africa

FG should rescue abducted pupils fast


INDEFENSIBLY, Nigeria is fast losing its capacity to rescue the groups of schoolchildren being held captive by kidnappers. This monumental negligence persists as pupils kidnapped at schools in Kaduna, Zamfara and Niger states remain in kidnappers’ dens for weeks on end. Although some are being released in batches, many of the victims remain in the clutches of their abductors. Being that children are involved, this should push the authorities and the security agencies to act more strongly and decisively.

Surprisingly, government at the centre and state levels is still carrying on business as usual, while the vulnerable children languish in the dens of kidnappers. That is not right. As of Thursday, some of the pupils in three states in the North-Central and North-West had spent nearly three months in captivity.

So far, the pupils of the Salihu Tanko Islamic School, Niger State have languished in captivity for 88 days. Some 136 pupils of the school in Tegina were abducted on May 30. Some of the victims are as young as five years of age. Cruelly, the abductors grabbed a person who delivered part of the ransom to them in the forest and asked the parents to increase their payment. This week, news filtered out that the abductors had informed the school that five of the children had just died of illness; others have taken ill.

Kidnappers have found it easy to capture pupils in Niger State. In March, they invaded the Government Science Secondary School, Kagara, where they snatched 42 persons – 27 pupils, three staff and 12 of their family members.

The second ordeal ensnares the 70 pupils and four teachers at the Federal Government College, Birnin Yauri, Kebbi State. They were ferried away in a midnight raid by bandits in June. One student and a police officer died in the crossfire when security agents attempted a rescue. The young victims have not been seen since then. That is a horrible fate for children.

Similarly, bandits snatched 121 pupils at Bethel Baptist School in Kaduna on July 5. The parents claim ransom was paid, as some of the victims were released piecemeal, including 15 about a week ago. Eighty-seven pupils have yet to regain their freedom. Kaduna State seems to be a playground for abductors. In April, bandits stormed privately-owned Greenfield University there, abducting 18 undergraduates and staff. The victims spent 40 days in captivity, but only after four of them were slaughtered by the bandits, angered that ransom payment was delayed. Strikingly, the Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, is adamant that his government will not pay ransom, even if “my son is kidnapped.”

His resolute stance is not a deterrent to the bandits cum terrorists. Thirty-seven students at the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, Kaduna State, also endured the kidnapping ordeal for 55 days between March and April. Curiously, the institution is located opposite the Nigerian Defence Academy. A report by research firm, SB Morgen, estimates that 1,000 students have been kidnapped in Nigeria’s North since December 2020. SBM said at least $11 million was paid to kidnappers between January 2016 and March 2020. A tally by a national newspaper said 618 schools were shut down in the North over the fear of abduction in 2021 alone. The affected states are Sokoto, Zamfara, Kano, Niger, Katsina and Yobe. In July, Kaduna State closed 13 schools over the fear of attacks.

Insecurity in Nigeria has reached hitherto unimaginable proportions. These are states where the population of out-of-school children are in millions. There, education is not encouraged, compounding the people’s reticence towards schooling. According to UNICEF, one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria. In all, there are over 10 million out-of-school children in Nigeria, the highest globally. That is staggering. The conflict in the North abets the low level of education.

The kidnapping menace has spread southward. In the night of August 22, a female undergraduate of the Kwara State University, Ilorin, was kidnapped near the institution. The abductors demanded a ransom of N50 million to release her, according to a statement by the university.

By not rescuing these children from captivity, the Nigerian state has failed. The Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) regime is out of sorts, clueless on the way forward. In security, which was one of his election campaign mantras, he has pushed Nigeria to the brink of disaster. Instead of enhancing security, his divisiveness has aggravated insecurity. While visiting his home state last December, bandits invaded and captured 344 pupils of Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, who were released after one week. Encouraged by their success, the bandits kidnapped 317 schoolgirls at Government Secondary School, Jangebe, Zamfara State, in February.

During Buhari’s first term, Boko Haram terrorists abducted 110 schoolgirls at the Government Girls’ Science and Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe State, in February 2018. They were all released, except Leah Sharibu, who refused to renounce her Christian faith. Before Buhari, Boko Haram insurgents abducted 276 schoolgirls at Chibok Government Secondary School in Borno State in April 2014, at the point of sitting the West African Senior School Certificate Examinations. Many of them have regained their freedom, but about 112 are still with the Islamists.

Therefore, Buhari and state governors concerned should demonstrate commitment. For now, they are too far from the people in terms of communication and updates on their rescue efforts. The global best practice is for leaders to brief the people daily in times of crisis. That is lacking here, but it should be adopted.

These children are within Nigeria’s territory. Technology, including drones, and intelligence should make it easier to locate the bandits’ lairs. The security forces should deploy all this in rescue efforts, including tracing the phone calls, text messages and social media exchanges between the kidnappers and the victims’ families. Ransom is being paid, so there should be a painstaking forensic way to trace the money and track down the kidnappers.

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