Fury over missing Katsina students
There was fury on the streets of Katsina yesterday as residents protested the kidnapping of hundreds of Government Science Secondary School (GSSS) students in the Kankara Local Government Area of the state.
Gunmen, suspected to be terrorists had, on Friday night, attacked the school, shot a policeman in the leg, and took away the students to an unknown destination.
The protesters, made up of women and youths, lamented the fate of their children and wards as they called on relevant authorities to rescue them.
Some of the protesters, whose children or siblings were missing, displayed inscriptions: ‘We need our children back,’ ‘Government must talk,’ ‘Kankara wants the children back,’ among others.
A source in the area said the protest was organised by a Katsina lady, based in Kaduna State, whose son was abducted during the attack.
“The woman came with some of her friends and she rallied other women and youths in the area, and they took to the streets, chanting slogans that condemned the security problem in the area.”
Efforts to get the Principal and the Parents Teachers Association (PTA) chairman of GSSS Kankara, to speak on the incident were unsuccessful, as they were said to have been “restricted” from speaking with newsmen on the matter.
Katsina State Governor, Aminu Masari, yesterday said 333 of the 839 students of the school were yet to be accounted for.
Earlier, an unconfirmed report had said 54 of them over 800 students were missing even as President Muhammadu Buhari, who is in the state for a one-week visit, ordered for a quick military operation to rescue the students.
Following the incident, Governor Aminu Masari ordered the closure of all boarding secondary schools, even as he assured parents of concerted effort to rescue those abducted.
Friday’s attack on the Katsina school and subsequent abduction of some students may not be disconnected from the president’s visit to his home state.
Usually, when the nation’s number one citizen visits any state, major security apparatus is deployed to his service, inadvertently leaving the state and citizens exposed.
Apart from deploying their own large security details when visiting parts of the country, state police commands, state DSS, state military commands, Federal Road Safety Corp officials, and other security units are always on duty to protect the president, vice president, or any of their family members.
This practice, security experts believe, always leaves states vulnerable during high-profile visits.
The police. In their report, had said 200 of the students had been rescued, and that efforts were on to rescue the rest of the students.
But Masari told a delegation of service chiefs who visited him at the Government House that, based on government records, the whereabouts of 333 students remained unknown.
He said the search for the said students was ongoing and that there were fears suspected bandits who attacked the school at the weekend might have abducted them.
The governor said, “the children kidnapped cut across the state because the school is a boarding school; it houses children from all parts of the state and some even from outside the state.”
The school, according to him, has 839 students and 333 have not been accounted for.
He, however, expressed the hope that more students would still return from forests, to where they had run for safety.
He disclosed that no group had contacted the government.
MEANWHILE, Minister of Defence, Salihi Magashi, who led the service chiefs, said priority would be given to rescuing the abducted students within the shortest time possible.
“It is more or less a useless exercise conducted by a few to disrupt the education of our children, about 800 of them. We felt that, with this kind of thing, which happened two days ago, the armed forces, the police, and other security agencies must move very fast to ensure the students are rescued.
“We are doing this in the belief that if this kind of people is allowed to rest for a moment, we are also equally condoning this kind of activity.
“With most of the security agents, it is high time we declared this kind of people terrorists.”
He said relevant security agencies in the state had briefed the security chiefs on the attack, and that, “within the next few hours, we’ll ensure these people are back.”
On confronting the suspected bandits, he said, “We’ve strategised and I believe we can do without any collateral damage to the people of Katsina State.”
He added that all units of security operation would be applied and assured that rescue “would be very easy” for security agencies, even as he prayed for little collateral damage in event of gunfire exchange.
PLAN International, a non-governmental organisation working on girls’ rights, yesterday, expressed the view that the Nigerian government had not learned from previous incidents of kidnap in boarding schools.
According to the body, the abduction of students of Government Boys Science Secondary School by unknown individuals is an indication that the nation and government had not learned from the unfortunate incidents of abduction of 276 girls from the Chibok Secondary School in Borno State in 2014 and another set of 110 girls at the Government Girls’ Science and Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe State in 2018.”
The Country Director of Plan International Nigeria, Dr. Hussaini Abdu, in a statement, said “Following the two previous incidents and other occurrences of the kidnap of students in boarding schools across the country, the Nigeria government by now should have put in place adequate security arrangements to ensure the safety of children kept in the care of schools and education authorities everywhere in the country, especially in locations susceptible to attacks by non-state armed groups.
