Bandits….We won’t pay ransom to bandits, they use money to buy more arms — Gov Bello

…Orders immediate closure of boarding schools in 4 LGAs

…Dispatches security officials to state

…We’re trailing the abductors —Army

…NSCDC may deploy personnel to schools, says Ag. Commandant-General

…Attack on college unfortunate — UNICEF lNAPTAN, NUT, NANS slam government

By Kingsley Omonobi, Wole Mosadomi, Johnbosco Agbakwuru, Dirisu Yakubu & Adesina Wahab

At least one student was killed early yesterday by bandits, while 27 others and 15 staff of Government Science College were also abducted at Kagara in Rafi Local Government Area of Niger State.

Three of the 15 staff abducted were teachers, while the remaining 12 were family members of staff of the school.

The attack, which occurred around 2:00am, compelled the state government to close all boarding schools in four local government areas, including Rafi, Mariga, Munya and Shiroro, where the bandits have been very active in the last two weeks.

Coming barely five days after bandits hijacked a passenger bus owned by the state’s transport company and kidnapped its occupants, the incidents caused President Muhammadu Buhari to deploy security chiefs to the state to begin search for the kidnapped students and their teachers.

He also sent a delegation, comprising the National Security Adviser, NSA, Babagana Monguno, Inspector- General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, Minister of Police Affairs, Muhammad Dingyadi, Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, and his Information and Culture counterpart, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, to meet with the state governor Sani Abubakar Bello.

The incident also compelled the Senate, at yesterday’s plenary, to urge President Buhari to declare a state of emergency on insecurity in the country.

How it happened, by school principal

Explaining how the attack happened yesterday, the Principal of the college, Mr. Aliyu Isah, said:  ‘’The bandits forced the gate open, came to my apartment, held me and asked me to lead them to the hostel.

‘’They told the students not to run, that they were soldiers, because two of them were dressed in  Army camouflage, while one was in black. Some of the students managed to run into the bush, as the bandits started shooting sporadically.’’

One of the students who managed to escape the attack, said the bandits chased after them, shooting ceaselessly.

According to him, it was in the process one of their schoolmates, identified as Benjamin Doma, was hit in the head by a bullet and he died on the spot.

He said some of the bandits were also dressed in the school’s uniform to deceive the students, lamenting that security men did not respond on time.

Why I shut schools— Gov Bello

Confirming this to journalists in Minna yesterday, the state governor, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello said one student, Benjamin Doma, was shot dead during the attack.

He disclosed that there were 650 students on the enrolment list at the time of the attack, adding that 27 were abducted.

The governor, who decried the incessant raid of some local government areas of the state in the past few weeks, ordered  immediate closure of all boarding schools in four local government areas, including Rafi, Mariga, Munya and Shiroro.

He insisted that all the boarding schools in the areas would remain closed until security improved.

The governor, however, ruled out payment of ransom to the bandits to secure the release of the abducted students and staff. He also said the video making rounds in the state where some bandits were celebrating the abduction of passengers of Niger State Transport Service, NSTA, bus that was attacked on Sunday is genuine.

The bandits demanded N500 million ransom to release the kidnapped passengers.

“Government will not pay ransom to secure the release of those abducted. It is not in the policy of government to pay ransom, as the bandits use the money to buy sophisticated weapons and cause more harm.

“We have noticed that the bandits use such money to buy arms and ammunition to further empower themselves

“However, government will do all within its powers to see to the release of those kidnapped and we will also be ready to support and assist repentant bandits,” the governor declared.

He said government is concerned over the recent bandit attacks in the state which had got more brazen and daring.

He, therefore, called for immediate intervention from the Federal Government to rescue the students and other abducted persons from the hands of the bandits.

He said: “We are deeply concerned at these sad events and are asking the Federal Government to deploy every necessary resource, while we will look at all options, both kinetic and non-kinetic, to ensure the safe return of the victims of both incidents as we will not rest or sleep until we bring them back to their families.

Tension high

“Tension is high and the situation is very serious. We are saddened by all these developments. We have been having attacks before and we have been working to settle it but these past few days, the attacks have been so daring. We pray that God will show us the way of getting them back safely.”

Reacting to the attack yesterday, President Muhammadu Buhari gave marching orders to security agencies, to as a matter of urgency, ensure immediate and safe return of all those abducted by the  bandits.

Buhari tasks service chiefs on rescue operation

The President in a statement issued by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, in Abuja, said: “Following these reports, the President has directed the Armed Forces and Police, to ensure immediate and safe return of all the captives.

“The President has also dispatched to Minna, Niger State, a team of security chiefs to coordinate the rescue operation and meet with state officials, community leaders, as well as parents and staff of the college.”

President Buhari assured of the support of his administration to the Armed Forces in their brave struggle against terrorism and banditry and urged them to do all they could to bring an end to the incident and avoid such cowardly attacks on schools in the future.

