Iyobosa Uwugiaren, Omololu Ogunmade, Kigsley Iweze and Udora Orizu in Abuja, Francis Sardauna in Katsina
President Muhammadu Buhari was upbeat yesterday when he met with the returnee Kankara boys at the Government House, Katsina, and reiterated his determination to provide security for all in Nigeria.
The schoolboys were abducted when gunmen stormed their school, Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State, on December 11.
The president, who spoke in Hausa, was excted by the rescue of the schoolboys within six days and congratulated the children for their safe return.
He stressed that the government would continue to improve the nation’s security system.
Buhari advised the freed students to remain focused in the pursuit and acquisition of good education despite their ill-fated experience.
The President, who tasked the pupils not to be distracted by the misfortune of their kidnapping, said the reward of knowledge acquisition was non-negotiable.
The President described their plight as a test of character and determination to succeed in life.
He assured them that the federal government would upgrade the security structure in the country to ensure more safety.
Imploring the students to put their predicament in the hands of their abductors behind them, Buhari insisted that there is no alternative to education
“My dear children, don’t be discouraged with what has happened,’’ he said, “give your attention to acquiring knowledge and developing good character, and you will be distinguished in life.
“I know that you have been through a lot. The suffering you went through, please put it aside, and try to forget the painful experience. There is no substitute to good education, so you must return to school and continue.
“If I wasn’t educated I will not be standing here today in front of you. I schooled in Katsina for nine years. I moved on to join the army, served as a governor, head of state, went to prison, came out and later joined politics. I contested presidential elections three times, and finally I was declared a winner in 2015.’’
He commended the Governor of Katsina State, Aminu Masari, for working tirelessly to ensure the kidnapped boys were freed unharmed.
He also expressed appreciation to all security agencies, traditional institutions and individuals who played key roles in the rescue efforts.
Buhari said the military and security agencies still had a lot to do to secure both the country, and its citizens.
“This is their job. They signed for it. Whether they like it or not, they will have to provide security for the country,” Buhari said.
Governor Masari, in his address, told the President of the traumatic experiences the students had in the hands of their abductors.
He said, “These students returned barefooted. None of them wore any sandals while they were being brought here.”
There was also controversy over the modalities adopted for the freedom of the Kankara boys, as allegations of financial inducement of the kidnappers rent the air yesterday.
While the federal government and the Katsina State Government insisted that the schoolboys were actually kidnapped by bandits and not Boko Haram, and that no ransom for their release, the Yoruba pan-social group, Afenifere faulted the government’s claims, saying it had no doubt that the federal government, contrary to its claim, paid the terrorists to secure the freedom of the school children.
Also, there were controversies over the true identity of those responsible for the freedom of the schoolboys, with the Nigerian army debunking the claims of the Katsina State Governor, Aminu Masari that the operation leading to the release of the boys involved the security agencies and members of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, MACBAN.
The Commander of the 17 Brigade, W.B Idris, who handed over the students to Masari yesterday, said they were rescued by a team of security operatives in the state.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, also told journalists in Abuja that there was no ransom to the bandits before the boys were released.
“The release of these school boys is a testament to the importance that this administration attaches to the security and safety of all Nigerians.
“There is no government in the world that will not face the challenges of security at one time or another.
“No government in the world is immune to terrorist attacks. What stands any government out is the way and manner it responds to such challenges”, he stated
Explaining the global security challenges, the minister said school shooting had been a recurring challenge in the United States, stating that between 2010 and 2020, almost 200 school children were killed and many more injured in various school shooting incidents.
He further stated that President Buhari would do everything possible to prevent a recurrence of these school abductions, insisting that the federal government has moved with speed and determination each time it has faced the challenge of school abductions.
The minister claimed that some Nigerians simply threw decorum to the wind and allowed their emotions to take a better part of them, adding that when disasters and tragedies strike, people come together. We hope the naysayers have learnt their lessons.
“And we hope those who have started trading and politicking with the hashtag ‘BringBackOurBoys’ can now go home, as our boys have been brought back, even before their dubious campaign could take off,’’ he added.