“Abdu noted that, incidentally, Nigeria is one of the first 37 countries to Endorse Safe Schools Declaration on May 29, 2015, when governments expressed commitments to ensuring protection and continuation of education in conflict situations.”
At a press conference yesterday, the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) called on the state government and security agencies to rescue the students or face massive protests by its members.
The coalition said the spate of killings, kidnappings, and other nefarious activities had turned the entire state into a house of horror with an alarming number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
It added that the security challenges orchestrated by bandits, kidnappers, and cattle rustlers constituted a serious threat to the economic growth and sustainable development of the state.
North-west Zonal Chairman of the Coalition, Mr. Jamilu Aliyu, while addressing journalists on the abduction of school children at GSSS, Kankara, said the incident had greatly exposed the weakness of the state government.
Aliyu, who described the attack as inhuman, barbaric, and regrettable, stated that the bandits now roam local markets in the state with AK-47 rifles hanging on their shoulders.
According to him, “The culmination of these security challenges has, for the past few years, turned the entire state into a house of horror with violent killings reported on a daily basis, communities displaced with formal and informal IDP camps spreading all over the state.
“While condemning in totality this barbaric act and call for the immediate arrest and prosecution of the culprits, we equally stress the inability of the government to protect those young, innocent, vibrant students from this horrible attack as uncalled for.
“Failure of the government to rescue the missing students within the shortest period of time, CNG will not hesitate to mobilize hundreds of thousands on the streets of Katsina State for a continuous protest, until the students are fully rescued, even if it is going to cost us our lives.
“While we commend the efforts of Katsina State Government for its immediate response, we equally condemn in the strongest term, the inability of the president to visit the scene, despite being in the state.
“This came as Police, yesterday, said they were deploying ‘special officers’ to rescue the abducted children.
Some parents of the victims, who spoke with newsmen, pleaded with both federal and state governments to save their children from their abductors.
“We call on the government to rescue our children from their kidnappers, and please don’t allow it to reach the extent of gunfire exchange that will lead to the death of our children,” said Mustapha Barde, whose son, Abbas, was abducted.
A weeping Mrs. Umma Haruna, whose son, Mujitapa, was also kidnapped, pleaded with government and security operatives to “help save my child. He is my life and I cannot bear the thought of losing him.”
Mrs. Halima Bakori, whose son was among the missing students, lamented that only the poor masses were left to go through such a security situation, even as she called for “speedy rescue of my only child.”
But Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state, Salisu Yusuf Majigiri, wondered how the incident took place when President Buhari and his security structure were present in Katsina State.
According to Majigiri, “It is unfortunate, as well as embarrassing that the incident occurred when President Muhammadu Buhari was in the state. If such could happen when he is in the state; then, who is safe?
“It means these attackers are not afraid of anybody. The attack also speaks of failure on the part of the government in protecting the lives of the people. Security is the government’s primary responsibility.
“If those in government cannot address insecurity, or if they seem to see the situation as overwhelming, then they should relinquish power. It is very sad that people are being killed on daily basis under the watch of a state or federal government leader.
Majigiri also said there was a need for more intelligence gathering and synergy among security agencies stationed in the state, for effective tackling of insecurity.
“Intelligence gathering is very critical in tackling insecurity. Even hours before the Kankara incident, there were rumours that something of such was going to happen.
“There is a need for synergy among security agencies in areas affected by insecurity so that there would be a quicker response to incidents like these.
“The third tier of government needs to be established in Katsina so that economic activities will pick up at the council areas, and allow for quicker dissemination of vital security information from the people to government.”
On his part, National Secretary, Muryar Talakawa (Voice of the Masses), Comrade Bishir Dauda called on the Federal Government to make efforts to rescue the kidnapped students just as it did for the abducted Dapchi girls in Yobe state.
Dauda also called for the recruitment and arming of vigilante groups in Kankara and other areas affected by insecurity in the state, to forestall reoccurrence.
“We want the federal government to make every effort to rescue the boys kidnapped in Kankara, just as they rescued the Dapchi girls from the hands of Boko Haram.
“Most of the victims are not from wealthy homes and it will be difficult for their parents to begin to raise monies to pay as a ransom for their rescue. Government should look at how it can come in to save the parents from unnecessary ransom.”