Armed men who kidnapped pupils from an Islamiyya school in Tegina, Niger State and those that kidnapped students from Federal Government College (FGC), Birnin-Yauri, are still holding on to their victims with one group making stringent demand and the other shifting the goal post, Daily Trust can report.
No fewer than 136 school pupils were kidnapped from Salihu Tanko Islamiyya School in Tegina on May 30. Another set of gunmen stormed FGC Yauri in Kebbi State from where they abducted 80 students on June 17.
Daily Trust gathered that Ali Kachalla, the bandit’s kingpin holding the Tegina pupils has refused to release the children even after collecting N50 million ransom from their parents. Instead, he introduced fresh demand for six motorcycles but the distraught parents say they could not raise any more money to meet the fresh demand.
Kachalla, it was also gathered, has refused entreaties from Fulani leaders engaged as mediators to secure the release of the pupils who have been in the kidnappers’ den for almost 90 days.
“A three-man delegation went to meet him but on learning of their arrival, he avoided going to his house for many days until the old men left in frustration,” said a source involved in the process, who also described Kachalla as “merciless and cantankerous”.
Abductor insists on swapping Yauri students with 5 bandits
While parents battle for the release of the kidnapped Tegina Islamiyya pupils, the fate of over 70 FGC Yauri students hangs as the bandits’ arrowhead who kidnapped them, Dogo Gide, insists that he would only free the students in exchange for five of his men arrested by security agents.
Security sources told Daily Trust that Gide has not asked for ransom for the students despite overtures.
“He said he was not looking for money. His only demand is that government should release five of his men as condition for the release of the students,” the source said, describing the condition as stringent considering its implication.
A source familiar with the ongoing talks said a process has been initiated to perfect the release after stormy discussions among security agencies on the modalities.
“It is a tough decision agreeing to accede to demands of criminals, but arguments were also made about the fate of the innocent students who could be wasted by the madmen,” the said source.
Daily Trust gathered that Gide, who was saddened by the capture of his lieutenants, initially abducted three people, including a Chinese man from a quarry in Niger State, to press for the release of his men.
“The company reached out and explained to him that they were not government workers, so they had to offer a ransom. But even after collecting ransom he released only two persons and withheld the Chinese man.
“However, it appears that he decided to release the last one as he was becoming infirm from long incarceration, though he (Gide) had threatened to kill him if no more money was paid,” our source said.
The source said it was after this that he decided to raid the school in Yauri, believing it was the best way to press for his demand on government.
Since the abduction of students from Government Science School Kankara, bandits have increasingly targeted schools in troubled communities, leading to the closure of schools in Kaduna, Zamfara and Katsina states.
How informants are hindering release of abducted Tegina pupils
Informants who have infiltrated the ranks of parents of the abducted Tegina Islamiyya school pupils are hampering the release of the abductees, Daily Trust investigation has shown.
The children, numbering about 200, were whisked away from the Salihu Tanko Islamiyya School, Tegina on May 30, with the bandits releasing about 17 of them considered too little while herding over 100 into the forest.
A reliable source disclosed that the school children are being held captive at a sacked village around the Wawa Forest.
As traumatised parents await the release of their kids, tears continue to flow in many homes in Tegina, as the abductors are still holding onto the pupils even after collecting N50 million ransom contributed by sympathisers.
The kidnappers had agreed to free the remaining 116 pupils if the ransom was reduced from the initial N200 million and N50 million was paid.
Recently, the parents, including sympathisers, were said to have mobilised N30 million to the kidnappers at an agreed location in the forest after an initial N20 million was paid in June. But after counting the money, the abductors declared that it was N4.6 million short and detained the conveyor of the ransom. The pupils were also not released.
The kidnappers subsequently contacted the parents to send the N4.6 million balance, plus another N2 million short from the initial payment of N20 million, totalling N6.6 million.
The kidnappers also made fresh demand asking the parents to supply six brand new Boxer motorcycles before the pupils would be released.
Informants taking undue advantage
Investigations by Daily Trust, however, revealed that informants within families of the abducted children in the Tegina community are frustrating efforts at releasing them due to pecuniary benefits from the deal.
This was made known by some of the parents who spoke with our reporter at Tegina on the condition of anonymity because they have been barred from granting media interviews on the matter.
It was gathered that whenever meetings were held between the parents and other mediators on ransom and other related issues, the informants swiftly called the bandits and communicate the details to them.
“Indeed informants are frustrating our efforts. They are everywhere, including within families of the abducted children’s parents. Whenever we meet to discuss the matter, especially with regards to raising money through sympathizers for ransom, the informants quickly call and give details to the abductors,” said a parent whose three kids are still held captive.
The visibly upset parent, who said they have resigned their fate to God said: “The other day a good-spirited individual came to our meeting and donated N200,000 as his contribution for the ransom. But an informant quickly called the bandits and reported that a contribution of N2 million was made.”
Another parent said the bandits are still holding onto the children because informants were giving them the impression that the government was covertly contributing to ransom payment.
“They (bandits) are being made to believe that as poor peasant parents who cannot afford much money we have been receiving financial support from the government which is making the bandits hold onto our children for higher bargains,” the source said.
Another parent told Daily Trust that informants and middlemen are now making brisk business from the affected families.
“They are supplying vital information on ransom payment to the bandits in return for monetary rewards,” said the source who laments: “I have personally exhausted my resources to the extent that feeding is now a problem.”
Daily Trust also gathered that apart from giving information to the bandits, some middlemen involved in conveying ransom are short-changing them; thereby making the bandits hold onto the children.
“For example, the conveyor who was expected to deliver N30 million to the bandits recently kept part of the money thereby frustrating their release by the kidnappers who came up with more demands.
The Niger State government denied making any contributions to the Tegina parents in aid of ransom payment, saying their doors remain open for negotiation but no ransom payment.
The Information commissioner, who spoke exclusively with Daily Trust after his release by kidnappers said: “We never contributed a kobo to Tegina parents for ransom payment and will never do so because it is against our position on that.”
Kidnappers of Bethel students insist on N80m ransom
Also, forty-five days since over 100 students of Bethel Baptist High School in Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State were abducted, about 80 of the students are still in captivity while the bandits are demanding N80 million for their freedom.
Daily Trust reports that 28 of the students regained their freedom on July 25 after their abductors allegedly collected N50 million as ransom. Since then, some of the students have escaped the bandits’ den in twos and threes but sources within the school say at least 80 of the students are still in captivity.
The gunmen had earlier demanded each parent to raise N500, 000 for the release of their wards who are between the ages of 10 and 17.
However, since July 25, none of the students has been released even though the bandits had earlier promised to release them in batches.
A parent whose child is still in captivity told Daily Trust that the school management had cautioned them from speaking with journalists but said the bandits were demanding for N80 million to free the remaining students.
“We have been asked once again to contribute at least N300, 000 each but many of us cannot afford it, we have resorted to prayers, God will free our children,” she said.
Efforts to reach the school Proprietor, Reverend Adamu Jangado were not possible as he did not answer calls to his phone. However, Kaduna State Police Public Relations Officer, ASP Mohammed Jalige told Daily Trust that the command had not forgotten the students as they are doing their best to ensure they are rescued alive.
By Abdulaziz Abdulaziz (Abuja), Fidelis Mac-Leva (who was in Tegina) & Lami Sadiq (Kaduna)