By Emmanuel Onwubiko
As most families warmed up for the quiet celebration of the year 2020 Christmas brought about by the ravaging CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC IN NIGERIA, over 800 families in the North Western State of Katsina were thrown into panic when over 300 pupils of a boys boarding school on the outskirts of Kankara in Katsina State, were kidnapped by reportedly well armed motorcycle riding terrorists numbering over 100.
These terrorists invaded the School that, at the time of the attack sheltered about 800 boarding students of the Government Science School. The attack followed similar patterns of the way the kidnapping of students happened, in Borno and Yobe States. The kidnap of students of the Government Girls School in Dapchi, Yobe State happened about three years ago. All the victims but one, were released. The Nigerian Government allegedly paid ransom to get the Muslims out, but the lone Christian girl Leah Sharibu was abandoned by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, and for three years or more, this young girl who was just 15 when she was violently taken away, is still with the terrorists known as Boko Haram Islamic terrorists.
The incident in Katsina had a symbolism, because it was on the eve of the arrival in Daura, Katsina State of President Muhammadu Buhari for a four-day visit, that this daredevil incident occurred in a town not too far off from where the President of the largest African nation landed in a Presidential jet accompanied by a retinue of top security heads of all the nation’s security Architectures dominated by Northern Musli born politicians and appointees who share same faith group and ethnicity with President Muhammadu Buhari.
Ironically, the victims of this notorious terrorists strike in the remotely sited boarding school facility are all Muslims from a part of Nigeria that is experiencing poor school enrolment. Aside the angle of terrorism, these kidnappings have the capacity to persuade children of Northern Nigerian extraction to stay out of the formal educational system, for fear of being killed.
Mr President’s Invitation to NASS
Also, the President jetted off to Katsina from Abuja after he rejected several invitations by the Federal House of Representatives, to appear before the law makers to brief Nigerians on why the state of insecurity has reached a frightening dimension.
It should be recalled that, Section 14(2)(b) of the Nigerian Constitution makes the security and welfare of the citizens of Nigeria the primary legal duty and obligation of the officials, elected or appointed into public offices which this administration has spectacularly failed to actualise, and is bereft of any sort of ideas on how to put an end to the expanding frontiers of terrorism and violence in the country.
So, the invitation made by the central law making body was in tandem with their statutory mandate as unambiguously provided for by a plethora of the constitutional provisions, given that Section 4 clearly provides that the legislative powers of the Federation is domiciled in the legislature, and if the legislature passes a budget for defence and it becomes clear that there are clear failures on the part of the executive to clearly implement the programmes and projects to ensure national security, it therefore, behoves on them to investigate why this is so, and this was the fundamental purpose of the invitation extended to the President in December of 2020.
So, it was in the heat of this constitutional quagmire created by the counsel of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, that President Muhammadu Buhari not honour NASS’s invitation that he jetted off to Daura, his hometown in Katsina, and then on the eve of his arrival the kidnappers struck in the Boys Science School in Kankara in Katsina State and took away over 300 students.
This kidnapping is highly suspicious, because the Central Government has failed to order proper forensic investigations of this terrorism, but has allowed the entire criminal scenario to be shrouded in organised chaos and political compromise, to the very odious extent that the so-called chief kidnapper and other kidnappers of these children reportedly surrendered and are treated as celebrities. And so, these suspicions will linger for a long time, if we look at how the school children kidnapped were returned after a week, adorning newly made and newly tailored clothes, and were never allowed to speak to the media.
The Return of the Kankara Boys
The more than 300 schoolboys kidnapped for a week around December 10th, 2020 in an attack on their school in Northwest Nigeria, arrived in the capital of Katsina State amid celebrations of their release. As reported by Aljazeera, the Reporter said television pictures showed the boys, many of them wearing light green uniforms and clutching blankets, arriving on buses, looking weary, but otherwise well. The boys were abducted after gunmen raided the all-boys Government Science Secondary School in Katsina’s Kankara village, and marched nearly 350 of them into the nearby Rugu forest. The Boko Haram armed group claimed responsibility for the abduction.
None of the boys spoke as they walked from the bus in single file, flanked by soldiers, into a government building. Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris, reporting from Katsina, said the boys walked barefoot, some of them limping with blisters on their feet.
“You can see they are virtually exhausted and traumatised, following the events of the past seven days”, he said. “You can see fear, confusion, trauma”, he added, shortly after the boys walked past him at the scene of their arrival.