“Our prayers are with families of the victims of this attack,” the President said.

Similarly, a federal government delegation arrived Minna yesterday, and  assured the people of the state that all steps will be taken to ensure  immediate and safe release of the abducted students and staff of the college.

Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who led the delegation, said they were in the state for a first-hand information of what had happened.

He commended the state government over the steps already taken towards rescuing the students and others, vowing that the Federal Government will not surrender its sovereignty to criminals.

National Security Adviser, Major-General Babagana Monguno, retd, in his own remarks, also assured that all steps will  be taken to secure the release of the students and others.

He said there would be a confluence of efforts, including political and military, to resolve the issue.

The NSA said President Buhari is determined to apply whatever it would take to ensure safety of lives and property of people of the country.

Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu said a lot of strategy had been put in place to deal with the situation, adding that the rate of banditry and kidnappings in the country has remained an issue of concern to the Federal Government and promised to forestall it.

He stated that the Police is working in synergy with other security agencies within the communities to  ensure that the kidnapped students as well as others kidnapped last Sunday in the state-owned commercial bus along Zungeru-Kontagora road were freed unharmed.

The IGP said in order to ensure the state was kept peaceful and the criminals dealt with, the police have deployed four units of Police Mobile Force men to the state, stressing that they are now working with the Department of State Services, DSS, to reinforce security in the country.

We’re trailing the abductors —Army

Brig. Gen. Mohammed Yerima, Director of Army Public Relations stated that “the Nigerian Army in line with its constitutional mandate wishes to reassure the general public that troops in operational synergy with sister security agencies are in hot pursuit of the criminal elements in order to ensure safe return of the kidnapped victims.

“Furthermore, the NA also wishes to call on members of the general public to provide actionable information to security agencies that would lead to the arrest of these criminal elements,” he added.

Reacting to the attack, Acting Commandant-General of Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Mr Hilary Kelechi Madu, did not only condemn the recent spate of attacks and abduction of school children in the country but also lamented that the development has dented the image all security agencies in the country.

He said the Corps will consider deployment of some of its personnel to beef up security in schools, adding that this will be done in collaboration with other security agencies.

Madu noted that the task of securing the country was not only for Civil Defence, Police, or the military but also the public.

READ ALSO: FG to begin repatriation of Nigerian refugees from Cameroon, Niger, Chad

Madu, who spoke at his maiden meeting with top management of the Corps, at the headquarters of NSCDC, in Abuja, said:  “What we are doing is to collaborate more with other sister agencies, share intelligence and deploy more people to schools.

“The only thing is that the staff to be deployed in the whole of Niger State is not there.  Thank God that the Federal Government is allowing us to do recruitment every year now, so, by the time we recruit more men, we will have more people to  deploy to schools. But that is not going to be an excuse.

“It is a dent on all the security agencies in Nigeria that criminals can enter  a school and abduct children.’’

Most unfortunate— UNICEF

Reacting to the attack in a statement, the United Nations Children Fund, UNICEF, described it as most unfortunate and unacceptable.

“UNICEF is aware of reports that yesterday morning, armed men attacked Government Science College in Kagara, in Niger State, Nigeria. According to unconfirmed reports, many students are unaccounted for, though it is not yet clear how many.

“UNICEF condemns in the strongest possible terms any attack on a school and calls for the immediate and unconditional release of any child who may be missing, and the safe return of the students  to their families.

“UNICEF is deeply concerned about these reported acts of violence. Attacks on schools are a violation of children’s rights. Children should feel safe at home and at school at all times – and parents should not need to worry for the safety of their children when they send them off to school in the morning.

“We acknowledge the efforts being taken by the government of Nigeria for the safe return of missing children.”

Stakeholders react

Also reacting yesterday, critical stakeholders in the education sector, including the National Parents Teachers Association of Nigeria, NAPTAN, the Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT and the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, charged the Federal Government to decentralise security issues.

The National President of NAPTAN, Haruna Danjuma, said parents are very disturbed by the incessant kidnap of their children and wards, adding that it should be nipped in the bud now.

“We are so disturbed about the development. When the Federal Government wanted to reopen schools, we told them that it is not only reopening schools that matters but the security and safety of lives of the people involved. We don’t know where we are, and where we are heading to.

“Something is wrong somewhere. The situation is scary, and the responsibility is on all the tiers of government, particularly on the FG. If the President can empower state governors to handle security matters, in conjunction with military top shots  and commissioners of police in their domains, the situation could be better.

“These criminals are now targeting our children to make easy money. Our children have become objects of bargaining. This is another form of coronavirus disease. Some parents are now wary of allowing their children to go back to school, “ he said.

The South-West Co-ordinator of NANS, Kappo Olawale Samuel, opined that the government has not got the issue of security right in the country.

