Four days after the attack and abduction of 42 students, staff and their relatives at Government Science College in Kagara, Rafi Council of Niger State by armed bandits, the town remained in confusion.
When The Guardian visited the sleepy agrarian community yesterday, rumours of the release of the abductees added to the apprehension and anxiety of parents and relatives, who seemed confused as to whether to believe the cheering rumour or its denial by the state government. But they remain optimistic, hoping that sooner than later; their loved ones would breathe the air of freedom.
Meanwhile, some residents close to the school have since deserted their homes for fear of the unknown. However, normal activities were gradually picking up in some parts of the town in the midst of heavy security presence, and one can only imagine what becomes of it at nightfall.
Some residents who volunteered to speak recalled that the bandits, in military uniform, stormed the school about 2 am in their large numbers, shooting into the air to scare off the students and nearby inhabitants.
Mallam Mohammadu Isa, an indigene, lamented that bandits carried out the attack for several hours unchallenged, describing the incident as sad and most unfortunate.
He recalled the abduction of over 20 passengers in a bus belonging to the state transport service returning from Kontagora last Sunday, saying the government ought to have put necessary measures in place to forestall reoccurrence.
Also speaking, a farmer, Mahmud Garba, said farmers in the area have abandoned their farms due to security threats, adding that their lives are not safe any more.
He expressed fears that prizes of foodstuffs might escalate as a result of banditry in the area and appealed to relevant security agencies to protect the lives and properties of the vulnerable.
An indigene of the town, who didn’t want his name in print, told The Guardian that bandits had earlier attacked low-cost houses twice last year, killing one person and abducting 11 others, while a third attack was on a company in the area, where four persons were killed and another 11 was abducted.
He reckoned that the ease of the three attacks might have prompted the invasion of the school.
At the home, a student, Ibrahim Safiyanu, disclosed that the entire school and neighbourhood were thrown into confusion, adding: “As at 8.30 pm that day, all of us student were outside the hostels up to 12.30 am. We entered the hostels and refused to sleep because we were not comfortable; our mind was not at rest that night until bandits attacked us.
“Unfortunately, throughout the attack, we were left alone; nobody comes to rescue us.”
Ibrahim’s elder brother, Zulkiflu Safiyanu, thanked God that Ibrahim is still alive, vowing that he would not return to the school again.
Kagara is host to refugees from neighbouring villages. Head of the camp, Umar Kamayi, a retired Police officer, appealed to the government at all levels to come to their aid to enable them to return to their respective homes.
Though economic activities are gradually picking up in the town, traders complained of low patronage and called on the state government to assist them with soft loans, as frequent bandit attacks have affected their businesses. All government and private schools, banks and health centres in the area remained closed.
Emir of Kagara, Alhaji Salihu Tanko, charged the people to pray fervently for the safety of their lives and property while commending the state government for its efforts to restore peace in the area.
Earlier yesterday, Governor Abubakar Sani Bello debunked the rumour that the abductees had been release, insisting that none of them had regained freedom, noting: “I can say everything is being speculated or rumoured about their release and we can’t work with rumours.”
The governor, while briefing newsmen at the Government House in Minna, yesterday, on the update of the rescue mission, however, said the government was at the last stage of securing their release, adding: “The government is still negotiating and we are in the final and last stage of the negotiations.”
Bello, who spoke after a closed-door meeting with Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, at Government House, did not say exactly with whom the government was negotiating, since he had earlier vowed not to pay ransom for the release of any kidnapped victim, but noted that government was interfacing with local communities, state and federal authorities to ensure the release of the abductees.
He stated: “The events of the last few days have been very traumatic for us all, but I can assure families of the students and other affected victims that in a matter of hours, we will secure the release of not just the Kagara school children, but victims of the NSTA bus as well.
“We are doing everything possible to get them back safely. We don’t have anything for you for now, but we will contact you once we have any information.”
On Gumi’s visit to the state, he said the cleric volunteered to assist in securing the release of the victims, including the general insecurity situation in the state, saying: “Gumi offered to assist. He came back this morning and has to leave immediately because has an engagement in Abuja.
“We agreed that he will send me a comprehensive memo on his findings during his visit to the bandit’s dean.
“Gumi has returned to Abuja, he was here as part of his peace-building efforts across the northern states to curtail the ongoing banditry ravaging the region. He is doing this voluntarily and has promised to send me a comprehensive report”
The governor said that he would meet with traditional rulers and Fulani heads to proffer solutions to the current security situations in the state as part of the steps being taken by the government to reduce insecurity.
