Kaduna abductions: FG plans school safety corps as 137 pupils regain freedom

The Federal Government has concluded plans to train some newly recruited personnel of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory as the School Safety Protection Squad to halt cases of abduction of schoolchildren from their schools.

The Commander of the National Safe Schools Response Coordination Centre of the NSCDC, Hammed Abodunrin, disclosed this in an interview with The PUNCH on Sunday just as the Defence Headquarters said troops rescued 137 abducted pupils of the LEA Primary School and the Government Secondary School Kuriga in the Chikun Local Government Area, Kaduna, within Zamfara State.

This came as President Bola Tinubu welcomed the news of the release of the Kuriga schoolchildren, as well as the release of pupils of a Tsangaya school in Sokoto State, commending all the parties involved in the feat for their valiant efforts.

The Defence Headquarters announced that 137 Kaduna schoolchildren were rescued but it did not explain what happened to the remaining as 287 pupils were kidnapped from the schools on March 7, 2024.

 

Efforts to get further clarifications from the Defence Headquarters did not succeed as the Director of Defence Media Operations, Maj Gen. Edward Buba, didn’t pick up calls to his mobile telephone and had yet to respond to a message sent to him as of the time of filing this report.

But the Kaduna State Governor, Senator Uba Sani, in an interview on Channels Television, put the number of the abducted pupils at 137.

On March 7, 2024, there were reports that 287 pupils and teachers of LEA Primary School and the Government Secondary School Kuriga in the Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State were abducted by suspected terrorists who took them into the forest.

Their abductors subsequently requested a ransom of N1bn for their release, setting a deadline of March 27, 2024, for the payment.

Schoolchildren rescued

But the Director of Defence Media Operations, Maj Gen, Buba, in a statement on Sunday, stated that the victims were rescued in the early hours of Sunday by the troops with support from local authorities and government agencies.

Buba put the number of the rescued victims at 137, comprising 76 females and 61 males, adding that they were rescued in Zamfara State and would be conveyed to Kaduna where they would be handed over to the state government.

The statement read, “Recall that on March 7, 2024, troops received information that terrorists had invaded LEA School Kuriga in Chikun LG of Kaduna State. During the incident, an unconfirmed number of pupils were abducted. Following the incident, the military committed to leaving no stone unturned until all the hostages were rescued.

“Accordingly, in the early hours of March 24, 2024, the military, working with local authorities and government agencies across the country, in a coordinated search and rescue operation, rescued the hostages.

“The hostages are the same persons that were abducted from the school at Kuriga in Chikun LGA of Kaduna State.

“The rescued hostages totalling 137, comprising 76 females and 61 males, were rescued in Zamfara State and would be conveyed and handed over to the Kaduna State Government for further action.”

The rescue of the Kaduna pupils comes a day after troops rescued 16 pupils (Almajiris) with a woman taken hostage in Gada LGA of Sokoto State.

The troops have handed over the rescued victims to the Sokoto State Government.

According to Buba, the recent success of the troops was a testament to their resolve to rescue kidnapped victims across the country.

He said, “These efforts demonstrate the armed forces’ resolve to find other innocent hostages and track down the terrorists that perpetrated these crimes.

“These efforts would continue until other hostages are found and the terrorists arrested, tried, and brought to justice by Nigerian law.

‘’Troops are employing similar efforts to track down the culprits responsible for the killings of 18 soldiers in Okuama Community in Delta State.”

School protection squad

In a related development, in a bid to address the rising kidnapping of pupils, the Federal Government said it had begun plans to create a school safety protection corps to safeguard schools across the country.

The Commander of the National Safe Schools Response Coordination Centre, NSCDC, Abodunrin, who disclosed this to one of our correspondents, said the government had also resolved to employ more security personnel and had procured equipment to bring an end to the kidnapping of students by terrorists.

The Safe School Response is an initiative of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps in response to increasing cases of attacks on schools by bandits.

The National Safe Schools Response Coordination Centre was established by the Federal Government and saddled with the responsibility of coordinating safety and security responses against violence in schools and host communities.

Providing updates on the steps taken by the government to halt cases of abductions of pupils from schools, Abodunrin said, “The Federal Government has declared zero tolerance on kidnapping for ransoms and has resolved to empower security agencies more to prevent reoccurrence. Equipment is being procured, such as vehicles, motorcycles and ICT facilities while more personnel are being employed to tackle the challenges squarely.

