The only option left for the federal and Kaduna State governments at this time is to negotiate the release of the 27 kidnapped school boys of Government Science College, Kagara in Niger State of Nigeria. This was the position of Shehu Sani, human rights activist and senator who represented Kaduna Central senatorial district in the National Assembly in the eighth assembly. Sani, a former student of the school, stated unequivocally that “If actions need to be taken now, it’s none other than first of all, negotiate, listen to the terms of the bandits, see how you can get these boys out, and then later, whatever you have to do, you can do it”.
Recall that on Wednesday, February 17, gun men wearing military fatigues invaded the boarding school around 2 am and abducted about 27 students, some teachers, and parents. One student was shot dead in the midnight attack.
But as the government and anxious parents awaited contact by the abductors for possible ransom negotiation about 48 hours after, Sani, who was guest on Thursday’s edition of Television Continental, TVC’s popular programme, Journalists Hangout, warned that the lives of the boys would be in danger if government refused to pay ransom because “these people have nothing to lose”.
According to him, “I have heard earlier the governor of the state making a statement that they are not going to pay ransom but later, I have seen that they said the state and the federal governments are negotiating the release of the boys. I’ve spoken yesterday with the principal and actually, the kidnappers made a call to the school authority and I believe that what is needed now is to listen to them, hear their terms, and all that is needed is the safe return of these boys.
“What has always happened most times is that when you have a hostage situation like this, how you are able to interact with those bandits or kidnappers matters; the way in which you handle the issue is also as important as the lives of those hostages”.
He noted that “Many times, families have been left alone to negotiate the release of their loved ones each time they have been kidnapped and this has been going on in Katsina, parts of Sokoto, Zamfara, and Kaduna States. Many times governments said they would not pay ransom, but you have to pay if that is the only way to which you’ll get these boys out of harm’s way” stressing that If government wants to use aircraft to bombard the bandits, it should be after the abducted boys were out of the hands of these kidnappers and returned safe to their parents.
Lashing out at the state governor, Abubakar Sani Bello, Sani accused him of complicity in the kidnap saga over perceived error of judgment and inaction. He also called out the governor on the deplorable state of the GSC, which he said needed to be rebuilt and not renovated. He likened the school to “the ancient Rome; what happened during Julius Caesar” lamenting that the resources that ought to have been deployed to renovating and fortifying the school would now be used to pay ransom.
According to him, “So far, from what I have known, parents have pulled out their children from the school, and I don’t think in any foreseeable time, they would return their kids to that school. You should understand that that local government, almost 80 percent of it is being controlled by bandits. A responsible government could have predicted that that school would be vulnerable, and would have done the needful. But it has always been that air force has bombed some bandits and that everyone should simply go to bed to sleep; that everything is fine. But that has never happened….
“If we had done the preventive aspect of it, we couldn’t have been using public resources to pay ransom to kidnappers. You can see; how much will it cost the state government to construct perimeter fence around the school? But now, that money that they would say they don’t have to construct perimeter fence will be the one that will be used to pay kidnappers. So, it is a message, and I can remember after the Kagara abduction, our governor said they have now closed down public boarding schools. But what made them to open? And before opening, have you made any provision to protect the students, to protect schools? They have not done it. Now, this abduction, this tragedy has not just opened up the weakness of the state, the failure of government, but it has also shown how education has systemically been neglected by governors, particularly the one in Niger and some other states”.
The outspoken senator said with the attitude of the state government, it was therefore not unexpected that the school was invaded and abduction took place. Sani noted that in the last four to five years, “Kagara in Rafi local government area had been an epicenter of banditry, abduction, destruction, and displacement of people. So, what happened in Government Science School, Kagara was the failure of the state government to have taken action in terms of protecting the students, or preventing such abduction by suspending the resumption of boarding schools in Rafi local government area.
“In the last four years, almost three local governments, Rafi, Munya, and parts of other local governments within the north eastern parts of Niger State are areas where violence, banditry, and the killings of innocent people, have become the order of the day.
“So, many times, we raised alarm trying to bring the attention of the state governor to do what is right by ensuring that security is put in place in the school and also the necessary measures being taken to protect students but nothing was actually done. And so, this is not something that could be said to have just taken place without expecting it to take place. And as you know, Niger State borders on Kaduna, and Niger is such a stretch of land. Now, in the last three to four years, almost over 300 villages have been displaced. Right now, Kankara town is the attraction point for people who wanted safety; who wanted solace from what has been going on in this part of Niger State”.
Expressing fear that the bandits were gradually infiltrating the entire country, Sani stated that “And let’s be very frank with ourselves. The last four years, this banditry started with cattle rustling. When action needed to be taken, the governors of the states were simply playing politics in the sense that they were pampering the issue and not taking serious action at that infant stage of it. And it was allowed to grow. It’s like a tumour; now it has spread. The states of the Northwest have all been consumed. It has moved to Niger; outskirt of Abuja is not safe. And now, it is moving to Kwara State. So, for how long should we continue to wait until the whole of Nigeria is now being taken over by bandits?”
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