By Omeiza Ajayi
Distraught parents and management of an Islamiyya School in Niger state where pupils were kidnapped by bandits last Sunday have cried out to the Federal and State Governments to come to their aid and help to secure the release of about 136 pupils and staff taken away from the school.
Two of the parents of the abductees have now died of shock while some of the two-year olds who witnessed the horrifying scene of the abductions are said to be going through psychological trauma.
Bandits had on Sunday invaded the Salihu Tanko Nursery/Primary and Junior Secondary School, Zungeru Junction, Tegina in Niger state and abducted nearly 150 pupils and staff. They later reportedly released 11 of the younger pupils.
Abubakar Alhassan, Head Teacher of the school who spoke amid tears on a breakfast television show on Arise TV on Friday said the bandits have jerked up the ransom to N200 millon from their initial demand for N110 million.
Alhassan’s narrations were so emotional that he intermittently broke down in tears even as Tundu Abiola, one of the presenters of the show also followed suit. One of the parents who could not hold back tears, walked out of the classroom where the interview was conducted, while another placed his head on the table, sobbing.
Some of the pupils kidnapped are aged between four and 15 years. While they were said to have been starved for the first three days, the bandits later gave them water having gotten assurances that the parents were striving hard to raise the ransom.
While their shoes were taken from them, the bandits also removed the veils of the girls, and left the male pupils with only their trousers.
He said; “The last call I received from the kidnappers was some minutes after 11am on Thursday. They demanded the ransom of N110 million. That was the negotiation between us and them from the first day till Wednesday but at about 9pm of that day, they called me and increased the ransom to N200 million and they said they did not want me to even talk about the initial N110 million. So, from then, they didn’t call me again until Thursday morning. They asked me about the ransom and I was able to explain to them that we were going round to see that we contribute the money to give them the ransom. They told me that they don’t even want to hear about the initial demand for N110 million, that they now want N200 million. So, I started begging them but they switched off the phone and up till now, there is no word from them.
Nonchalant state Govt
“I don’t know about the state government, I am here dealing with the parents of the victims. So, I may not have time to travel to Minna to meet with state officials. They are supposed to come to the school to examine the environment and see how it is, to sympathise with us, the management of the school, the parents and the community. None of them came. They didn’t send any delegation. It is only the local government chairman that has been trying day and night, calling us, dealing with the issues, but it is beyond his powers. He can’t go beyond what he has done. The issue of press statement from the state government, we heard that they have sent motorcycles and vehicles with men. But it is a lie and it is surprising because there is no how they can access the bush without coming through Tegina. No. It is a lie. We didn’t see anything. Not even a fly. You know flies? Not even mosquito from the state government. So, they can’t be there inside their air conditioned offices telling lies. It is only the village head here, the Hakimi of Tegina that we know is trying his best. He has been with us for three days from morning till evening, sympathising with us, creating ways to get money from the community”.
Asked if there was any prior warning before the attack and steps taken by he community and the school, the head teacher said there was no such thing.
“I have been the headmaster of that school for more than 10 years. I have a sister, from the same father and mother in the school. I have children of friends and relatives in the school. How do you expect that I will have information about the attack and I will allow them to come to the school on that day? It is not possible. It is just a mere statement from the government because one police officer came to the school and he asked me that they heard that the bandits sent us a notice of attack and we allowed our children to be in the school. It is a lie. This is the first attack in Tegina. So, we don’t know anything. We are innocent. Our children are innocent. One painful thing is that my sister called me before the last discussion with the bandits. She was crying. She told me, she swore to God that the children are sick, they cannot walk. That they have removed their Hijabs (veils) and shirts, leaving them with only trousers. They have no shoes, no food. They are giving them only groundnut cake (kulikuli). How do you expect them to survive? My own children. They took them to an unknown place. They are not being kept in floors, bit inside the bush, sleeping on the ground without leaves or mats…..(breaks down in tears).
Two parents dead
“All eyes are on me as the head teacher. I have witnessed the funeral prayers of one of the parents here, very close to the school. She died. She has only one child in the school. She just came back because she was not around when the incident happened. They phoned her to come back and when she was briefed about what happened, she collapsed within minutes and died. That was on Wednesday.
“One day after the abduction happened, another parent, a woman died. She has two children and sent one to the town. When she heard of the abduction, she suffered a heart attack and died.