Aminu Masari Insists No Ransom was Paid
Corroborating the federal government’s claims, Governor Masari insisted no payment was made to secure the release of the abducted Kankara pupils.
Speaking when he received the freed schoolboys at the government house yesterday, the governor said his administration did not offer a penny to the abductors of the boys for their release.
He said security agencies and members of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, MACBAN, were instrumental to the release of the schoolboys.
Ransom Made to Terrorists, Afenifere Insists
However, the Pan Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere yesterday said it has no doubt that the federal government, contrary to its claim, paid the terrorists who abducted the Kankara boys.
Afenifere, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Yinka Odumakin, said the Kankara abduction was a clear signal that Nigeria is finished and that concerned Nigerians, especially the elites in the Northern part of the country must speak up.
Afenifere urged Nigerians to come together and rescue the country from the chaos and precarious conditions the Buhari administration had plunged it into.
The statement reads; ”Those who harbour any illusion that something is left in this joke of a country called Nigeria must have their eyes cleared after the Kankara practical joke of abduction of hundreds of school boys by Boko Haram bandits. The tragedy was Chibok foreplay in 2014 which was a regime change platform but in which previous lives were involved.
”But with God with his big sense of humour intact, the Chibok practical joke was re-enacted a few days back as President Buhari arrived Katsina and hundreds of Kankara schoolboys were abducted by Boko Haram in broad daylight and along military routes like in Chibok. This time around those who celebrated Chibok to the hilt in 2014 are now in power and fumbled like amateur comedians in a big revelation that what is called terror in Nigeria is most likely a big scam being played at our expense.
”At a point, presidential spokesman Garba Shehu who on different occasions had given impression that he had never been too far from the key room of Boko Haram told what he regards as a silly nation that only 10 boys were kidnapped as against 344 figure given by Governor Masari. A more accurate figure would have been given by this administration if their precious cows were the ones rustled.
”The height of stupidity in governance was when it officially came out that another terror group called Miyetti Allah was the front for negotiation confirming our suspicion that this government rolls with all that troubles this country. Even when the boys were cheekily released and there was official lie of rescue Governor Masari in the boldest official cover – up for the terror enveloping Nigeria said he needed a third party to tell him who abducted and released them.”
US Tells Nigeria to Hold Kidnappers Accountable
The United States government has asked the Nigerian government to hold those responsible for the abduction of the Kankara schoolboys “to the full extent of the law”.
In a statement released by the U.S. Department of State spokesperson Cale Brown after the release of the abducted students on Thursday, the US condemned the incident and also stated that schools should be a safe place where children can learn and thrive.
Arrival of the Abducted Schoolboys
Completely exhausted but smiling, freed Katsina schoolboys arrived home yesterday, many of them barefoot and clutching blankets.
Television pictures showed the boys dressed in dusty clothes, looking weary but otherwise well, getting off buses in the city of Katsina and walking to a government building.
One of them, with flecks of dried mud on his face, told Channels TV the captors had fed them bread and cassava.
“It was cold,” he told the reporter. Asked how he had felt when the bus arrived in Katsina, he said: “I was really happy,” and broke into a smile.
“We are very grateful. We are very grateful. We are very grateful,” a man who said he was the father of two of the boys told the Arise television station.
Hours before the rescue of the boys was announced, a video started circulating online purportedly showing Boko Haram militants with some of the boys. Reuters was unable to verify the authenticity of the footage or who released it.
Yesterday, the boys from the Government Science Secondary School walked from the buses in single file, flanked by soldiers and armed police officers, and were taken to the government building to meet the governor.
They were then brought back and driven off for medical checks, officials said.
A group of their parents waited to be reunited with them in another part of town.
“I couldn’t believe what I heard until neighbours came to inform me that it’s true,” Hafsat Funtua, mother of 16-year-old Hamza Naziru, told the Reuters in a phone interview.
Garba Shehu Apologises for Inaccurate Figure
Presidential spokesman, Malam Garba Shehu, yesterday apologised to Nigerians for providing perceived misleading information on the number of boys kidnapped in Government Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State last weekend.
