There is an urgent need for all authorities to join hands and make the rescue of the six kidnapped students of the Lagos State Model College, Igbonla-Epe, a priority, writes Olawale Olaleye
On the night of April 14, 2014, 276 female students of Government Secondary School, Chibok in Borno State were kidnapped from their school. Three years after this unsavoury development that literally put the nation on a miserable part of the global map, only 106 of the abducted girls have so far been given back their lives.
This is the breakdown. Twenty-one of the girls were freed by their abductors, the Boko Haram sect, in October of 2016, two years after their kidnap. Eighty-two others were in May this year freed in prisoner swap deals. However, three of the girls escaped individually and in the following order: May 2016, November 2016 and January 2017. This still leaves 170 of the girls in the den of their abductors, three years running.
Needless to ponder the pain parents, friends and family members of the girls had been through. No psychological torture could be worse. To think that the destiny of the girls was first caught in avoidable politics of who should have taken responsibility spoke unkindly of the Nigerian leadership. What started like a child’s play would later dominate the world stage with volunteers from global powers to assist in the rescue of the girls.
A month after the third year of the Chibok abduction was ticked on the calendar, a similar tragedy struck in Lagos. Gunmen reportedly numbering over 15 had stormed the Lagos Model College, Igbonla-Epe and successfully abducted six male students, who were picked randomly while observing the morning assembly. The kidnappers had allegedly abducted two principals from the school, one each from the junior and the secondary schools.
While the identities of the students are still shrouded in secrecy, perhaps for security reasons, those of the principals, Mr. Bolaji Oyesola and Mr. Akinrinmade, have been revealed. The kidnappers had reportedly alerted the school authorities about their visit a week before striking. Obviously, the threat was dismissed.
Although the police had on Monday assured parents of the kidnapped students of the safe return of their wards, it may not be as easy anymore as the kidnappers were said to have severed communications with the parents the moment they were paid some N10 million ransom.
The kidnappers had initially demanded N400 million ransom, but they later reduced it to N50 million for the six students, of which the parents rallied round and raised N10million and sent to them.
Assistant Inspector-General (AIG) in charge of Lagos and Ogun States, Mr. Adamu Ibrahim, after a meeting with Governor Akinwunmi Ambode at the State House, Alausa, Ikeja, had assured the parents during a session with the State House correspondents that all hands “are on deck to ensure the safe return of their wards. Security agencies were working tirelessly to ensure the return of the students and reunite them with their families.”
However disturbing is a growing belief that the recent arrest and parade of three kidnap suspects in Edo State could be responsible for the continued hostage of the six students. Hopes had been high that the students would soon be rescued, given the collaboration between the Lagos State Police Command, the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) and the military. A month after, the hope seems forlorn!
This fear was further accentuated when the abductors of the children sent a text message to one of the parents and threatened to kill them if the balance was not paid.
This development had compelled the police headquarters to deploy the Inspector General of Police Special Intelligence Response Team (IRT) led by ACP Abba Kyari, to assist in the rescue. But the arrest of the three suspects in Edo State as well as the disclosure of their arrest by IRT sent others, including the abductors of the boys deeper into the creeks.
Although the Kyari-led IRT had reportedly received intelligence on the whereabouts of the abductors and moved in, culminating in the arrest of 25-year-old Egelu Endurance alias Jubby, 25-year-old Stanley Yomi Irabomini (Powei) and 24-year-old Bentel Endurance, all from Ovia South Local Government Area of Edo State, in Benin City.
After interrogating the three suspects, who had left the creeks and were heading to Edo State to visit a gang member, who was injured during a gun battle with security forces, the IRT was believed to have extracted sufficient information on the whereabouts of the boys and was on the verge of swinging into action.
But a disclosure on the arrest of the gang detailing their connection to the other gangs, who abducted the students, was however made available to the media and this had prompted the other gangs to relocate their camp to another site. And ever since, especially with the receipt of N10 million, they had severed further communication with everyone, the parents in particular.
The fact that the police reportedly shared sensitive information that could have sealed their effort was thoughtless and exposed their seeming naivety on the job.
For emphasis, the police have paid too much attention to celebrating their success of the arrest of kidnap kingpin, Chukwudemeje George Onwuamadike, otherwise known as Evans. In fact, the police have made the Evans arrest too much of a media trial with blow-by-blow narrations of the self-confessed suspect slipping into the public at intervals. There is no way such will not compromise to an extent, their ongoing investigation as well as vitiate other related assignments.
The police must, therefore, show a bit of circumspection, be more professional and get cracking. It would be a dent to the image and the current rating of the Lagos State government to have this assignment tarry for longer than necessary, more so for the safety and security of the boys and the sanity of their parents. The police should stop savouring their fleeting Evan’s victory and get on this really sensitive assignment. With the days and weeks in quick counts, a repeat of the Chibok experience is certainly bad news for Lagos.