From Learning Field to Killing Field

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The recent capture and murder of some students of Greenfield University in Kaduna State highlights the increasing tragedy of more than 600 students reportedly kidnapped in Nigeria since last December, writes Vanessa Obioha

For parents of the kidnapped Greenfield University students, April 20 brings frightful memories. The day marked the beginning of a traumatic experience that conjures images of gruesome murder and death. On that fateful day, these parents learnt about the abduction of their children from Greenfield University, a private university in Kaduna State. Gunmen were said to have invaded the school premises in the evening and carried out the abduction. It was the first known tragedy experienced by the university which began operations barely two years ago. It is the only private university in Kaduna State located at Kasarami, off the Kaduna-Abuja Road in Chikun LGA. On its website, the university advertised that it currently has two faculties: Science and Technology and Social and Management Sciences with an Engineering faculty in the works.

Unaware of the fate of their children at the time, the parents would later receive calls from unknown bandits, demanding the sum of N800 million for the release of the students.

On receiving the news, their word fell apart. They were devastated.

“On April 20, a strange call entered my phone and I heard my son’s voice saying ‘we have been kidnapped.’ Shortly after, someone with an ugly voice from the background snatched the phone from him and asked that we the parents should pay a ransom of N800 million to secure the release of our children,” a parent of one of the kidnapped students Muazu Yusuf told CNN.

While they were still deliberating on how to meet the demands, the kidnappers killed three students on April 23. The swiftness of their action conveyed a strong message to the parents and of course to Governor, Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State who has kicked against negotiating with bandits. The students killed included Dorathy Tirnom Yohanna, Precious Nwakacha and Sadiq Muazu, the son of Yusuf. Their corpses were found in a nearby village, Kwanar Bature.

One day later, the management of the school released a statement through its Registrar Muhammad Bashir seeking the intervention of the government in the situation.

Two days later, two students were killed again, bringing the number of students killed within six days to five.

The bandits further threatened to kill the remaining students if their demands were not met. They requested N100 million and 10 brand new motorcycles. However, on May 4, one of the students regained freedom after the mother Lauritta Attahiru privately met the ransom of the abductors. She is the wife of a retired Army officer from Plateau State. The unidentified kidnappers reportedly demanded N20 million from the parents before they made their latest request.

Kaduna, known as the Centre of Learning due to the number of institutions of Higher learning in the state is gradually becoming a centre for banditry. In the past, the region was known mainly for religious violence, particularly in Southern Kaduna. Nowadays, kidnapping for ransom has taken over as the new phase of infamy, happening mostly along Kaduna and Abuja Expressway.

Rising Cases of Abduction

In recent times, the kidnapping of secondary school students has become rife in northern parts of Nigeria. The most notorious among them was the kidnapping of 276 female students of the Government Secondary School for Girls in Borno State in 2014 by insurgents. Their abduction sparked a nationwide protest and drew the attention of international bodies. To date, a handful of the girls are yet to return to their families. Again, in 2018, Boko Haram struck at Government Girls’ Science and Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe state, kidnapping more than 100 female students. While most of the girls were returned, a young student by nake, Leah Sharibu who reportedly resisted the kidnappers and refused to renounce her faith is yet to regain freedom. In what many have described as staged, abduction, a group of boys were kidnapped in Katsina state last December but were swiftly rescued by the government one week later.

Zamfara, Niger and Kaduna states are among the recent states that have recorded mass kidnapping of students.

One month before the Greenfield University incident, 39 students of the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, Kaduna were kidnapped by bandits. Ten of the students were initially released after a ransom of N17 million was paid. Twenty-seven students regained freedom last week.

The rising incidents of student abduction in Nigeria seemingly carries a political tone. When the Chibok girls incident happened, it was mainly seen as politically motivated to destabilise the administration of the then-president Goodluck Jonathan. Critics pilloried him for his slow response to the situation.

Kidnapping of foreigners or elites in Nigeria is not entirely new. In a 2018 report on kidnap for ransom by a global organisation on risk management, Nigeria ranked highest in Africa. There are still pockets of abductions of expatriates and elites in the South-east and South-west regions, aided by the current insecurity ravaging the country.

There is a widespread believe that the insecurity is caused by weak infrastructure and with many of the security agents controlled by the federal government, the states are often left handicapped. Also, the palatable financial offers made to the kidnappers by state governors instead of lawful punishment is considered one of the reasons the crime is seen as a lucrative business, an act that the presidency has condemned. More so, kidnapping the vulnerable in society guarantees a higher ransom compared to other individuals. More than 600 students have reportedly been kidnapped in Nigeria since last December.

While the presidency frowns at some governors who reward bandits, it has not however put in place a concrete plan to curtail the prevalence of kidnapping in the country. Rather, individuals such as the Islamic cleric Sheikh Abubakar Gumi become negotiators to secure the release of victims. According to Gumi, a great number of bandits will be willing to surrender if assured of amnesty. However, not a few Nigerians are comfortable with his proposal.

He reportedly said that terrorists are infiltrating the bandit herders, and are responsible for the Greenfield kidnap. He called on the Kaduna state government to pay the ransom to spare the lives of the students. He argued that the government should pay the ransom to get the students freed and later go after the kidnappers to retrieve their money.

Recently, he assured that the Greenfield University students will soon regain their freedom following the release of the 27 Afaka students. He disclosed that the kidnappers will no longer carry out their threat to kill the remaining students because of the ongoing negotiations. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is reportedly working with the Sheikh for the release of the students, though his role is not clear.

“What we understand is that these people are trying to attack the government by attacking government institutions and taking innocent children. Having understood that, we came to the conclusion that this is not a hopeless situation and that we can really go in and negotiate for the release of these children, which we did after so many ups and downs,” said Gumi in an interview.

Meanwhile, there is no end to the sleepless nights and torment of the parents. On May 4 when the bandits threatened to kill the students, they marched to the National Assembly to plead with the government to come to their aid. Some of them expressed anger at the Kaduna State Governor who has remained adamant against negotiating with the bandits. Not a few consider the governor’s stance hypocritical since he once condemned the previous administration for not negotiating with kidnappers. His opinion then was that the government could afford to be indifferent to the plight of the students because their ward was not among the kidnapped. Now, people are repeating the same words to him.

When Condolences Are Not Enough

Following the killing of the first three students of the university, El-Rufai through the state Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan sent “deep condolences and empathy to the students’ families and the university community, as he prayed for the repose of their souls.”

“My thoughts are with their families in this time of grief. May their souls rest in peace,” said President Muhammadu Buhari of the killings while describing the situation as a barbaric terror attack.

But these condolences do little to alleviate the pains of the parents. Nigerians are agitating and demanding that the government take critical steps to secure their freedom and ensure that the learning field does not become a killing field.

QUOTE

While they were still deliberating on how to meet the demands, the kidnappers killed three students on April 23. The swiftness of their action conveyed a strong message to the parents and of course to Governor, Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State who has kicked against negotiating with bandits. The students killed included Dorathy Tirnom Yohanna, Precious Nwakacha and Sadiq Muazu, the son of Yusuf. Their corpses were found in a nearby village, Kwanar Bature. One day later, the management of the school released a statement through its Registrar Muhammad Bashir seeking the intervention of the government in the situation