By Bashir Bello, Dirisu Yakubu, Gabriel Olawale, Charly Agwam & Olayinka Latona
Protests yesterday rocked Kankara in Kankara Local Government Area of Katsina State, following the abduction of students of Government Senior Secondary School, GSSS, in the town by bandits on Friday night.
The protests came on a day governor of the state, Aminu Bello Masari, told a delegation of the Federal Government that about 333 students of the school were still missing, 72 hours after the abduction, even as the state government yesterday ordered indefinite closure of schools in the state.
This is just as a grieving Aminu Dayyabu and father of one of the missing students, said his 12-year-old son, Aminu Faruq, in JSS 2, was among those yet to be rescued by security agents.
The protesters, who marched round the school and streets in the town, demanded prompt rescue of students abducted by bandits on Friday night.
Led by a woman who identified herself as one of the mothers of the abducted students, the protesters bore placards with such inscriptions as “Government must speak out;” “We want our children back;” and “We want security in Kankara.”
The protesters also chanted songs seeking the rescue of the abducted students.
School principal keeps mum
However, efforts to ascertain the actual number of the kidnapped or missing children proved abortive as principal of the school declined comments on the grounds that the governor, Aminu Bello Masari, directed him not to speak to the media.
“I have been given directive by the governor not to talk to the media. If you need any information, talk to the government. That was the directive,” he said.
Amid the protest, the Coalition of Northern Groups, CNG, threatened to mobilise students and youths to go on protest in Katsina State if the abducted students were not rescued on time.
Chairman of the North-West zone of the group, Jamiu Aliyu, who briefed the media in Katsina, said: “We condemn in totality this barbaric act and call for the immediate arrest and prosecution of the culprits.
“We equally stress the inability of the government to protect those young, innocent, vibrant students from this horrible attack as uncalled for.
“Failure of the government to rescue the missing students within the shortest period of time, CNG will not hesitate to mobilize hundreds of thousands on the streets of Katsina State for a continuous protest, until the students are fully rescued, even if it’s going to cost our lives.”
FG delegation on sympathy visit
As the protest progressed at Kankara, Governor Aminu Bello Masari was at a meeting with the Federal Government delegation, led by Minister of Defence, Major-General Bashir Magashi, retd, at Government House, Katsina.
He told the delegation which also included the service chiefs, that about 333 of the students are still missing. They were in Katsina on a sympathy visit.
The governor, who put the total number of students in the school at 839, said nobody or group has reached out to the government to claim responsibility for the attack.
He said: “Based on available records, we have a total number 839 students in the school. We are still searching for 333 students through either the forest or their parents to ascertain the actual number that has been kidnapped.
“Counting is ongoing because more are coming out from the forest and we are calling through the numbers of those parents that have phone numbers to find out whether or not their children have gone back home.
“We, as a government, are yet to be contacted by any group or persons responsible for the kidnap of the students.”
Responding, the Defence Minister said the missing children would be released in the next few hours without collateral damage to the people of the state.
Magashi called on the armed forces, the police and other security agencies to move faster to ensure the speedy and safe rescue of the students.
He continued: “We have strategies and I believe we can do it without any collateral damage to the people of Katsina State,” he said.
“We have the intelligence, the information, their whereabouts, their movements and their methods of operations. The task is easy for the armed forces and the police.
“The only thing is that we need prayers from you so that there will be no collateral damage in the event of being hostile. We assure you that all hands are on deck.”
The defence minister said the abducted students will be recovered soon, adding that security agencies are working hard to ensure their release.
He said: “So far, we have been briefed by the Police Commissioner, GOC, Brigade Commander, Air Commander, DSS, and other security officers.
“Our interest is to keep ourselves abreast with what actually happened two days ago and we believe with their briefings, this task is going to be simple for us.”
Katsina schools closed
Following the incident, the state government, yesterday, directed all schools in the state to end their third term for the 2019/2020 academic session.
The schools, which were supposed to end the session next week, have been directed to remain closed until further notice.
A statement by the Public Relations Officer, Ministry of Education, Sani Suleiman, read: “This is to inform the general public, especially principals, parents/guardians, proprietors of community and private schools that the third term for 2019/2020 academic session has come to an end.
