•344 freed, on their way from the forest, says Masari
•To be presented to president today
Udora Orizu, Adedayo Akinwale, Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja and Francis Sardauna in Katsina
After nearly a week in captivity, freedom yesterday finally came the way of 344 schoolboys of Government Science Secondary School (GSSS), Kankara in Katsina State, who were abducted by bandits that raided their school last Friday.
The Katsina State Government confirmed their release, saying they are being returned to the state from Zamfara where they were kept in captivity.
Their release thrilled President Muhammadu Buhari who commended the state government and the military for a job well done.
THISDAY also gathered that the pupils might be presented today to the president, who is currently in Daura, his hometown, on a week-long private visit to the state.
Their release came on a day protesters marched on Abuja and Katsina against the worsening insecurity in the North, especially the abduction of the schoolboys.
The Director-General, Media to Katsina State Governor, Mr. Abdul Labaran, confirmed the release of the captives to THISDAY in a telephone interview, saying the bandits freed them in Zamfara forest where they were kept.
It was learnt that top government officials, including security agents, were heading to Kankara to receive the children.
Labaran said: “Yes, the students have been released by their abductors.
Three hundred and forty four of them are currently being transported from Zamfara forest to Katsina State Government House this night (Thursday).”
He, however, was silent on whether or not ransom was paid for the release of the schoolboys.
Masari, who was billed to address the media shortly on the saga, had said on Wednesday that the government was in negotiations with the bandits through the leadership of Miyetti Allah, the central organisation of Fulani herders.
Reacting to the report on the release of the schoolboys, Buhari described their safe return as a big relief to their families, the entire country and the international community.
The president, in a statement by his spokesman, Mallam Garba Shehu, expressed the nation’s appreciation for the steps taken by all involved to make their release possible.
He lauded what he called the “spirit of partnership and the collaborative efforts of the governments of Katsina, Zamfara and military leading to the release.’’
He commended the nation’s intelligence agencies, the military and police force for providing the environment for the safe release of the hostages.
“The Governor, Aminu Bello Masari, and the army worked extremely hard. As soon as I got the information I congratulated them. The armed forces know their job. They have been well trained and properly motivated,” he stated.
On other detainees still in captivity, the president assured the people that his administration is aware of its responsibility to protect the lives and property of Nigerians.
He urged the citizens to be patient and fair to the administration as it deals with insecurity, economic crisis and corruption.
According to him, his administration knows that it was elected to resolve challenges.
He said: “When we came, we made efforts that yielded the return of the Chibok girls. When a similar incident of school abduction happened at Dapchi, we successfully returned all but one of the more than one hundred abductees. When this latest incident happened, we put in our efforts and today we have this result to show.”
The president cited the successes of his administration in dealing with security in the South-south and North-east as proof of its commitment to guaranteeing the safety of lives and property.
He stated that the North-west now presents a challenge, which his administration is determined to deal with.
“We have a lot of work to do, especially now that we have re-opened the borders. It is unfortunate that the bandits and terrorists continue to get weapons even under the circumstances of the border closure. We are going to dare them. We will deal with all that,” the president added.
He prayed for the full recovery of the pupils, whom he said had endured hardships in the course of their six-day ordeal.
However, hours before their release, Boko Haram, which had claimed responsibility for the abduction, had released a video showing the abducted schoolboys in its custody.
The video, which could not be independently verified, followed the same pattern after the kidnap of the Chibok girls some years ago.
The video, circulating on social media, purportedly showed Boko Haram militants with some of the boys.
The trending video showed Boko Haram’s flag and a group of boys in a wood begging security forces to leave the area.
The video has not been authenticated though it bears the hallmarks of the terrorist group.
The Coordinator of the Directorate of Defence Media Operations (DDMO), Maj. Gen John Enenche, impugned the provenance of the video.
In the video, released yesterday by the insurgents, some of the boys, looking distraught, appealed to the government to cooperate with their abductors so that they can be freed.
