Pope Prays as Military Intensifies Search for Zamfara Schoolgirls

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•Matawalle insists on negotiation with abductors
•FG pledges to end abduction of students
•Soyinka laments incessant kidnapping of pupils

Chuks Okocha in Abuja and Francis Sardauna in Katsina

As the military and the police yesterday intensified the search for 317 pupils of Government Girls’ Science Secondary School, Jangebe in Talata Mafara Local Government Area of Zamfara State, who bandits kidnapped on Friday, Pope Francis has prayed for their safe return.

“Let us pray that Our Lady might keep them safe,” the Pope said at the Angelus prayer yesterday, calling the bandits’ action, vile.
He invited everyone to pray for them so that they might return home soon.

“I am near to their families and to them,” said the Pope as he led the faithful in the recitation of the Hail Mary.
“I join my voice to that of the Bishops of Nigeria to condemn the vile kidnapping of the 317 girls, taken away from their school in Jangebe. I am praying for these girls so they might return home soon. I am near to their families,” he wrote.
Gunmen had invaded the Jangebe community on Friday, attacked some houses along their way, and raided the school where they abducted 317 students.

The girls have now been in captivity for three days, and efforts to secure their release are ongoing.
The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) had also condemned the kidnapping on Friday, calling it a gross violation of children’s rights.
The Jangebe attack comes barely two weeks after scores of children were abducted by bandits from Government Science College (GSC), Kagara in Niger State.

The Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Mr. Jamilu Iliyasu, told THISDAY that the military and the police were still combing the forests in search of the victims so as to rescue them from the bandits.
He, however, refuted a report that had gone viral yesterday that the victims had been released and they were on their way to Gusau to be received by Governor Bello Matawalle.

To quicken the recovery of the schoolgirls, Matawalle has also promised to use repentant bandits to secure their release.
However, the federal government has committed itself to take all necessary steps to prevent a reoccurrence of schoolchildren’s abduction.

Reacting to the report that the schoolgirls had been released and were in the palace of the Emir of Anka waiting for transportation to Gusau, Iliyasu told THISDAY that even the Emir of Anka and 16 other emirs were at the Government House, Gusau, together with a federal government delegation, to commiserate with the governor on the abduction.

“I have read the report and I do not know where it came from; the Emir of Anka is here in Gusau; we have just received a delegation from the federal government who came to commiserate with the governor. The military and the police are still combing the forests, searching for the students,” he stated.

Also, Iliyasu in a statement quoted the governor as saying that efforts are still ongoing to secure the release of the abductees.
“Gov. Bello Mohammed Matawalle Maradun and his aides have since Friday when the girls were abducted by gunmen not rested but been working round the clock making frantic efforts that will lead to the safe release of the victims.

“We are not happy that someone who does not know the details of the situation will try to further hurt the victims’ parents, government and the security by ridiculing the effort with falsehood,” he said.
The statement added that the state government would be happy to announce the release of the schoolgirls as soon as they are freed.

Matawalle Insists on Negotiation with Abductors

Despite the abduction of the 317 schoolgirls, Matawalle has said the incident will not deter him from negotiating with the bandits, adding that he will utilise repentant bandits to secure their release.
The governor assured residents of the state that his administration is committed to its ongoing peace and dialogue initiative with the bandits, despite the abduction and other nefarious activities of the hoodlums.

Matawalle told a federal government delegation in Gusau that the state government would continue to use repentant bandits who subscribed to the ongoing peace accord to rescue the schoolgirls.
The delegation, led by the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, was in the state to commiserate with the government and people on the abduction of the schoolgirls.

On the entourage, were the Minister of Police Affairs, Mr. Muhammad Dingyadi; Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Mrs. Pauline Tallen; and the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Ms. Sadiya Farouq.
Matawalle said: “For what happened in Jangebe, we are not going to say much about what happened or going on blame games. All we need now is for a safe return of these children. The security agencies need synergy to share relevant intelligence and to strategise in fighting this kind of criminalities without this synergy, no matter what the president is trying to do, will not be possible.

“I assured you again that my government is committed to the peace and dialogue initiative; we are using those that have subscribed to our peace accord; let the president be aware that these children will be rescued soon.”
He called on President Muhammadu Buhari to strengthen the nation’s security in order to get the capable and reasonable security personnel to protect lives and property.