“Therefore, all public, community, and private schools are to remain closed till further notice.”
My son still missing — grieving father
Also, a grieving father, Aminu Dayyabu, cried out yesterday that he was yet to see his 12-year-old son, who is in Junior Secondary School , JSS2.
Aminu, a resident of Funtua, who enrolled his son in the technical school told Vanguard yesterday that he was told by another student who narrowly escaped the attack that his son was among those taken away into the bush on foot by the bandits.
He narrated his ordeal: “The bandits created a chaotic atmosphere that made the children to scamper for safety. While some were found, some are still returning and some are still missing. My son is among those still missing.
“I approached one of the students who escaped the attack. I asked him if he knew my son, Faruq Aminu and his whereabouts. He answered yes, he knew him and that he was among those the kidnappers took away into the bush.
“He said he scaled through the fence to escape but my son, being a minor, couldn’t jump the fence. So, he is among those kidnapped.
“As at this morning (yesterday), the information we had was that there was deployment of security operatives in the area to go into the bush in search of the students.
“We learned the students in the school were about 800, about 250 were found and later, about 150 returned. Then it is assumed that about 400 are still missing.
“There was also a boy who escaped and who told us they took them into the bush on foot like cattle. They took them up to Powa Forest which is a far distance.
“We found majority of their shoes in the school. They took them away on their bare feet. I feel unhappy with the situation because it is better to lose my child to death than being kidnapped.
He would not get proper feeding and accommodation, a terrible situation for a minor.”
PDP flays tear-gassing of protesting parents
In a related development, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, yesterday chided President Muhammadu Buhari’s government over alleged tear-gassing of parents of the students of Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State.
The PDP in a statement signed by its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, described as disturbing that “such callousness could be meted out on the grief-stricken parents after President Muhammadu Buhari, who had gone holidaying in the state, failed to protect their children from terrorists.”
The statement read: “It is, indeed, sad that instead of going after terrorists and insurgents, that struck few hours after a holidaying President Buhari and his security machinery took over the state, the state apparatus of power is being used to inflict further pain on the helpless victims.
“Such display of insensitivity further foregrounds the lack of empathy by the Buhari-led All Progressives Congress, APC, administration and serves as a sad reminder of how it also blamed the 43 farmers recently slain by terrorists in Borno state, instead of taking steps to apprehend the assailants.
“Indeed, our party shares the pains and sorrows of these parents who have been under serious torment since President Buhari arrived Katsina for his needless holidays.
“The PDP, therefore, calls on the Buhari Presidency to immediately apologize to Nigerians and the parents of the kidnapped students as well as take steps to ensure disciplinary actions on those who ordered the tear gas attack on the parents.
“Our party also restates our call to President Buhari to go in search of and rescue the students, who were kidnapped while his security machinery was in charge of the state.
“The PDP reiterates its stand, in solidarity with the people of Katsina State and other patriotic Nigerians, not to rest until President Buhari finds and rescues each of these young ones.”
Catholic Archbishop of Lagos tasks Buhari on security
Meanwhile, the Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Rev. Alfred Adewale Martins, has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to urgently address the problems of insecurity and other vices that have plagued the country in recent years.
He condemned the latest invasion of Government Senior Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State by bandits who kidnapped hundreds of students of the school and called on the President to fish out those behind the attack.
The clergyman, who made the call while delivering his homily during the inauguration and installation of executives of Catholic Action Nigeria, said insecurity is a major problem that the government must address, adding that killings and kidnaps of innocent citizens are becoming unbearable.
He pleaded with the nation’s leadership to be more serious and pragmatic in tackling the problems currently bedeviling the nation, and the continuous threat to agricultural activities caused by herdsmen’s attacks.
He regretted the state of the nation’s economy, the decline in the quality of education, high rate of unemployment and called for all hands to be on deck to ameliorate the situation.
He said: “Almost everyday, we hear issues of kidnapping on the roads, on the farms, we cannot count the number of kidnapped victims on a daily basis. A few weeks ago, these so-called bandits slaughtered over 40 farmers who were tied like goats and then killed like chicken on their farms. Students are kidnapped in schools.
