•Security forces engage bandits in fierce gun battle
•State Police Command: 200 students rescued, efforts ongoing to rescue others
•Masari shuts down boarding facilities
•IG deploys additional rescue assets
•PDP alleges 600 students abducted, chides FG
•Atiku demands state of emergency
Omololu Ogunmade, Chuks Okocha in Abuja and Francis Sardauna in Katsina
President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, said the federal government had located the bandits who attacked a Government Science Secondary School in Kankara, Katsina State, and allegedly kidnapped no fewer than 54 students. This came a few hours after the president gave a marching order to the Army and the police to go after the bandits and rescue the abducted students and ensure no student was missing.
But the State Police Command claimed it had rescued 200 students of the school and that efforts were ongoing to rescue the remaining students.
As at the time of filing this report, combined teams of the security forces, according to the president, had engaged the bandits in a fierce gun battle in their hideout with a view to rescuing the students, who were, reportedly, kidnapped from their hostels.
But in response to the abduction, Katsina State Governor Aminu Masari ordered the immediate closure of all boarding secondary schools in the state. Masari pronounced the closure shortly after visiting the affected school.
However, to complement the current effort to rescue the students, the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu has deployed additional rescue assets in the state.
But the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), while reacting to the news, described the development as a testament to Buhari’s poor handling of the security situation in the country, noting that the number of students kidnapped was 600.
According to a briefing the president received from Masari and the Army Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, the military, supported by air power, located the bandits at their hideout at Zango-Paula forest, adding that an operation was already apace to free the abducted students.
Buhari, who arrived Katsina on a weeklong visit, had strongly condemned the attack on the school and charged the army and the police to go after the attackers to ensure that no student was missing or harmed.
A statement by Senior Special Assistant to the president on media, Garba Shehu, said the president urged the school authorities to carry out an audit of the population of the students following shootings in and around the school that sent hundreds of them fleeing and scrambling over perimeter walls.
Parents, who rushed to the school and removed their children and wards, were also required to notify the school and police authorities in order to have a full account of the school population.
“I strongly condemn the cowardly bandits’ attack on innocent children at the Science School, Kankara. Our prayers are with the families of the students, the school authorities and the injured,” said President Buhari.
Buhari pledged more support for the police and military as they contend with the terrorists and bandits.
In a relatd development, the president directed the reinforcement of security at all schools in line with the safe schools policy of the administration.
But the Police said so far, no student casualty has been reported.
Local sources claimed that the bandits had earlier operated at the Kankara town, where they abducted some people before invading the boarding school at about 10:00 pm on Friday.
Curiously, the raid took place hours after President Buhari arrived in Daura, his hometown, for a weeklong private visit.
THISDAY reliably gathered that the incident forced the remaining students, who survived the invasion, to vacate the school in the night as parents were said to be busy searching for their children up till Saturday morning.
A credible source within the school confirmed the development to THISDAY in an emotion laden telephone interview said 54 out of 884 students of the school, were missing after the invasion by the hoodlums.
The bandits riding on motorcycles, according to the source, came in large numbers and started shooting sporadically and shot one of the police officers manning the school gate. The officer is currently receiving treatment at the Kankara General Hospital.
The source explained that the bandits then moved to the staff quarters of the school, where they abducted an elderly woman before whisking away a large number of students, who were sleeping in their hostels.
The source stated, “Fifty four students out of 884 are still missing after the attack by heavily armed bandits. The situation has forced the remaining students to vacate the school. Government and security agencies must wake up and do what is expected of them if not, the bandits will finish us”.
However, the State Police Command yesterday claimed it had rescued 200 students of the school and that efforts were ongoing to rescue the remaining students.
Spokesman of the Command, SP Gambo Isah, said: “Yesterday (Friday) at about 21:40hrs, bandits in their numbers, shooting sporadically with AK 47 rifles, attacked Government Science secondary school, Kankara.
“The policemen on duty also responded to the attack and engaged them in a gun duel, which gave the students opportunity to scale the fence of the school and run for safety.
“The DPO reinforced the policemen on duty with Armoured Personnel Carrier, (APC) which forced the hoodlums to retreat back into the forest. One Inspector sustained a gunshot wound and was taken to the hospital and is responding to treatment.
“In the course of investigation, the DPO rescued over two hundred students back into the school compound. It will be too early to say at this particular moment the actual number of students that have been kidnapped or missing”.
But Masari, who visited the school on Saturday with his deputy, Alhaji Mannir Yakubu and other government officials, met with the school officials, some parents, traditional and religious leaders as well as security personnel in the area, before ordering the immediate closure of all boarding secondary schools in the state.