Bello, who has come under fire for the dilapidated condition of the school, said the rot in the state educational sector was a result of decades of neglect, insisting that within five years, his administration spent over N1billion in rehabilitating nine boarding schools under its “whole schools approach “
“People are making critical remarks about the condition of the school, but they don’t know we have 60 boarding schools in Niger State. If we rehabilitate nine and previous administration before we had done the same, we will not be where we are, especially in the face of dwindling scarce resources.”
Meanwhile, Gumi has asked the Federal Government to give bandits in the country a “blanket amnesty” as a condition for bringing an end to insecurity in the country.
Speaking to newsmen after the meeting with Bello, Gumi urged the Federal Government to extend the same amnesty given to Niger Delta militants to the bandits.
The cleric disclosed that he met with leaders of different groups of bandits in the state, adding: “They all have their complaints, but the outcome of the meeting was positive because we have various factions. Each faction is saying they have their own complaints and grievances, which are very simple. There is hope that we can resolve these grievances.
“I appeal to the government and recommend that the government should do to them exactly what it did to the Niger Delta militants and give them a blanket amnesty. Then, if anybody continues, we will deal with him.”
He said he met with the bandits in his mission to ensure that there is absolute peace in the state, noting: “I’m here to continue my mission to see that we have absolute peace in Nigeria and try to listen to their grievances and see how we can stop this mayhem and carnage that is happening in the country.”
THE invasion of Government Science College (GSS), Kagara in Rafi Council of Niger State in the early hours of Wednesday, February 17 by gunmen suspected to be bandits is the climax of attacks on the poorest and least populated council in the state.
Rafi, a sleepy small business council, with an estimated population of 200,000 people, had in the last five years, lost its peace to frequent invasion by armed men.
The sound of the gun is no longer strange to the people of Rafi, as no week passes without one form of attack or the other, with attendant loss of lives and property.
Of the five councils – Rafi, Shiroro, Munya, Mariga and Paikoro- constantly attacked by bandits, Rafi remains the epic centre. The people are at war with their unseen enemies, and an end to this war is not anywhere in sight, as the number of refugees trooping out from villages and communities across the council’s 11 political wards continues to increase on a daily basis.
For five years, anarchy has been reigning against the poor, innocent farmers and petty traders of these communities, who have lost everything and most of who have been forced to relocate from their ancestral homes to become refugees elsewhere.
Those who managed to escape from the bandits’ onslaught and have found safe haven in their relatives’ abode have lost their occupation; hence food crisis looms large. For five years, women have been made widows, men widowers, children turned orphans, women raped in front of their husbands and families forcefully separated, living far from one another as armed bandits unleashed terrors on them unhindered. Only the dying now lives in some of the communities.
Over 56 communities in Rafi have lost their peace and can no longer sleep with their eyes closed. These communities remained a “no go area,” as they are ravaged by armed bandits.
The continued attacks and massacre by bandits attracted protests from hundreds of youths in April last year, who defied the stay-at-home order by the lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19 and took to the street to register their displeasure over what they called “government inaction and insensitivity.”
The protesting youths were drawn from about 56 communities in Rafi that have been under siege from armed bandits, who have killed over 45 villagers, rustled over 2,000 cattle and kidnapped 15 people, with over N8.5million paid as ransom in just four months of last year.
The youths, under the auspices of Amalgamation of Youths Development Association, Rafi Council, marched through the hitherto busy, but now desolate Kagara highway with a simple message, ‘enough is enough.’
They were particularly angered over the relocation of a mobile Police base from Uregi community, which was established three years ago at the height of the bandits’ attacks and cattle rustling, describing the action as “a complete betrayal of the people by the government.” The relocation of the base, they said, further worsened the already deteriorating security situation in the communities.
While the people struggled to overcome the nightmare, another attack came, this time, the first-generation bank in Kagara, headquarters of the council, was the target. In that bloody attack, no fewer than 11 people, including two policemen and the bank security, were killed and a huge amount of money carted away with little resistance.
In the last six months, the district heads of Manta, Kusherki and Yakila have victims of the bandits, with two of them killed, while that of Yakila is in their captivity one month after his abduction.
The invasion of the boarding secondary schooling in the early hours of Wednesday could be described as the mother all attacks in recent time.
The bandits said to be over 50, allegedly stormed the school about 3 am and split themselves into two groups. While some of them headed straight to the hostels, another group made its way to the staff quarters.
In the school, everywhere as an entrance, as there were no perimeter fence and the hostels had no doors. Within one hour, according to one of the teachers, the operation was over.
No fewer than 27 students, three staff and 12 family members were whisked away by the bandits, who eyewitnesses said, came in three 18-seater buses.
The student killed was Benjamin Abila, who was said to have screamed on sighting the bandits and attempted to escape.
Before the Wednesday invasion, 47 passengers travelling in Niger State Transport Authority were abducted in Kundu village along Zungeru-Tegina road on their way back from a wedding ceremony in Rijau.