65 Days after, Kidnapped Lagos Schools Students Released in Ondo

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•     Ambode Assures on Safety

BY Chiemelie Ezeobi and  James Sowole in Akure
 

Exactly 65 days after the six male students of Igbonla Government College, Epe, Lagos, were abducted from their school premises, they finally secured their freedom yesterday.

The boys, Peter Jonah, Isiaka Ramon, Adebayo George, Judah Agbausi, Pelumi Philips and Farouq Yusuf, who were abducted on Thursday, May 25, 2017, were finally released at about 3.30pm at Aboto Creek at Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State. 

 Their release was a combined effort of the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) and Anti-Kidnapping Unit of the Lagos State Police Command led by CP Fatai Owoseni, championed by the Lagos and Ondo State Governments.   

The students were released to government officials led by the Deputy Governor of Ondo State, Hon Agboola Ajayi,  at Ajakpa Community in Ese Odo Local Government Area of Ondo State. A source said no ransom was paid before the students were released.

 According to the source, the just released children were taken to the Presidential Villa, Abuja to meet with the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo 

Meanwhile, after the boys were rescued alive, they were first scheduled to be taken to the Ondo State Government House, in Akure, to been seen by Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, but that movement was later aborted. However, the governments of Ondo and later  met and commended each other for the roles each played in the rescue. 

Speaking on the rescue through his deputy Dr. Oluranti Adebule, Governor Ambode said “The issue of security is a social contract that we have signed with the people of Lagos and we would ensure that we do not disappoint. As far as our schools are concerned, we are going back to the drawing board to secure our schools before the next academic session”.

The students were later moved from Ondo to Lagos and barring any unforeseen circumstances, would meet their parents at the Alausa Government house in Ikeja, Lagos.  

One of the happy parents, Mr. Ramon, who confirmed that he had spoken with his son on the phone, expressed happiness and excitement at the development. 

He said, “After I called the Lagos CP and was told my son and others were rescued, I was finally able to speak to my son Isiaka and he sounded fine. He assured me he was okay. My joy knows no bounds.”

 THISDAY gathered that the boys could have initially been released last week but for the presence of the police, who had tracked them down after they came out of hiding to demand for additional ransom.  

Having narrowed the search down to the creeks, the police had blocked all channels leading in and out of the creeks where the boys were held captive, thus scaring the gang further inside.

When it became obvious that the suspects would not surrender, the police were constrained to open up some of the channels to first secure the boys and that was what culminated in the release of the boys into the care of the Ondo State Government. 

As at press time, it was yet unclear if any other ransom was paid to finally secure their release apart from the initial deposit of N10million and the additional N20million to the gang, making it a total of N30million.

This is because the suspects had demanded for an additional N1.5million to transport the boys after the second tranche of N20million was paid to them. 

Confirming the incident, the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni, said the boys had been released, but said 20 of the kidnappers died during gun duel with security forces, while eight policemen and four civilian volunteers sustained injuries.

He, however, disclosed that one civilian volunteer unfortunately died in the process of rescuing the students while a suspect, who attempted to capitalise on the situation to swindle the parents of the students by asking that they should bring ransom to Abeokuta, was arrested and was currently in police custody.

 It was also gathered that their final release was a culmination of underground work by the police operatives who were deployed to help in the rescue of the boys.  

Their freedom did not however come cheap, rather it was fraught with hopelessness and incessant broken promises on the part of the parents and a feeling of inefficiency on the part of the security operatives deployed to secure their release. 

 

Prior to their abduction, the six students were part of the student body that had woken up for the day’s activities without any premonition of what would befall them afterwards. 

 

Whilst at the assembly ground the next day, the militants had struck in their numbers and in no particular order made away with the six students. 

 

Although initial information had alleged that two members of staff were among those abducted, the picture became clearer later in the day after the school took stock. 

 

With that began the tortuous journey of what ended up to be 65 days spent in captivity, with little or no communication  on the part of the kidnappers to the parents, save for their calls for ransom, which later even stopped coming for a long while. 

 

The kidnappers had cut off communication when three of their members were picked up from Edo State by the Inspector General of Police Intelligence Response Team.

 

An attempt by police forces to brave the odds and enter the creeks where they were initially kept was rebuffed by the gang, although the police succeeded in killing several of them.

 

With their hideout in jeopardy, the gang had moved to the creeks in Ondo State and thenceforth cut off communication with the distraught parents of the kids, but this was after N10million had been paid. 

 

Barely three weeks ago, the gang had resumed communication and demanded for an additional N20million, which was paid and they again demanded for N1.5million for transportation. 

 

Meanwhile, the release of the boys came less than one week after Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, who was in Lagos last week, vowed that the children would return as quickly as possible. 

 

It also came four days ahead of the deadline given to the Lagos State Government by a group of civil society organisations and activists in Lagos.

 

The group under the aegis of Safe Schools and Communities Advocacy Group (SSCAG), 

had threatened a showdown after they gave the state government August 3 as deadline for the rescue of the boys.

 

Groups under SSCAG include Education Rights Campaign (ERC), Women Arise for Change Initiative (WA), Women Advocate Research and Documentation (WARDC), Environmental Rights Action (ERA), Enough is Enough (EiE), Community Life Project (CLP), Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND), United Labour Congress (ULC) and Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN).

 

Others include Women, Law and Development Centre, Nigeria (WLDCN), Federation of Muslim Women’s Association in Nigeria (FOMWAN), National Conscience Party (NCP) Lagos State Chapter, Socialist Workers League (SWL) and United Action for Democracy (UAD).

 

Also part of SSCAG are groups like the Socialist Workers Movement (SWM), Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL), Activista Lagos, Cee-Hope Nigeria, Community Women Initiative (CWI), Save Lagos Group (SLG) and International Press Centre (IPC).

 

The advocacy group, while stipulating the deadline for the rescue of the boys, had tasked the government and security agencies over the continued stay of the children in kidnappers’ den despite repeated assurances from the police. 

 

Ondo State Government yesterday said the release of the six kidnapped students of Igbonla Model School, Epe, Lagos State was made possible through the determined and conscientious efforts of the Acting President, the governments of Lagos, Ondo, Ogun, Delta states and the security agencies, including the Police, SSS and the Military. 

The Chief Press Secretary to the Ondo State Governor, Mr. Segun Ajiboye disclosed that in the last few days, the deputy governors of Ondo and Delta states had worked tirelessly to ensure that the students were released. 

Ajiboye said the students would be handed over to the deputy governor of Lagos State for further actions. 

He said the government commended Nigerians for their prayers, and charged security agencies to remain committed to their responsibility of ensuring the safety of the citizens 

In a press statement, Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Steve Ayorinde congratulated the parents of the students and all concerned stakeholders over the development, just as he said the students would undergo series of medical tests and trauma therapy before they were reunited with their families.

“This is a welcome development and the State Government has always believed that the students would be released unhurt. The news of their release is therefore a confirmation of that belief and we are glad that they would be reuniting with their families,” Ayorinde said. 

He said the State Government remained resolute in its commitment to ensure the safety of lives and property of residents in the State and has already beefed up security in schools to prevent a re-occurrence.

“It is on record that the Governor Akinwunmi Ambode-led administration has invested massively on equipment and welfare of security personnel so as to ensure that the State remains safe for residents and investors.

“This Government has already taken giant steps to secure all our schools especially those in the suburbs and riverine areas and we are confident that the steps taken so far will go a long way in nipping a repeat of such in the bud,” Ayorinde said.