*How 17 others escaped abduction
*LAWMAKER LAMENTS: Rice production by displaced villagers in jeopardy
By Levinus Nwabughiogu
Hon. Tanko Sununu is the lawmaker representing Ngaski/Shanga/Yauri Federal Constituency of Kebbi State in the House of Representatives. In this interview, Sununu narrates to Sunday Vanguard exclusive account of the abduction of students of the Federal Government College, FGC, Binin Yauri by bandits last week. As of Friday, the number of students taken by the bandits, according to Sununu, was yet to be ascertained even as reports said about 80 could not be accounted for. The lawmaker also said the military responded swiftly to the kidnapping and rescued about eight victims, made up of six students and two teachers. Excerpts of interview:
How did it all happen?
It all began about three weeks ago when bandits were on their way to a target in a location bordering Niger State in Yauri local government area of Kebbi State. They wanted to kidnap a Chinese in one quarry station. So, they were in a location in my own constituency where they stayed for some time.
They killed a police officer at that time and went along with his gun. Since that time they had made that place their route of operations. So, eight days before the school abduction, they were also in my constituency and had a house-to-house, room-to-room operation in Timor, Kuliho, Kambuwal, Laka and many other villages. It was a field day they had.
Subsequently, they left a message that they would be coming back. That led to a lot of the villagers moving from those villages to Yauri, the capital of the emirate, and also the headquarters of Yauri local government area.
However, they were assured of their safety and some of them had the courage to go back home. Now, some days later, there was a speculation that the bandits were on their way to the villages. But sincerely speaking, government beefed up security around the Federal Government College, Binin Yauri.
That may be the soft target they were aiming at. But they had a very strong gun duel with the counterterrorism unit there, about 21operatives or so of them that were guarding the school. There was an exchange of fire for about three hours following which they overpowered the operatives, killed one policeman, had access to the school and went straight to the students’ hostel where they kidnapped unspecified number of students along with five members of staff.
As they were fleeing after the abduction, one of the students they had kidnapped and had sustained gun injury was thrown out of the vehicle. But a Good Samaritan took her to hospital. We thank God that she survived despite her injuries.
They also had a situation where one of their vehicles broke down; they abandoned the vehicle and took the children into the bush. Some of the children escaped from their captors in the process. As of yesterday (Thursday, June 17), there were 17 of the escaped children on admission at General Hospital Yauri.
Then, we made contact with the military. In response, air and ground troops of the military were there and as of this morning (Friday, June 18), we heard that six of the students and two teachers had been rescued. But the operation is ongoing and we are hoping that the remaining abducted students will be rescued very soon.
Have the authorities of the school given the number of missing students?
It is very difficult to ascertain the number of the students that were missing because immediately after the bandits left the school, parents, on hearing what had happened, rushed to the school and the school authorities could not control them and it was difficult to take inventory.
So, parents were just picking their wards and taking them away from the school. So, it was difficult to know who and who were missing. But with parents reporting that they have not seen their children, it is possible for us to now have the actual figure of those missing.
Some of the teachers rescued may also know the number of students the bandits picked along with them. So, that may give us a clue about the exact number of students abducted. But because of the roll call of the teachers, we were able to know that five teachers were not around.
How’s the situation at the moment?
At the moment, parents have gone home with their wards and the PTA and the management has closed the school. But when you talk about the communities, there is a lot of apprehension, tension here and there, with everybody running helter-skelter. The villagers have now become internally displaced persons in Yauri.
That has brought a lot of hardship in terms of accommodation, feeding and others things to support their daily needs. That is the situation now and, unfortunately, we are in a situation where the villagers are supposed to be in their farms because of the rainy season. They are supposed to start planting. But they can’t even prepare their farms talk less of planting.
We think that this incident, in the long run, will affect the position of Kebbi in rice production in Nigeria. Not only that, schools are closed in the emirate and environs and that will affect the overall performance of students especially when most of them are about writing their exams. But the major issue now is the emergency situation that we have in terms of accommodation, feeding, getting the trust of the people.
But, in the last 17 hours, I want to assure you that the hope of the people is being restored because they have seen now the military engaging the bandits. So, the villages where the bandits have base, the military is getting a stronghold.
So, with that, people are gradually regaining their hope that if they can be dismantled, things will get better and we must salute the courage of the military in the last 17 or so hours for what they have done. If it can be extended to other places, we are surely not going to lose hope.
Any arrest so far?
From unconfirmed sources, there are and also casualties on the part of the bandits. Also, 800 cows that were rustled by the bandits have been recovered and in the custody of the military now.
Kebbi had been relatively calm before now even though many parts of the North have been witnessing attacks by bandits. Do you wonder why this happened?
Nobody can wonder why because something can start and later expand like a wild fire. If you cannot nip it in the bud, definitely, it is likely to spread. And that’s why we should take this as a national and not a regional problem. It is just like Boko Haram.
When it started, people thought it was just a Borno State problem. It later spread to Yobe, Adamawa and many other places. It is the same with banditry. When it started in Zamfara, people thought it was only about the Zamfara gold mining issue. But it is now becoming a national calamity.
I think we should look at it holistically and not just take it as a northern problem or Hausa/Fulani issue. Let’s take it as a national problem. These people don’t differentiate whether you are Hausa or Fulani and let’s not also give it a religious coloration to say this is a Muslim or Christian problem. Those bandits don’t differentiate
Ask people who have established contacts with them. As far as they are concerned, anybody on their way is an enemy. It is either they get what they want from you or you pay with your life. Let’s see it as a criminal act, unite and collectively fight it.
And so, northern governors have tried, especially those in North-West. They started fighting them in Katsina, pushed them to Niger State, Kebbi and then to Kaduna. At a time, they moved to Sokoto, thereby bringing a lot of fatigue to the military. I think it is uncalled for.
Let us all have a united fight so that each and every state will contribute a certain quota that will collectively fight them. What is needed now is unity among states, security agencies and collective will. We should also learn to engage the local people as to the information, environment knowledge and routes that are commonly used by bandits.
Earlier, you said the bandits gave notice of their coming. So, why didn’t you take a proactive measure?
We should look for subtle signs. They have their base in part of Niger State. Once they pass a village, people should have called to say that these people are on their way. They said they were coming and they were not going to harm anybody.
They came the first time. Their targets were phone, money, motorcycles and cows. They said they were coming again and they fulfilled their promise. There were about 200 of them carrying AK-47 rifles. Obviously 21 security men could not match 200 bandits. And they came with superior weapons.
We should have boosted security to match them in terms of number. But in the last 21 hours, we must give credit to the military personnel, security agencies and all the stakeholders who were actively involved in this mobilization.
Aren’t you afraid of your own life, conscious of your personal security?
I am conscious of my personal security, but it’s either you do the needful or you drop the ball. I went out and campaigned to people.
If I went out and I was voted for, then I should be able to serve as a spokesperson for my people. It is a responsibility I must carry out.