Maiharaji Altine and Godwin Isenyo
The Zamfara State Governor, Bello Matawalle, on Tuesday insisted that he would reveal the identities of people behind the abduction of over 300 students of Government Girls’ Secondary School, Jangebe in the Talata Mafara Local Government Area of the state.
The governor, who stated this in an interview with one of our correspondents in Gusau, the state capital, however said he would make the revelation after the abducted schoolgirls, who were released earlier on Tuesday, might have been reunited with their families.
But the pan-northern socio-political organisation, the Arewa Consultative Forum, berated the governor, saying he should stop embarrassing the north.
Recall that gunmen attacked the GGSS Jangebe on Friday and abducted over 300 students.
The governor, while receiving 17 Emirs in the state at the Government House, Gusau on Sunday, had said he had many revelations to make on the schoolgirls’ abduction.
He told the emirs, who paid him a sympathy visit over the girls’ abduction, that Nigerians would be shocked to know people behind the abduction of the students.
Matawalle had stated, “I want to inform you that there are many revelations in relation to the abduction of these students. Many people will be surprised to hear those people behind the abduction of these innocent children.”
On Tuesday, when one of our correspondents asked him when he would name people behind the abduction, he stated, “I want the children to eat, be treated and then taken back to their respective places before I make the revelations.”
The governor, who spoke to The PUNCH after the students were brought to Government House, disclosed that no money was paid to bandits for the release of the girls.
Matawalle said, “Nothing was given to them (the bandits).”
When asked if any ransom was paid, he replied, “You can ask the repentant bandits who are right now here with us. They were the people who intervened and the children were released unconditionally.”
The governor also defended his negotiation with bandits, saying it was only the solution to banditry in the country.
He stated, “If we had abandoned it (negotiation) because some people were condemning or castigating me, we wouldn’t have achieved what was achieved today.”
Advising other governors, Matawalle stated, “I have already told them to adopt a peace process with the bandits because that is the only solution. Without the help of the repentant bandits who know others yet to repent, we would not have been able to secure the release of these students.”
He also said he agreed with the position of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), who on Sunday said the kidnapping of the schoolgirls in Jangebe would be the last in the country.
“Why they (the delegation sent to the state by the President) said so is because those people behind the abduction of these students are known and they are going to be dealt with accordingly.”
Treat Zamfara gov as accomplice if he fails to name masterminds, ACF advises security agencies
But the ACF urged security agencies to interrogate the Zamfara State governor over the identities of people behind the kidnapping of students of the GGSS, Jangebe.
The ACF, which made the call in a statement signed by its National Chairman, Chief Audu Ogbeh, described Matawalle’s statement as unguarded.
The forum said security operatives should treat the governor as an accomplice to the kidnappers, if he failed to tell Nigerians those behind the dastardly act.
According to the ACF, the north is embarrassed by the statement of the governor and insecurity ravaging the region.
It stated, “The Arewa Consultative Forum ACF is stunned by a statement accredited to the Zamfara Governor, Bello Matawalle.
“The governor is reported in the media to have told 17 Emirs who paid a sympathy visit to him on the kidnap of 317 school girls from Government Girls Secondary School Jangebe in Talata Mafara that he knew the identities of the kidnappers and if he revealed their identities, Nigerians would be shocked.
“We ask the governor to reveal their identities and let Nigerians be shocked or even the heavens fall.
“We also ask the security agencies to question the governor on the identities of the criminals he is trying to hide. If he refuses to disclose their identities, he must be treated as an accomplice to the criminal act of kidnapping.
“The ACF has been embarrassed by the spate of kidnappings especially of schoolchildren spreading like wild fire all over the north.
“People in positions of authority that will help us out of this mess like governor Mutawalle must stop embarrassing the north and country with careless statements on a serious issue like the kidnappings of school children.
“Zamfara State and the north are way behind the rest of the country in educational development. The serial kidnappings of school pupils in the north will only worsen a bad and unacceptable state of education in the North.”