He urged the federal government to deploy additional security personnel in flashpoints in communities across the state, adding that the security manpower of the state is grossly inadequate to tackle the pervading security challenges.
He said: “We have so many crises in different parts of the country, Zamfara is part of it and our security formations in the state are doing their best but something is missing somewhere and it has to be addressed as quickly as possible so as to address the occurrences of any attempt of this kind again.

“The people of Zamfara State have mandated me as their governor to appeal to Mr. President to mobilise more security personnel to the state because we have a shortage of security manpower in the state. Despite the fact that the IG just recently deployed about 275 Special Forces, but because of the huge landmark of the state and different camps of the leaders of bandits, we need more and more presence of security personnel in such areas.”

Matawalle thanked Buhari for the federal government’s concern, noting that very soon the abductees will regain their freedom.
“I strongly believe in the president and his effort in fighting all forms of insurgency and I want to urge him to improve on the nation’s security by ensuring synergy among the security agencies so that confrontations with criminals can be coordinated on the ground and air simultaneously,” the governor said.

Earlier, Sirika had said they were in Zamfara on the directive of Buhari to commiserate with the government and the people over the incident.
He assured the state government that insurgency, banditry and other forms of criminalities would soon be eradicated following rejig of the nation’s security architecture.

Sirika stated that Buhari promised that what happened in Jangebe will not reoccur.
He said new measures had been developed by the federal government to end criminalities.
He said: “His Excellency, the president is saddened by the abduction of the students from Jangebe and reassures that the government is a government that has all the resources and wherewithal to contain these criminalities to a conclusive end.

“He has also commended the efforts of Governor Bello Matawalle in the measures he is taking against armed banditry and assures him that he will continue to support the government’s actions in the state with a view to bringing lasting peace.
“The federal government will continue its partnership with the Zamfara State government and its citizens in resolving the security challenges facing the state.”

Soyinka Laments Incessant Abduction of Pupils

In a reaction, the Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, said the incessant attacks on schools by terrorists are fast making the country close to the stage of accepting the unacceptable culture.
Soyinka spoke during an award lecture and public presentation of his latest book, ‘Chronicles of the Happiest People on Earth,’ in Abeokuta, Ogun State on Saturday.

He said states may need to shut down some of their activities in solidarity with affected states where kidnapping of children are rampant.

“The abductions of our children, when will it end; how will it end? I don’t think any one of us can tell. But it is important that we continue to stress and to remind ourselves that, not only are these abnormal times, but it seems to be, to me anyway, times of the shirking of responsibility in very key areas,” he said, adding that those at the helm of affairs of the nation have failed the populace.

School Abductions Designed to Cripple Education, says Northern Group

Meanwhile, the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) has said that the recent abduction of schoolchildren is a grand design to discourage the growth of the region through education.
The coalition in its reaction to the abduction of the 317 Zamfara schoolgirls, urged Northern leaders to address insecurity in the region.

This is the third abduction of schoolchildren in the North in the last three months.
CNG, in a statement by its spokesman, Mr. Abdul-Azeez Sulieman, said: “We see the recent escalation of the kidnap of schoolchildren as a grand design to cripple the educational viability of the Northern region, after having messed up its economy and mutual cohesion.

“We call on Northern leaders to interrogate the extent of levity of the federal authorities in not being able to anticipate and checkmate the manoeuvres of marauding bands of criminals that roam Northern communities and operate at will targeting such soft spots as schools.

“The situation is also difficult for absolutely everyone, as we wonder about the future and worry about each other, our neighbours, our friends, our families and ourselves.”

Buhari Has Surrendered Nigeria to Bandits, Says PDP

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) also intervened yesterday, accusing the Buhari administration of abandoning Nigeria.
The party wondered how a president that promised on the assumption of office that he would lead the battle against crimes, criminality and insurgency from the front has become so incapacitated that bandits are ravaging the country.

The party expressed surprise that all this is happening when Nigeria has a president who is an army general and yet pupils are being kidnapped and schools closed down due to insecurity.
In a series of tweets yesterday in Abuja, the National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, said: “How can we have a general and former head of state as our president yet students are being kidnapped, schools are being shut down while bandits and terrorists take over our roads and homelands?

“Meanwhile, the general, who promised to lead from the fronts recedes in the safety and comfort of Aso Villa, from where he is sending boastful messages to the bandits.
“Rather than leading from the fronts as promised, this general has surrendered our nation to bandits, invaders and terrorists.”