By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
THE Federal Government, yesterday, said it was not part of any negotiations or payment of any ransom for the release of the abducted 344 students of Kankara school in Katsina State, despite Wall Street Journal report that the schoolboys said the kidnappers demanded N344million (N1 million per head) before they were released.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, in his reaction to the Wall Street Journal report, said it was false to say that the Federal Government paid ransom for the release of the students.
He said: “Federal Government was not a party to the negotiations, so it is false of anyone to say it has paid ransom.
“The governors of Katsina and Zamfara states, who led the talks, reported that they didn’t pay any ransom. We believe them. You have a right to choose who you want to believe.”
All the 344 schoolboys were released on December 17, 2020, by the bandits, who had kidnapped them, on December 11, 2020.
Controversy has, however, trailed the claim that ransom was not paid by the Nigerian authorities to secure the release of the schoolboys.
According to the report by the Wall Street Journal, WSJ, it was on the third day in captivity that the Lawal brothers thought they would be executed.
Exhausted and hungry, their bare feet lacerated after long marches at gunpoint through a dense forest with more than 300 abducted schoolmates, 16-year-old Anas and 17-year-old Buhari were ordered by their kidnappers to answer a question.
“Is your family poor?” said one of the gunmen, much of his face masked by a turban. “If they are, we will kill you now. They won’t be able to afford the ransom,” he said.
The brothers, whose father, Abubakar Lawal, is a construction-industry said nothing and stared at the ground.
“We thought they would kill us there and then,” said Anas.
“That was the scariest part. We thought we’d never see our family again,” said his older brother, who is named after Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari.
Three days later, the Lawals were among the 344 students from the all-boys Kankara Government Science School, who were released, a happy ending to a terrifying week in which they endured beatings, threats and deprivations at the hands of their kidnappers.
Boko Haram had claimed responsibility for the abduction.
Three boys said in interviews that the kidnappers told them a ransom had been paid for their release. A person familiar with the kidnappers’ talks with the government said a sizable sum had been paid for the boys’ freedom.
During their captivity, according to interviews with eight of the freed students, boys as young as 13 were forced to eat raw potatoes and bitter kalgo leaves to survive. They were seldom allowed rest, sleeping on rocky ground home to snakes and scorpions. They threw themselves on the forest floor to avoid being spotted by military jets their captors said would bomb them.
After six nights in captivity, the students were handed to security agents on the night of December 17 in the neighboring Zamfara State.