•Says repentant outlaws helped in rescue operations
•Faults allegations FG stage-managed kidnapping
By Dike Onwuamaeze
The presidency yesterday shed more light on how the Katsina and Zamfara State governments, in collaboration with the federal government, were able to secure the release of 344 pupils of Government Science Secondary School Kankara, a week after their abduction.
Presidential spokesman, Mallam Garba Shehu, said on a breakfast television programme that repentant bandits assisted in securing the release of the pupils.
He also dismissed claims that the federal government stage-managed the abduction of the pupils to create the impression that the Buhari administration was up to the task of protecting lives and property of Nigerians.
The pupils were kidnapped on December 11, a day President Muhammadu Buhari arrived in Daura, his hometown, to begin a week-long private visit and were rescued on the eve of his departure to Abuja.
The abduction had sparked a global outrage with calls on the federal government to ensure they were rescued on time so that their case wouldn’t be like that of some 270 schoolgirls kidnapped from Chibok, Borno State, many of whom have not be found, almost six years after their abduction.
Shehu said although no ransom was paid to the bandits who kidnapped the schoolboys, there were negotiations with them.
“All of the leading actors involved in the release of the children said no ransom was paid.
“The governor of Zamfara State, who had a policy of engagement with the bandits leading to the surrender and renouncement of bandits, used repentant bandits to gain access to those that were in the forest and they had them (schoolboys) released. All the leading actors in Zamfara and Katsina States said no ransom was paid,” he stated.
He explained that the rescue operation was joint efforts of security agencies including the army, and the police.
He said there were negotiations with the abductors after the troops encircled the Zamfara forest where the hostages were held.
“The security services, the army, police, intelligence agencies showed good judgement and capacity by promptly responding to the kidnap of those students and then locating exactly where they were being held.
“Having done that, they quickly mobilised and surrounded the entire place to ensure that they do not go out and they do not come in. So, whatever followed after that is to reap from the gain which has been done.
“The military identified where they were less than 24 hours after the kidnap and waited for the process of the negotiations and at the end of it, everyone is happy that it ended the way it did,” he said.
On claims that the federal government stage-managed the abduction, Shehu said only a heartless person would stage the kidnap of innocent children.
He added that from the accounts of the released boys, they were subjected to inhumane treatment while in the bush and no one should say such an incident was staged.
“It is just being ridiculous. How can anybody do this? Then people must be heartless if they should do this and subject these young people to that.
“You heard the accounts. These young people were kept in the forest. They were fed once on raw potatoes and drips of water for seven days.
“See the suffering they were subjected to. I don’t think any decent human being will subject innocent young people to this kind of thing. Nobody should say this please,” he stated.
The presidential spokesman also stressed the need for Nigeria to stop herdsmen from roaming all over the country to prevent clashes with farmers.
Shehu, while responding to the allegation that Buhari is grabbing lands to dole out to herdsmen, blamed the actions of the herdsmen on the drying of grazing lands in the North.
“This country has a grazing problem because the herders are mostly Fulanis. The challenge is from these places they had practised, you know, the encroachment by desert leading to drying up of a lot of grazing lands in the northern-most parts of the country.
“This has put pressure on the herders who have been looking to the South-west green grass so that their cattle will eat and also have water to drink. It’s a global climate situation, which is unfortunate considering what has happened along the Lake Chad Basin.
“I’m glad that governors of the North are coming together to say let us resolve this problem of grazing because we have to stop these herders from roaming and eating up our crops all over the country.
“They drive their cattle into farmlands and eat up the crops. The farmers fight back and the killings follow. The country cannot continue in this way,” he added.
On insecurity in the North-east, Shehu said progress had been made, adding that “a lot of it” and that Yobe, Bauchi, Gombe, Taraba and Adamawa have all “moved on” from insecurity issues.
“And we are hoping and praying for our brothers in Borno State that they too, with the support of the military and the communities, they will rid themselves of Boko Haram.
“The president has said times without number that his expectations are still to be met, that means we are not exactly where we wish to be. “However, a fair judgement that can be made about ongoing efforts of the administration is to judge it by the responses it makes when challenges of security comes up.
“In all countries of the world, there is always one form of security challenge, the thing, then, to do is how do you respond? The present administration has responded within the capacity, competence using available resources and manpower and all the limitations that come with that. So, can we get better? We hope we will continue to improve,” he said.