Bandits cleave to Kagara schoolboys, Governor refuses N500m demand

Bandits cleave to Kagara schoolboys as Governor rebuff N500m Ransom Demand
Charles Nwoke, Minna, Nigeria
February 20, 2021 

Expectations were formerly raised yesterday on freedom for the kidnapped schoolboys, their teachers, guardians, and others at Government Science College, Kagara, Niger State, but later dashed, with the hoodlums insisting on 500 million Nigeria Naira (over 1.2 million US Dollars) ransom before they will free the abductees and other persons abducted in NSTA bus earlier in the week.

The bandits ambushed the school last Wednesday, killing one of the students in the process, while they whisked many persons away with them, students are inclusive.

Ahmed Ibrahim Matane, the Secretary to the Niger State Government (SSG), who is in the team negotiating with the bandits, stated that the criminals are equally demanding the release of their gang members being held by security forces.

Security forces, who have been able to discover where the captives are being kept, and Governor Abubakar Sani Bello had pressured on the hooligans for all through yesterday, but they refused to succumb to it.

Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, a Kaduna based Imam joined the movement to secure the release of the abductees on Thursday when he, in company with some government appointees, met the bandits in the forest, but could not secure their freedom because of the huge amount of money that they are demanding as ransom.

The Niger State Governor, Abubakar Sani-Bello insisted that he would not pay ransom to criminals and that the abductees must be unconditionally set free.

He said his decision was informed by the discovery that ransoms collected from innocent people were being used to buy more arms and ammunitions which they in turn use to terrorize law-abiding citizens.

The Governor declared his readiness to resettle the bandits and assist them to turn a new life once they laid down their arms and denounce criminality.

Governor Bello confirmed that the abductees had not been set free during a press briefing in Minna yesterday afternoon, but said, “They could be released in a matter of hours or days.”

“At the moment, there is no additional information apart from the one we have at hand. Our priority is to make sure we bring back the students safe, things are speculated or rumored, but we cannot work with these in situations like this,” he added.

He noted that the state was using kinetic and non-kinetic approaches to bring back the children to safety and assured parents and families of the kidnapped victims to be hopeful as everything humanly possible was being done to ensure their release.

However, it’s now crystal clear as it has been confirmed that the abducted Kagara schoolboys and others, as well as those kidnapped from the NSTA bus, are being held hostage at the Dutsen-Magaji forest in the Rafi Local Government Area of Niger State.

Dutsen-Magaji forest was the venue of the meeting Sheikh Gumi and some government officials held on Thursday with the heavily armed bandits, led by someone identified as Dogo Gide, the bandits’ kingpin.

Sheikh Gumi who spoke to the bandits reminded them that Islam was against taking the lives of innocent people, urging them to embrace peace and harmony by laying down their weapons and ammunition.

He stated that he would continue to discuss with the state government to explore whatever help and support the government would give to them to actualize the set goals.

Some of the criminal gang bigwigs, in their separate remarks, applauded the state government for touring the path of peace.

The highlight of the dialogue was the distribution of Islamic Books to the Bandits by Sheikh Ahmed Gumi to educate them on the doctrines of the Islamic religion.

The Niger State SSG, Ahmed Ibrahim Matane, who was in the Gumi entourage, equally addressed the bandits and their commanders in Dutsen Magaji forest, appealing to them to embrace peace and dialogue being initiated by the state government.

He said the peace dialogue would bring an end to the security challenges bedeviling the state.

Matane further pleaded to the criminal gang leaders to support the government’s effort in securing the release of all the kidnapped persons in the state.

He revealed that religious leaders and other stakeholders would be involved in the bargain with the bandits, kidnappers, and cattle rustlers in peace moves established by the Niger State Government.

Later, Governor Bello confirmed that he had discussions with Sheikh Gumi after the clergy had met with the bandits, adding that he asked him to put all his suggestions and recommendations in a memo and send it back to him when he reached Kaduna, his state of residence.

The meeting between the duo yesterday was brief and Gunmi was said to have told the governor the outcome of his meeting with the leader of the criminal gang whose name has now been given as Dogo Gide.

In a brief chat with newsmen after the meeting with the Governor, Gumi confirmed that negotiation was still in progress with the bandits, adding that government should grant all the bandits amnesty as done for the Niger Delta militants.

The cleric, who had claimed that bandits learned to kidnap from Niger Delta militants, said anyone who goes ahead with criminal activities after amnesty has been granted should be dealt with.

“The outcome of the meeting was very positive because you have a warring faction saying that they have complaints and grievances which are very simple. There is hope that we can resolve this,” Gumi said.

Leader of Bandits Pledges to Release Abductees

Meanwhile, the Zamfara bandits’ leader, Dogo Gide, who controls the southern part of the Zamfara forest, has assured that the kidnapped teachers and students of Government Science College Kagara in Niger State would soon be released.

Dogo Gide made the promise when he met with the officials of the Niger State Government under the intervention of Sheikh Gumi in Dutsin Magaji of Kotonkoro forest, in Zamfara State.

Gide said although the abductees are not in his camp, he would negotiate with his fellow bandits to hasten their release.

“The abducted persons, whether they were kidnapped by bandits in Zamfara State or any other neighboring states of Niger, Kebbi, and Kaduna will be released soon,” he said.

He explained that Fulanis had been left with no option than to carry arms and also engage in banditry because of the pressure they face from all angles.

He specifically mentioned the persistent attacks and killings of the Fulani by vigilante groups and Yansakai followed by the bombardments of their camps by the military.

Gide, however, assured that with the intervention of Sheikh Gumi they would ensure the release of the kidnapped persons.

He also promised to accept the peace process being preached by Sheikh Gumi provided that the governors were serious on the issue.

Despite heavy security presence in Rafi LGA of Niger State, the bandits struck again yesterday afternoon, launching separate attacks in the Madaka community, during which one person was killed.

A local vigilante member said several persons were abducted during the attacks.

The community is in the same LGA as Kagara where 42 people, mostly children, were taken hostage by bandits who attacked Government Science College (GSC) on Wednesday.

It is also where the bandits were said to have first camped before proceeding to the school. The fresh attack took place at about 2 pm when the bandits waylaid villagers going for a marriage ceremony along Madak-Kagara road.

The bandits ambushed another set of people returning from the Madaka market.

Yunusa Acha, a resident, said one of the escapees informed them of the development.

He said: “The villagers went to Madaka market and on their way back, those bandits attacked them along the road and kidnapped them. Nobody knows the actual figure.

“Then, there was another attack like one hour after, against some people carrying their bride to a marriage ceremony along that same route. They were on a bus and the bandits took all of them. We heard that one person was killed.”