“Please help us. Tell the vigilantes and soldiers not to come around,” one of the boys in the video said, adding: “More than 500 of us are in the forest.”
“Close any form of school, including Islamiyya. Please send the army back. They can’t do anything to help us. Please sir, we need your assistance,” the distraught boy said.
At the end of the video, a voice believed to be that of the Boko Haram leader, Mr. Abubakar Shekau, said that “he was doing Allah’s work.”
Masari had claimed that bandits and not Boko Haram abducted the schoolboys.
He said the state government knew the abductors of the children.
“The report we have and from the information available to us, this abduction was conducted and executed by local bandits that are known to all of us,” he had said.
When asked if there is a possible link between the attackers and Boko Haram, the governor said there are “signs” that bandits are making contact with the insurgents.
“You know over one year, there were signs that some of the elements of the bandits are making contact with some of the elements of Boko Haram or ISWAP,” he added.
Report on the release of the schoolboys first filtered out when the Director-General of the Nigerian Diaspora Commission, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, purportedly tweeted that they had been freed.
She later deleted the tweet and disowned it.
“Please don’t credit any post on Katsina’s boys to my twitter handle. I lost control of my handle in the last couple of minutes, along with my Instagram. I have recovered and changed my password,” she said in another tweet.
Protests in Katsina, Abuja
Earlier yesterday, protesters in Katsina and Abuja, had marched on the streets over the worsening insecurity in the country.
The protesters in Katsina, under the aegis of the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), a civil society, chanted “Save Northern Nigeria.”
Members of the group carried placards with various inscriptions, among which are ‘Rebuild the North and not destroy it’; and ‘Nobody is safe in the North; End banditry now and Bring our boys.’
The group had earlier addressed a press conference during which it lampooned the federal government over its failure to provide security for Nigerians.
CNG National Coordinator, Balarabe Rufai, said: “Sensing a huge vacuum in the political will and capacity of government to challenge them, these criminal gangs have spread their activities and made life miserable for millions of people across states like Borno, Yobe, Zamfara, Kaduna, Katsina, Sokoto, Kebbi, Niger, Plateau, Adamawa, Benue and literally prohibited the use of major highways in northern Nigeria.
“The insecurity along the northern highways is so high that people are afraid of travelling 50 miles from Funtua to Zaria; or the 80 kilometers from Zaria to Kaduna, not to talk of from Sokoto to Abuja or Kano.
“This frightening state of insecurity had in the last couple of weeks, escalated with the massacre of 43 rice farmers and disappearance of 80 others at the hands of insurgents in Zabarmari of Borno State.
“The situation deteriorated to the current unacceptable level with the abduction of hundreds of students of Government Science Secondary School, Kankara in Katsina State by armed gangs that rode in and out freely without any security presence.
“Besides the loss of citizens lives on a daily basis, this dangerous situation also comes with several other concomitant consequences that include a looming humanitarian crisis with reports indicating that by the end of 2019 alone, a total of 210,354 persons were displaced from 171 towns and villages in the North-west comprising 144,996 in Zamfara; 35,941 from Sokoto and 29,417 in Katsina.
“Against the backdrop of this heightened insecurity, especially the recent kidnap of over 300 hundred students in Katsina, the CNG has inadvertently arrived at the following observations: That President Buhari and his government are apparently helpless, incompetent, incapable or unwilling to act to rescue these 300 kids currently in captivity, exposed to harsh weather conditions, torture, hostile unfamiliar environment, malnutrition, the trauma of forced separation and threat of imminent death.
“That the audacity with which the over 300 school children were abducted right under the nose of the president who was a few kilometres away in Katsina at that time, confirms fears that the government has completely lost the prerogative of providing security and therefore no longer reliable.
“That President Buhari has ultimately reneged on the pledge he made in Chatham House, London in 2015, to tackle insecurity head on across the country, including paying special attention to the welfare of our soldiers in and out of service, and giving the military modern arms and ammunitions to work with.”