Masari, who could not control his emotions, pleaded with the people to be patient and show restraint and understanding, assuring them that government would do everything necessary to ensure the release of all the abducted students. He said already, the security officials, constituting the military, the police and the Department of State Security, had swung into action and were on the trail of the abductors.
Masari assured the people that both governments at the federal and state levels were doing their best to bring an end to banditry and other debilitating criminal activities in the state. He said the government was very firm in its resolve to be ruthless in any engagement with the bandits.
But as the search to track the abductors of the students intensify, Adamu, yesterday deployed additional operational and investigative assets to support the ongoing search and rescue operations in Kankara and surrounding in Katsina State.
A statement by Force Public Relations Officer and Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Frank Mba, said the deployment, which included personnel from the police tactical squads and crack detectives from the Force Intelligence Bureau, would provide investigative support to the Katsina State Police Command.
The statement said, “They are also to work in sync with the military and other law enforcement agents in coordinated efforts aimed at rescuing the students, hunting down the perpetrators and bringing them to book.
“Investigations so far reveal that one of the attackers was killed and a policeman injured during the attack.”
The statement explained that the exact number of missing students could not be ascertained at the moment as massive operations including investigations, search and rescue exercise were still ongoing.
The IG also ordered the immediate review and strengthening of security arrangements around educational institutions in the country, sequel to the president’s earlier order.
But the PDP has urged Buhari to return to his duty post and quickly account for the 600 kidnapped school children in Kankara, Katsina state.
Addressing a press conference yesterday, the National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan said the kidnapped school children were an added opportunity to rejig the security apparatchik in the country.
Declaring to stand with the entire Katsina people, the PDP charged “President Muhammadu Buhari, as the commander-in-chief, who promised to lead from the front, to account for the abducted students, as the large-scale abduction happened a few hours after the President and his security machinery took over the state.
“Our party holds as perplexing that at a time the people of Katsina should have heaved a sigh of relief, because of his presence, the abduction happened right under Mr. President’s nose; in his home state, where he had gone holidaying.
“This development has further exposed the failure of President Buhari to manage high level security intelligence that ought to accompany a presidential visit. President Buhari, who refused to honour an invitation by the House of Representatives for a collective deliberation on security, could abandon his duty post for a holiday, leaving our national flanks open for terrorists, bandits, vandals, and insurgents.
“The time of the attack buttresses the fact that President Buhari, as the commander-in-chief, is totally incapable of securing our nation; the very reason there have been widespread calls by patriotic Nigerians that he should resign.
“This insolence of Mr. President towards issues of national security compelled our caucus in the House of Representatives to demand for his impeachment”, the PDP said.
The PDP believed that if President Buhari had listened to wise counsel as proffered by it and other patriotic Nigerians, including the two chambers of the National Assembly to rejig the nation’s security architecture, the situation would not have deteriorated to this sorry state.
“This particular abduction in the President’s home state, under his watch, raises further serious questions over this government’s capacity to fight insurgency. This is more worrisome as the state government had been known to have established contacts with, as well as pampering bandits, which Mr. President had not condemned.”
The PDP, therefore, demanded that President Buhari should immediately quit his needless holidaying in Daura and go in search of, and rescue the abducted students, particularly having earlier admitted that issue of security was his exclusive responsibility.
Meanwhile, former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, has asked the federal government to declare a state of emergency in states bedevilled by insecurity. Atiku said the abduction of the students was an unwelcome escalation of the spate of insecurity in the nation, one that he condemned in the strongest possible terms, adding that the time to review strategies is now.
Atiku stated, “I sympathise with the parents of the abducted children and the government and people of Katsina, my adopted home state and home of my late benefactor, Tafida Shehu Musa Yar’adua. I pray for their safe return.
“While I urge our nation’s law enforcement agencies to immediately swing to action and rescue the missing students, I am nevertheless conscious of the fact that we cannot continue to be reactionary in our response to the growing insecurity in Nigeria. Something has to give.
“I therefore call on the federal government to immediately declare a state of emergency in states bedeviled by banditry and terrorism, for an offensive and decisive war on terror and insecurity.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the emergency I call for should follow the steps prescribed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), and case law, by leaving all democratically elected state and local government structures intact.
“The rationale is quite simple: We cannot win the war on terror by continuing with the same strategies we have deployed over the last five years. That they have not worked is very glaring, with the Government Science Secondary School, Kankara incidence being the latest in a long line of proofs.
“If we must get better results, we must implement better strategies. Strategies that may have to include the temporary stoppage of the boarding school system, in favour of a day students approach, until the situation is brought under control.
“Strategies that must include 24 hours armed military guard for each school in the affected states. No sacrifice is too great to make to return law and order to the affected communities, and that must be the singular focus of the Federal Government until this menace is eradicated.”