It was not clear if all of the boys had been recovered in the rescue operation, but Katsina State Governor, Aminu Bello Masari, told Idris on Thursday that all 344 boys had been released. The boys were moved to a camp where they will undergo medical tests and evaluation, before a likely meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, according to Idris.
Meanwhile, a group of the boys’ 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, the mother of 16-year-old Hamza Naziru, said earlier in a phone interview. She said the moment she heard the news, she ran out of her house with joy “not knowing where to go” before returning home to pray.
Another parent, Husseini Ahmed, whose 14-year-old Mohammed Husseini was also among those abducted, expressed happiness and relief that he would soon be reunited with his son.
“We are happy, and anxiously expecting their return”, he said.
Understandably, the criminality of kidnapping has gripped Nigeria and raised growing concerns and anger about insecurity and violence in the country’s North, and also about the incompetence of this Government and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria President, Muhammadu Buhari, a retired Major General of the Nigerian Army to defend Nigeria and safeguard the lives and property of the citizens, as enunciated by the 1999 Constitution. And so, in the midst of this show of shame and the display of crass incompetence by our Armed Forces, terrorists and other armed non-State actors are taking charge of different parts of the Federation, and are busy dishing out orders and blackmailing the Governments of these affected States to dole out millions of public funds, to be funnelled into settlement of these terrorists.
And so, whilst the school boys were held as hostages, the kingpin of the terrorists was busy making public broadcast and making demands. In an audio recording released, a man identifying himself as the leader of Boko Haram claimed the group was responsible for the abduction.
Just before the boys were reunited with their Parents, there were a lot of demonstrations and on the day they were later brought back to the State capital, earlier dozens of protesters marched through the streets in the city of Katsina as #BringBackOurBoys trended on Nigerian social media. The hashtag hearkened back to a campaign launched to bring home more than 200 girls abducted by Boko Haram in 2014 in the Northeastern town of Chibok, the Reporter recalled.
The details of how the boys were released are still unknown, and this is exactly why most Nigerians believe there is more to it than meets the eyes. Idris said the Government officials are “refusing to say anything about it”.
“They are insisting that no exchange of prisoners was done in exchange for the children, but a lot of people doubt that”, he said.
Criminal gangs operating in Northwest Nigeria have killed more than 1,100 people in the first half of 2020 alone, according to Rights Group, Amnesty International. In the Northeast, Boko Haram and its offshoot, Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), have waged a 10-year rebellion estimated to have displaced about two million people and killed more than 30,000.
Barely a month after the Katsina show of shame, again gunmen reportedly kidnapped over 40 people, including 26 children, in an attack on Government Science College, Kagara, in central Nigerian State of Niger, which is only few kilometres to the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja, the so-called fortified seat of power. Teachers, school staff and their family members, were among those abducted.
President Buhari has reportedly ordered a rescue operation. This has become his usual song, and Nigerians have lost confidence in the ability of Government to protect them, and this is why there is a rise in the formation of armed vigilantes all over the country. Schools have become regular targets for militant groups in Nigeria, as well as criminal gangs seeking ransom money, so observed a Reporter who is not actually far from the truth.
Television news reported that at least one student was killed in the attack. Rescue operations are underway, while all other schools in the area have been closed. The students were woken by the attackers, and taken into a nearby forest.
“The problem is that most of the schools, the only fence, the front of the school and the back is the entire Bush, and these areas are very porous”, said a media practitioner.
The President has directed the Armed Forces and Police, to ensure the immediate and safe return of all the captives”, his spokesman Garba Shehu said in a statement. President Buhari also urged security forces “to do all that can be done to bring an end to this saga, and avoid such cowardly attacks on schools in the future”.
What do we know about the kidnappers? The kidnappers and their motives were not immediately clear. Nigerian officials have not yet publicly released details. The attackers appeared in “huge numbers” at the school in the early hours of Wednesday morning, wearing military uniforms. Although investigations are ongoing, an official said the gunmen are believed to belong to a criminal gang.
Criminal gangs, referred to locally as “bandits,” have increasingly been involved in kidnappings, rape and other crimes across Central and Northern Nigeria. The gangs are driven by financial motives — kidnapping children and others, and holding them for ransom.