The CNG expressed concern that the insecurity in the North is now worse than “before the coming of the Buhari administration in 2015.”
In Abuja, supporters of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) yesterday staged a peaceful protest in front of the party’s Legacy House, Maitama, Abuja, to demand the safe return of the Katsina pupils.
The protesters, chanting anti-Buhari and APC songs, urged the federal government to bring back the pupils.
The protesters carried various placards with the following inscriptions: “High insecurity under APC is too much.” “Buhari has failed.” “Stop insecurity in Nigeria.” “Bring back our boys now, now.” “Buhari must change the service chief now.”
The protesters stopped at the PDP Legacy office in Maitama Abuja, where they were addressed by the National Chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus.
He said: “Our message is simple. It is high time the government of President Muhammadu Buhari brought back our children that were kidnapped. The level of insecurity in Nigeria is getting out of hand. Bring back the boys. Enough is enough.”
PDP House Caucus Restates Demand for Buhari’s Impeachment
The Peoples Democratic Party Caucus in the House of Representatives yesterday reiterated its call for the removal of l President Muhammadu Buhari from office over the worsening insecurity in the country.
The caucus had recently appealed to Nigerians to prevail on their representatives in the National Assembly to begin an impeachment process against Buhari.
Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Publicity, Hon. Benjamin Kalu, reacting to the call, had dismissed it as an unpopular opinion of only the caucus leader, Hon. Kingsley Chinda.
But, members of the caucus, led by its leader while briefing journalists in Abuja, restated the call for the impeachment of the president over the worsening insecurity.
Chinda said: “We reinstate our call on Nigerians across all tribe, religion and Political party to awaken their representatives and Senators to the realities of the moment and rescue Nigeria from this “road to perdition” by evoking their constitutional powers under section 143 of the constitution and commence impeachment proceedings against President Muhammadu Buhari for gross incompetence and breach of section 4 (2)(b) of the constitution.
“Call on members of the Executive Council to resolve under section 144 of the constitution that the president is incapable of discharging the functions of the office.”
Chinda also said the lawmakers would be heading for the court to challenge the position of the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami that the National Assembly lacks powers to invite Buhari to brief it on security matters.
“Malami‘s reference to Section 218 (1) of the constitution that security matters remain the exclusive preserve of the executive arm of government because of the president’s power to determine operational use of the armed forces dubiously chose to ignore subsection 4 of that same section which clearly states the National Assembly has the powers to make laws for the regulation of the powers exercisable by the president as commander-in-chief of the armed forces.”
When asked why they resorted to calling on Nigerians to initiate the impeachment process, the caucus said it was part of their legislative function to relate with the people.
The lawmakers said it was also incumbent on the people to evaluate their present condition and the state of the nation and make a better decision.
APC Passes Vote of Confidence on Buhari in Tackling Insecurity
Governors elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress have expressed confidence that President Muhammadu Buhari will lead Nigeria out of its current security challenges.
This was contained in a statement yesterday in Abuja, titled: 78th Birthday Felicitation to President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR,” signed by the Chairman of the Progressives Governors Forum, Abubakar Bagudu.
“We acknowledge and commend your leadership, vision and commitment to a united prosperous Nigeria. “Recognising all the difficult periods we face as a nation, we are confident under your leadership, we will be able to resolve our national security challenges and restore peace in every part of the country,” the governors said.
The APC has also challenged security agencies to investigate an ‘intelligence report’ linking a certain North-west governor to the heightened cases of banditry, abductions and other violent crimes in the zone.
The Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Yekini Nabena, in a statement yesterday, while reacting to a protest by PDP supporters in Abuja, warned the opposition party from politicising the abduction of schoolboys in Katsina State, adding that the PDP is seeking political gains from insecurity.
Nabena who did not name the North-west governor because of the sensitive nature of the intelligence report, said the increased spate of banditry in the North-west was politically-motivated and not unconnected to the unnamed governor’s alleged sponsorship of banditry and other violent crimes in the zone.