“As I am talking to you now, my wife is down. They had to place her on drip yesterday. She could not cook, she could not eat. My little child that is at home….(breaks down in tears again), I slept with him on my bed and when he woke up in the night, he was calling the name of his elder sister. He kept asking me, ‘when will my sister come back?’
“I went to see my mom, she is down because of my sister there. Are we not Nigerians? Are we not Nigerlites, that the government cannot intervene in this issue? This money that they are giving them from the federal government, is it their money? They are supposed to come through for us. No sympathy at all. No government official has even said ‘hi’ or ‘sorry’ to us. Are we animals? We are not. We are Nigerians. In fact, I am so sad. I have no word to say. Tegina is just like Sambisa now because many people have closed their shops and locked their houses. They just come back to the Islamiyya School compound and stay because all their eyes are on me. This is a school where parents pay N200 only. We have orphans here. As management, we buy them school uniforms. We give them free books. But look at what is happening. Meanwhile, as all these are happening, somebody is there in the state capital having a gist, telling the whole world that they have sent this and that. That they have sympathised with us.
“How do you expect a four year old, who is not even yet walking properly to stay in the bush for six days now without eating, drinking properly? How do you expect him to come back and start life afresh? Some of the parents wanted to say so many things but we stopped them because this is an Islamiyya School and we believe that God is in control and God will control the situation”, he stated.
Idris Umar, Proprietor of the school expressed concerns about the attitude of government, saying if the incident had happened in public school, the government could have acted.
“Most of us cannot sleep. We keep receiving phone calls from parents who want to get information about their children. We can only give them the information that we have and that is, we are still talking and praying. We believe it is an act of God. It will come to pass, they should not be discouraged. It is aimed at discouraging education, we believe education will be er be discouraged. We believe with prayer, these children will be rescued in good time. It has been such days. Six days of agony. Six days of hunger. Six days of thirst. Sux days of tears. Government should please do the needful. Do not leave us to our fate. We believe we have faith in God. We thought we had faith in our government.
“If this thing continues this way, we will now conclude that government does not care about us. Our belief is that if this school has been a public school, the attention of the government would have been much more than it is now. The commissioner of Education would have been here. The deputy governor would have been here. My own representatives would have been here. But it is a private school”, he lamented.
Saidu Umar, parent to two of he abducted kids, a 15 and a six-year-old, said; “I am feeling very bad and I don’t know how to express it because for six days now, our children are in the bush, we cannot eat and some of their siblings at home have started falling ill because of the absence of their kidnapped siblings. So, it is very sad.
“I am a parent of two of the abductees. The senior is 15 and the younger is 6 years”.
Another parent, Hadiza Hashim whose five children were initially kidnapped but two later released, said; “I have five children in the school and initially they abducted all and then later on they released the younger ones of between two and four years and went away with others who are six, nine and 13 years. The incident was terrifying because everything happened in my presence, though not physically but since the school is in my compound, I was hearing everything. In fact, I was seeing when the bandits were going away with these children but there was nothing we could do. It is terrifying and the government is not helping matters at all. They are just there talking and we are not seeing anything on ground.
“I have Hayyatudeen Hashim who is six, then Umulkhair who is around nine and Mariam Hashim who is 13.
“The two who were released especially my two year old is still very terrified because any little sound he hears, he starts screaming, telling me that ‘mommy, look at them coming to abduct me. They will catch me, they will kill me’. Because initially one of them carried him and he was asking him to keep quiet when he was shouting. Seeing them with guns and then the way they shouted at him, he is still very terrified.
Another parent, Tanko Zagi also dismissed reports that security agents had been sent after the bandits.
He said; “We are hearing rumours that they have sent some security personnel to go and rescue these children but we have not seen anything. We have not heard from villagers whose houses are located along the roads where these bandits do pass that security personnel passed through there to go and rescue these children. Honestly, we are not happy. Up till now, no government official has even come to sympathise with us.
“We want the state government to come to our aid, to help us and rescue these children especially the ones under ages four and five. We don’t know what their situation is because those ones even if they are at home, if they pass urine, somebody has to help them to clean up but we don’t know how they are doing there now”.
He said the parents have been able to raise about N10 million by going from house to house begging residents of the community to contribute money.