“For instance, the centre will soon train some of the newly recruited personnel of NSCDC across the 36 states of the federation and FCT as the school safety protection squad. This team will be able to provide a quicker response when needed. They will work with the corps’ female squad nationwide as well as with the police and military resources where available and when required.

“These problems did not just come in a day. Solving them will follow processes but the most important thing is that actions are being taken fast.”

He also noted the corps and other paramilitary agencies had begun security education, adding that “the NSSRCC has commenced community engagement to build confidence and capacity of the members of the community.

“The centre is also collaborating with relevant stakeholders on child protection. The centre is being repositioned to improve on the deployment of technology to obtain quick information especially where there’s no network. State and local government centres are to be established by relevant authorities with timely information and quick response.”

The commander linked kidnapping to inadequate installation of closed-circuit televisions by schools and the poor use of technology.

“The most challenging issue is the lack of security culture. How many schools have identification cards for their students? How many members of staff care to know the number of pupils/students in their schools? Even when you ask some principals in the middle of the term, they will tell you they will check records.

Reacting to the release of the Kuriga schoolchildren, the Kaduna State Governor, Sani, announced on his X handle in the early hours of Sunday that the children had regained freedom.

He praised the efforts of President Bola Tinubu, the National Security Adviser, Malam Nuhu Ribadu, as well as the Nigerian Army and all Nigerians for their fervent prayers.

Sani, “I wish to announce that our Kuriga schoolchildren have been released. Our special appreciation goes to our dear President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, for prioritising the safety and security of Nigerians and particularly ensuring that the abducted Kuriga schoolchildren are released unharmed.

“While the schoolchildren were in captivity, I spoke with Mr. President several times. He shared our pains, comforted us and worked round the clock with us to ensure the safe return of the children.

“Special mention must also be made of our dear brother, the National Security Adviser, Malam Nuhu Ribadu, for his exemplary leadership. I spent sleepless nights with Mallam Ribadu fine-tuning strategies and coordinating the operations of the security agencies, which eventually resulted in this successful outcome.’’

The governor also said the teacher who was abducted alongside the Kuriga schoolchildren, in Chikun Local Area of Kaduna State, died while in captivity.

Sani, in an interview on Channels Television’s Sunday’s Politics programme, said all the schoolchildren abducted by the bloodthirsty terrorists were rescued by the military.

Sani, however, said the teacher who was abducted with the pupils was sick while in custody.

He stated, “It’s only one person that has not returned and that is the teacher. That is the fact of the matter but all of the 137 children are safely back. We had the unfortunate incident that the teacher couldn’t make it because he had some complications; he was sick — that was the report we got from the military and the security agencies but the rest of the children, all of them are back with us,” he said.

This came as President Tinubu welcomed the news of the release of the Kuriga schoolchildren in Kaduna State.

He also welcomed the release of pupils of a Tsangaya school in Sokoto State, commending all the parties to the feat for their valiant effort.

Tinubu’s message was contained in a statement signed by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, titled, ‘President Tinubu welcomes the release of Kuriga schoolchildren, says schools must be safe and secure for learning.’

The President emphasised the importance of collaboration between the Federal Government and states for expected outcomes, especially on matters of security.

“The President commends the National Security Adviser, the security agencies, and the Kaduna State Government for the dispatch and diligence with which they handled this situation, noting that incipient urgency, meticulous attention and tireless dedication are critical to optimal outcomes in cases of mass abductions,” read the statement.

The President assured Nigerians that his administration was deploying detailed strategies to ensure that “our schools remain safe sanctuaries of learning, not lairs for wanton abductions.”

The abducted Kuriga secondary and primary school pupils, Kuriga, Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State, who regained freedom on Sunday, spent about 17 days in captivity.

The PUNCH correspondents who were among journalists that visited the Sir Kashim Ibrahim Government House, Kaduna, in the state capital, to catch a glimpse of the 137 rescued schoolchildren, were disappointed when told that the rescued children would be received on Monday.

The PUNCH could not ascertain if a ransom was paid for the release of the abducted students, as no government official was forthcoming to confirm if any ransom was paid and how much was paid as ransom for the release of the schoolchildren.

Speaking with one of our correspondents, one of the parents of the abducted Kuriga schoolchildren, Jubril Kuriga, said a woman whose four children were among the abducted schoolchildren, died out of frustration.

Another parent, whose daughter, nine-year-old Aisha Jubril, was among the abducted children, said he could not wait to behold his daughter whom he had missed for more than two weeks.

“We are happy. It’s not easy missing them for such a long period of time,” Kuriga, who holds the traditional title of Tafidan Kuriga, said.