“The Presidency just changed service chiefs, but nothing really has changed as far as security is concerned. I think we need to declare a state of emergency in the security sector. This kind of development is a great disservice to education. It is discouraging students,  teachers and parents.

“Government should live up to the expectation of the people with regards to the protection of lives and properties in the country. It is really disheartening, “ he said.

Also speaking on the matter, Lagos State chairman of the NUT, Otunba Adesina Adedoyin, said what is happening is a reflection of the insecurity in the country at large.

He said:  “It is unfortunate and ungodly that bandits have taken students to be pawns in their hands. Though we are teachers, we are parents too and with the way things are going, anybody can fall victim. It is the duty of the government to protect the citizens, whether young or old.

“If government does not want the people to take the laws into their hands, it must do the needful. This trend of targeting schools must be stopped. The schools they go for are boarding schools and there are reasons the government provide boarding facilities in the schools. This is becoming really serious.’’

It will be recalled that on December 13, last year, 344 students of Government Science College, Kankara, Katsina State, were abducted by bandits and released on December 17 after a series of negotiations with the bandits.

Then, NAPTAN, NUT, NANS and others charged the government not to allow such a situation recur.

PDP, Atiku condemn Kagara abduction

The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, yesterday, expressed worry over the spate of abductions in the country, particularly, yesterday’s reported killing of a student and kidnapping of students of Government Science Secondary School, Kagara, Niger states by bandits.

The PDP in a statement signed by its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, tasked security forces to go after the outlaws and rescue the children unhurt.

The statement read in part: “Nigerians were jolted by Tuesday’s coordinated bandit attacks, kidnapping and killings in several communities in Niger state.

“Bandits were reported to have on Tuesday, moved from village to village, supported by a helicopter, as they pillaged our compatriots, sacked major highways and held communities in Niger State hostage for several hours without any counter attack.

“The PDP describes as revealing that while the people of Niger State and Nigerians in other states were under attack by bandits, All Progressives Congress, APC leaders, including those in Niger State, were busy pursuing their party’s phony membership re-registration exercise, instead of rallying security and rescue efforts for the people.

“This probably explains why the APC never raised a strong voice against what has become a national calamity. Instead, APC leaders are patronizing the bandits and making excuses for them.

“Our party charges the APC to speak out on these reports and take immediate steps to settle their political mercenaries, return them to wherever they brought them from and bring an end to these gruesome attacks on Nigerians.

“While commiserating with the victims of the Niger attacks, the PDP tasks the security forces to go after the bandits as well as rescue the Kagara school children before any harm comes upon them.”

Atiku reacts

Meanwhile, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar has called on the Federal Government to rise to the occasion and defend Nigerians from senseless assault by bandits and kidnappers.

Condemning the Kagara abduction, the Wazirin Adamawa in a statement he personally signed said “the spate of insecurity in Nigeria is now beyond alarming. It has gotten to crisis levels, especially when it involves children and other minors.”

The statement continued: “Now is not the time for fingers to point in blame. Our nation needs solutions. We have now seen that paying ransom and allowing criminals to profit from their criminality is not a solution. When you reward crimes, the end result is more crime.

“The only long term solution to the insecurity challenge Nigeria is facing is to end the reign of impunity. The Federal Government must enforce the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria against abductions and kidnappings, by apprehending the criminals, trying them and making an example of those convicted, to serve as a deterrent to others.

“Also, we must be proactive. We cannot wait for these abductions to happen and then go into reactive mode.

“I therefore call on the Federal Government to declare all secondary and primary schools in the affected states and zones,   as federal protected zones, and post armed military personnel at all schools for 24/7 protection.”

SERAP reacts

Kolawole Oluwadare, deputy director Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) said today:

“Nigerian authorities must locate and ensure the safe release of many students and teachers reportedly abducted by armed men who attacked the Government Science College Kagara, Niger State. We’ll hold the Federal Government to account if the students are not urgently rescued.”

“The abductors must be arrested and brought to justice. Victims must be granted access to justice.”

“The incident, which started at about 2:00am on Wednesday, suggests that Nigerian authorities are failing to live up to their commitments to provide safe a learning environment.

“Some teachers and family members were also reportedly abducted by the gunmen. The operations started from the staff quarters and ended in the students’ hostels, and in the process, one student was reportedly killed while others were wounded.

“The gunmen reportedly gathered some staff and students at a place for hours before moving them out of the school premises to an unknown destination. They wore military uniform and entered the school premises, which has about 1000 students, and overpowered the security guard.”

“Nigerian authorities must probe the reported spending of N3.2bn on Safe School Initiative in 2014, and publish details of spending to date on the Initiative. Public funds budgeted for the Initiative have clearly not achieved a safe school environment for children in the country.”

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