“At this time that people are losing their jobs, with high cost of food items, increase in electricity and fuel tariffs, our government has continued to do things the same way. The government refused to change the security strategy, refusing to accept the idea of state policing and the consideration to change the country to true federalism.
“At the same time that COVID-19 is ravaging, our government is also preparing the ground on the prosperity of our neighboring country.”
Methodist Church prelate wants service chiefs replaced
Reacting to the security situation in the country, Prelate of Methodist Church Nigeria, Dr Samuel Uche, yesterday recommended immediate replacement of service chiefs, saying they had run out of ideas.
Uche, who stated this in Lagos at an event organised by the church for the consecration and investiture of bishops as well as the induction of Archdiocesan Lay Presidents and Diocesan Lay Presidents, said: “The chief security officer of the nation has done his best, I pray God gives him wisdom to tackle the security challenges in the country. We need new ideas, we don’t need to go to another country to get security personnel.
“The president should be bold enough to send these service chiefs on one-year sabbatical leave so that he can engage fresh people with fresh ideas. He shouldn’t be afraid of whether they will stage a coup against him; nobody will stage coup. No reasonable Nigerian will want to have a coup, anybody that stages a coup will be stoned to death.
“The security chiefs have done the best they could do, we need to appreciate them; they should go, so that new people with fresh ideas can take over. Those that are there now are tired, they should be removed so that new blood will be injected.’’
The prelate also warned government at all levels to reduce the cost of governance, saying this would help the country overcome recession.
“One-time entitlement is enough for governors, their deputies, senators, House of Representatives members among other public office holders. Nothing like giving them cars every two or three years. If someone has billions (of Naira)and the others didn’t have anything to eat, it will bring unrest, hostility, criminality and other social vices. A hungry man is an angry man.
“Any nation that neglects the youth is sitting on time bomb, I see #EndSARS as child play, compared to what is likely to happen in future because we have neglected the youth for so long. It should not be so.
‘’We should think about their well-being, I went to UK and noticed that children bellow 18 years are paid and 60 years above are also paid for maintenance, but here they neglect the old and youth, it’s suicidal, it’s wicked, it’s malicious; we should start being fair to all,’’ he said.
UNICEF condemns attack
Following the attack and abduction of students in Katsina State, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has condemned the attack and called for immediate, unconditional release of the students.
In a press release shared with Vanguard, yesterday, the UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Marie-Pierre Poirier stressed that attacks on schools are a violation of children’s rights and international humanitarian law.
“On Friday evening, armed men attacked the Government Science Secondary School in Kankara, Katsina State, northwest Nigeria. According to unconfirmed reports, hundreds of students are still unaccounted for.
“UNICEF condemns in the strongest possible terms this brutal attack and calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all children and their return to their families.
“UNICEF is deeply concerned about these acts of violence. Attacks on schools are a violation of children’s rights and international humanitarian law. This is a grim reminder that abductions of children and widespread grave violations of children’s rights continue to take place in northern Nigeria.
“Children should feel safe at home, in schools and in their playgrounds at all times. We stand with the families of the missing children and the community affected by this horrifying incident.
“We acknowledge the efforts by the Government of Nigeria in undertaking all efforts for the safe return of the missing children,” the statement read.
10 children held captive, says Garba Shehu
Speaking on the incident yesterday, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, told BBC that government troops have surrounded the area where gunmen are believed to be holding the schoolchildren hostage.
He said 10 children were being held captive and not the number reported missing by the staff.
“The attackers are thought to be seeking ransom,’’ Mr Shehu said.
In a BBC interview, Mr Shehu said there was a “massive deployment” of troops to rescue the abducted children.
He said: “Military commanders on the ground have the coordinates of where they believe the bandits are, and whoever they are holding. They have surrounded all of that area.
“Security at the school has been strengthened following the attack.”
“President Buhari comes from the state, and is currently there on a private visit. He is being briefed hourly on efforts to rescue the children. The criminal elements, bandits, will be crushed. They will be eliminated.
‘’The children believe that 10 of their schoolmates were taken by the bandits, but this still needed to be verified.’’