He said, “I have a child by the name Aisha. She was among those kidnapped too. The government called us and informed us that the children were with them. That is the true story, but we have not seen them yet.

“They promised us that by tomorrow (Monday) they will hand over the children to us. Each student or child will be handed over to the parents.

“We are feeling happy because it is not easy missing your child for this long period of time, so we need to be happy.

“With the presence of security now in our area, we are going to mount the security so that our children can go back to school.

“We are happy that we now have some security presence. We are going to use them to see that our children go back to school.”

Narrating his ordeal while Aisha was away in the hands of her captives, he told The PUNCH that some of the parents died out of the traumatic experience of the incident. But The PUNCH could not independently verify this.

Kuriga, who said he could not ascertain the figures of those who died during the period, noted that the parents were simply traumatised while their children languished in the kidnapper’s den.

He said, “There is a woman whose four children were among the kidnapped pupils. She could not eat, she could not sleep. If I can even tell you, some parents were dead within the period that the children were with the kidnappers.

“I cannot tell you the number of those that died. But I believe some are dead. We were traumatised throughout the period of the absence of our children. Our children were away in the bush, with no food, no good water.”

Speaking further while addressing newsmen, Kuriga said he could not sleep since the abduction saga, noting that sometimes, he would stay awake, “crying, thinking how she is and if she had eaten or not?”

Continuing, he said “Let me tell you, sometimes 12 midnight or 1 am in the night, I would wake up, I would just be crying, thinking how is she? Has she eaten?

“I think of all that because I know if she is at home, normally before she goes to school in the morning, she would eat. They said all the children were back. That is what they said, that all of them are back, but seeing is believing.”

On whether ransom was paid for the release of the children, a reliable source who craved anonymity said nobody could rule out negotiation while asking what became of the fate of the remaining children.

He said, “Well, for now, nobody can tell you exactly what happened, whether ransom was paid or not. But we know that since when this issue started, the National Security Adviser, based on the marching order by the President, the security forces, particularly, the Army, has been on top of this situation.’’

NEF demands security

Also, the Professor Ango Abdullahi-led Northern Elders Forum has rejoiced in the safe return of the abducted Kuriga school children.

It said the news brought a ray of hope amidst a dark period for the community, noting that as elders, “we welcome the children back with open arms, but we must also emphasize the urgent need for proper medical and shock checks as they reintegrate into society.”

A statement by the NEF’s Director Publicity and Advocacy, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, on Sunday, said the school abduction was another tragic incident that highlighted the growing need for improved security measures.

On their part, presidential candidates of the Labour Party and the Peoples Democratic Party in the February 25 election, Peter Obi and Atiku Abubakar, respectively also expressed their excitement at the rescue of the abducted schoolchildren in Kaduna State.

Both of them made their positions known in separate messages posted on their respective X handles on Sunday.

In his statement, Obi, a former Anambra State Governor, tweeted that it was “comforting” to hear the news of the rescue, adding that efforts should be made to rescue other captives across several kidnappers’ dens in the country.

In his reaction, Abubakar said he was elated “at the news of the release of the abducted school children in Kaduna after 16 days in captivity.”

He also commended “all those who worked tirelessly to make their release a reality,” noting that “like stage four cancer,” the nation’s insecurity which is spreading, “needs proactive measures to stem it.”

He stated, “I can only imagine the trauma that these vulnerable children have suffered. It is recommended that the children receive psychotherapic care by professionals.”

The former vice president added that “we also do not need to wait for the next incident before putting mechanisms in place to forestall it.

“To this end, I recommend the strengthening of the Safe School Initiative that prioritises the protection of schools, especially in the areas that are most vulnerable to mass kidnap of school children. But above all, there should be an overhaul of the security architecture to meet the demands of the threats facing us.”

The IGP Special Intervention Squad sent in response to the insecurity in Kaduna State, arrived in the state on Sunday.

The squad comprises 200 officers and personnel. They were received by Governor Sani at the Sir Kashim Ibrahim Government House, Kaduna. The heavily armed officers and men came in with two Armoured Personnel Carriers.

IGP Egbetokun had recently during his visit to Governor Sani after the kidnap of the Kuriga schoolchildren, promised deployment of a Police Mobile Force against banditry in the state.

The governor, while receiving the squad, expressed appreciation to the Inspector-General of Police, Kayode Egbetekun, for fulfilling his promise on the deployment of the squad.

Additional reports by Juwe Oluwafemi Stephen Angbulu, Dirisu Yakubu, and Ajisafe Olayiwola

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