“This is the same campaign that Boko Haram had been waging in the Northeast”, said DW’s Idris Uwaisu. “And now it’s spreading to other parts of the country.”
Many are starting to suspect a groundswell of collaboration between the Security forces and these terrorists elements who are now engaging in a new trade of kidnapping for settlement, and that some officials of the Security services may have a hand in all of this. This therefore, requires that Nigeria needs to particularly embark on a transparent Reorganisation of all the security architecture, especially the Department of States Services.
Already, some are calling for an Amnesty programme for these armed bandits in the North, comparing their call with the Amnesty granted to the Niger Delta militants when they resisted the destruction of their environment and the marginalisation of the crude oil producing communities. It is wrong for anyone to make any sort of comparison between the Niger Delta matter, and the pure criminality and terrorism happening in the North in whose case their only motive is to blackmail the country, so as to be paid heavy cash as settlements. No society ever survives if such practices are permitted.
The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) recently called on President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Assembly, to come up with a framework for the urgent reorganisation of the Secret Police Department of State Security, DSS. It said in a statement on Wednesday in Abuja that a reform of the Secret Police department is necessary, to make it more responsive “to the growing trends of crimes and criminality such as armed banditry, terrorism and kidnappings”.
Convener of the group, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko in the statement stressed the importance of having a reformed DSS through a legislation to “focus on eradicating threats to the stability and security of Nigeria such as terrorism, kidnappings for ransom and armed attacks of communities by armed freelance hoodlums, rather than its fixation on arresting and detaining civil society activists, media activists or political opponents of President Muhammadu Buhari”.
The statement read in part: “We suggest that rather than the DSS diverting her statutory function to only that of crushing civil rights activists and perceived political opponents of the Presidents in office, the DSS should be re-focused to work in a similar form like the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigations, FBI so it can jointly work with the Police to crackdown on the widening wave of armed kidnappings and to go after armed bandits and armed herdsmen, so as to restore national security and national stability.”
According to the group, it makes no sense that the DSS funded by taxpayers in a constitutional democracy, “is being used by the President to scuttle the enjoyment and the exercise of the constitutional freedoms which is threatening to turn Nigeria into a Police State or fascism”.
“The increasing challenges of breakdown of law and order across the country demands immediate, comprehensive, radical reforms of all segments of the armed security services with special attention to the DSS which is increasingly losing focus, and is gaining the notoriety as the anti-democratic armed security agency whose mandate is to cripple the expansion of enjoyments of fundamental freedom.”
“This urgent task of reforming the DSS should be embraced as a national rescue mission, because it is indeed embarrassing that officers of DSS, Federal Road Safety Commission and the Civil Defence have all fallen victims of the activities of kidnappers”, HURIWA lamented.
HURIWA wondered why prominent Northerners, including Katsina and Zamfara State Governors and Kaduna-based Islamic cleric, Dr. Ahmed Gumi, have had an open interface with armed Northern bandits, but DSS is yet to arrest suppliers of those sophisticated weapons being displayed openly during such publicised parleys.
The human rights advocacy group recalled that Gumi, on Tuesday, visited some bandits in the forests of Shinkafi and Gumi local government areas of Zamfara State, even as the cleric was reported to have gone to another forest at Makkai, where he and his entourage met with more than 600 bandits with automatic rifles. Their top commander, one Kachalla Turji, welcomed the Sheikh.The group, citing a media report said, like in Tubali, the bandits in Makkai expressed frustration at Government’s attitude towards them.
Gumi was said to have told the bandits: “Let there be peace, you all have a legitimate concern and grievances. I believe that since the Niger Delta armed militants were integrated by the Federal Government and are even in the business of pipelines protection, the Federal Government should immediately look into how something like that will be done to the Fulani to provide them with a reasonable means of livelihood, including jobs, working capital, entrepreneurship training, building clinic and schooling”. These negotiations with terrorists, has emboldened them to continue in their franchise of kidnapping Nigerians and citizens.
Sadly, the National Assembly members are in deep sleep, and seem to have lost touch with reality. The ball is in the court of the citizens to demand action from the National Assembly, to act decisively to compel the executive arm of Government to carry out their statutory mandate of defending the territorial integrity of Nigeria and stop the killings, kidnappings of the citizens. Failure by the citizens to demand accountability, could spell doom for the country.
Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, former Commissioner of National Human Rights Commission (Nigeria); Founding National Coordinator, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA)