“It is difficult to convince people that they used motorbikes to move these kids.
“The truth is that this was all scripted to create an awareness that they are working, probably to spend the foreign aid,” he said.
But in his submission, Maj.Gen. Muhammad Bashir Galma, backed Jibrin and Enenche, saying the military had a way of strategically operating.
“There must have been a serious negotiation before those people allowed the military to rescue those boys peacefully. Maybe one of the agreements is to allow them (bandits) back into the forest.
“Note that there are some other captives somewhere that would also need this type of negotiation to be done before they are released.
“If that part of the agreements is broken, for the other people, it would be very difficult for another agreement to be entered into,” he said.
He said letting the bandits go back into the forest is not out of carelessness by the military but it is an agreement between the bandits and the military that “must be followed.”
Failure to adhere to it might have caused civilian lives, he said.
However, when asked if the military lacked the capacity to clear the forest, Galma said, “The problem is, according to a proverb, you can’t break a pot with the water inside. If the government says they should clear the forest, we will have many casualties.
They [bandits] have captured so many people, [and would use] them as a human shield.
There are so many innocent souls in that forest.
This is something you have to do it strategically and then understand where these people are with full intelligence reports.”
He said the military is studying the bandits’ strategies to know how to go about it.
But for now, agreements should be kept to save.