*Islamic cleric reiterates call for dialogue with bandits
By John Shiklam in Kaduna
Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, on Sunday organised a reception in honour of the 39 students of the Federal College of Forestry, Afaka, Kaduna, who were recently freed by bandits.
Gumi and former President Olusegun Onasanjo were said to have facilitated the release of the students, 27 of who spent 56 days in kidnappers’ den.
Speaking during the event which held at the Conference Hall of the Sultan Bello Mosque, Kaduna, Gumi asked the students to put the ugly past behind them and pursue their education.
Speaking in an interview shortly after the reception, the Islamic cleric restated his call to government to engage the bandits.
“My appeal to government is to engage with the bandits so that the bandits can abandon their ways.
“They are already showing signs that they are ready. They have grievances, which I think if we come together we can cure this menace in a very short time”, Gumi said.
He called for the cooperation of governments at all levels to resolve the security challenges.
“We want the cooperation of federal state and Local Governments, the clergy and other well meaning Nigerians should all come together to sit down and talk”, he said
Asked how he secured the release of the students, Gumi said: “You don’t negotiate with your friend, you negotiate with your enemy. The first thing you do is to try and break the ice and break the barrier between you and the person you are negotiating with and also build confidence by demonstrating that you are not going to cheat them or deceive them.
“If there is that level of communication, then negotiation comes in the third phase.
“These are people who have been involved in this kind of criminality for a long time, we have to use psychology on them because it is not possible over night to just consent.
“But preaching to them, admonishing them and showing them the way out of their problems helped alot in getting them understand and release these children.”
Also in his remarks, former President Olusegun who was represented by Mr. Vitalis Ortese, congratulated everyone for making it possible for the release of the students and expressed the hope that “this will lead to the release of other persons in captivity.”
Speaking on behalf of the parents, Mr. Friday Sani, expressed gratitude to Gumi and Obasanjo for their roles in ensuring the release of the students.
“We are here to appreciate the emancipating team led by Sheikh Gumi. He stood by us to the end. We are happy that our children are back to us.
“They leaders of tomorrow who will make this country proud. We want to give God the glory for what he has done for us.
“We praying that God will help them to overcome the trauma they went through.
“Some of us have been going in and out of hospitals for them to receive proper treatment.
“We need support of government to rehabilitate these children so that they will be fit enough to return to school. Today is a happy day for us”, Sani said.
Meanwhile, the parents have dismissed speculations that the students were sexually molested while in captivity.
In a statement on Sunday in Kaduna, spokesman of the parents, Mr. Abdullahi Usman, said the speculations on online platforms that the students were sexually molested was not true.
Usman said while the parents were basking in the joy of having reunited with their children who were released unharmed, their attention was drawn to online reports that an unidentified parent of one of the 27 students released on May 5th, had claimed that the students, both male and female, were sexually molested by the bandits while in captivity.
Usman said, “On behalf of the parents, “we wish to set the records straight and hope that this will end the circulation of the fabrication of the stories.
“We state in unequivocal terms that none of the 37 kidnapped (now freed) Afaka students was sexually or homosexually molested by the bandits.”
The statement added that the primary focus of the parents for now, is the rehabilitation of their children.
The statement said, “distractions occasioned by this false report, purportedly a revelation by an anonymous parent, is unfortunate and irresponsible and should be retracted as it does nothing but aggravate the trauma we and our released children are working hard to overcome.”
He called on Nigerians to disregard the story and continue to pray for the rehabilitation of the students.