Shehu, who had following the breaking of the news of the abduction last weekend, announced that only 10 boys were kidnapped, explained that the figure was not his own creation but rather provided to him “by persons that should ideally know.”
Describing the number as incorrect, Shehu said that figure actually conflicted with the huge number of missing pupils at the time.
While emphatically apologising for the misleading information, the presidential spokesman further explained that his action was not meant to underplay the depth of the seriousness of the abduction.
Schoolboys Vow Not to Return to Attacked School
Some of the abducted students have vowed not to return to school until adequate security measures are put in place by the state government.
The students, who spoke in an exclusive interview with THISDAY in Government House yesterday, also urged Governor Masari to relocate the school to Kankara town.
They were driven into the Government House in a convoy escorted by the 17 Brigade Commander, Brig-General WB Idris and other top security operatives.
One of the students, Yusuf Suleiman, SS1, said lack of adequate security in the school was responsible for their abduction by the bandits.
He said: “We suffered in the hand of the bandits and for me, I will not return to the school again because it has no security and it is located at the outskirt of Kankara town”.
Umar, a JSS3 student, said: “It will be difficult for us to return to the school. Most of us have agreed not to go back to the school again. We will seek for transfer to other schools within Katsina metropolis”.
On his part, Ismail Jamilu, while reliving his six-day nightmare in the bandits’ den, said the hoodlums who launched onslaught on his boarding school claimed to be on a rescue mission but later opened fire when they noticed the presence of some security personnel.
He said: “After our night prep on Friday night, we heard gunshots at the school gate. Few minutes after, some men entered our hotels, saying they came to protect us but some of my friends starting running when they saw them.
“Some of us that could not run or jump the school fence, they asked us to assemble in one place and directed us to start moving out of the school through the gate. When we got to the gate we saw our security man on the ground crying with blood all over his clothes.
“We were being pushed and beaten, we spent two nights trekking in the bush to unknown destination with them, sometimes walking on thorns. When they discovered that we were tired, they asked us to sleep in one forest”.
Military Insist Schoolboys Were Rescued
Contrary to claims by Masari that the release of the Kankara schoolboys was negotiated by Miyetti Allah and the military, the Commander of the 17 Brigade, W.B Idris, who handed over the students to Masari yesterday, said the schoolboys were rescued by the combined team of security operatives in the state.
Idris said: “Consequent, upon the kidnapped that took place on the 11 of this month, the combined efforts of the security forces and the state yielded requisite result. We are here this morning (Friday) to formally hand over the 344 students of Government Science Secondary Kankara that were rescued from the bandits yesterday night (Thursday).
“The students were taken to Guzau in Zamfara state where they were adequately taken care of. They slept through the night at Gusau and glory be to almighty God we are here with them to formally hand them to state for subsequent hand over to their parents”, he said.
The Defence Headquarters also claimed that troops rescued the Kankara schoolboys.
The DHQ spokesman, Maj. Gen. John Enenche, said the military had kept its promises of ensuring the rescue of the hostages.
The DHQ in its statement said: “Keeping to its promise to ensure the safe return of all abducted students of Government Science Secondary School Kankara, Katsina State, troops of Operation Hadarin Daji rescued all 344 abducted students on Thursday 17 December 2020.
“The students were rescued on the heels of credible intelligence by our gallant troops, with high degree of professionalism to ensure they were all rescued alive.
“The Military High Command commends troops of Operation Hadarin Daji, including all security agencies for their dexterity. The general public who volunteered information is also hereby appreciated.”
Schoolboy Says He was Told to say Abductors are Boko Haram
One of the freed Kankara schoolboys while narrating his six-day ordeal in the hands of his abductors, said he was “convinced” by the kidnappers to speak in the video.
“I don’t know who they are but they said I should say they are Boko Haram – gang of Abu Shekau,” the student said at the Katsina State Government House.
Leader of terror group Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, had earlier released two video footage claiming responsibility for the dastardly act.