Meanwhile, the ACF also called on the Amalgamated Union of Foodstuff and Cattle Dealers of Nigeria to halt forthwith, the blockade of foodstuffs to the Southern part of the country.
Ogbeh, a former Minister of Agriculture, said such dastardly act was only carried out during war and that Nigeria was not at war.
Don’t be in a hurry, Gov’s aide replies ACF
Responding to the ACF’s criticism, Matawalle’s media aide, Yusuf Idris, advised the forum not to be in a hurry regarding governor’s promise to name the people behind the abduction of GSS Jangebe schoolgirls.
Idris, in a chat with The PUNCH, said Matawalle would surely tell the world who those people were.
Yusuf wondered why the ACF was in a hurry on the issue that was still fresh, adding that the girls were released on Tuesday.
He said it was expected of the ACF to first congratulate the governor, parents, the security agencies and the people of the state over the release of the girls rather condemning Matawalle.
Bandits chained, beat abductees we met in camp – Schoolgirl
Meanwhile, the released schoolgirls have started recounting their experiences while they were in captivity.
One of them, Aisha Mohammed, said she didn’t expect that she would come back home alive.
Mohammed, who looked emaciated told The PUNCH that since the time they were abducted, she could hardly eat or drink anything due to total fear of the bandits.
She disclosed she was also sick when they were taken to the forest, a situation she said made her to believe that her days were numbered.
“I was down with fever when we were abducted. In fact, I didn’t eat much food that day due to the sickness.
“I was even planning to seek permission in order to go home to get traditional medicine against fever when the bandits visited our school and abducted us.
“My sickness worsened when I saw myself in a tick forest and also saw other people who were abducted and chained like animals”.
“They brought food for us the following morning but I couldn’t eat due to sickness and fear.
“In fact, I tasted food only when one of the bandits came and told us that, they were going to release us”.
Aisha narrated that she also lost her mother as a result of banditry two years ago.
“My mother was also kidnapped in 2018, but when she was rescued after paying ransom, she died shortly after her release.
Another student, Maryam Ibrahim said they were never treated badly by the bandits unlike other kidnapped victims.
Maryam however maintained that she hardly slept since the time they were taken to the forest, adding that, “even if I tried to sleep, I would quickly wake up due to fear that the bandits might kill us.”
Buhari celebrates release of abducted Zamfara students, kicks against ransom payment
Meanwhile, the President on Tuesday expressed “overwhelming joy” over release of abducted female students in Zamfara State.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, disclosed this in a statement titled “President Buhari celebrates release of abducted Zamfara female students, calls for greater vigilance.”
Shehu quoted the President as saying that “I join the families and people of Zamfara State in welcoming and celebrating the release of these traumatised female students.”
The presidential aide further quoted Buhari as saying that he was excited that the abductees’ ordeal came to a happy end without any incident, adding that “being held in captivity is an agonising experience not only for the victims, but also their families and all of us.”
The President was also said to have kicked against payment of ransom, saying “Ransom payments will continue to prosper kidnapping.”
He urged the police and the military to go after the kidnappers and bring them to justice.
Also, the All Progressives Congress, Zamfara State chapter, has expressed appreciation for the safe return of the GGSS Jangebe schoolgirls but called for adequate security to protect the girl-child education.
This was contained in a statement issued by the Caretaker Committee chairman of the party, Alhaji Lawal Liman.
On its part, the Centre for Democracy and Development on Tuesday rejoiced over the release of the students.
The CDD, in a statement by its Director, Idaat Hassan, also warned against granting abductors and bandits amnesty.
She also called on government and relevant authorities including the Ministry of Education to map out workable strategies that would ensure that every child was protected in his or her quest to seek development and learning.
Hassan said, “Efforts should also be made to ensure that all abductees in captivity are released by their abductors without succumbing to any form of amnesty or ransom. The trauma of families with children in the hands of such deadly criminals can be better imagined.
“The CDD finds it unacceptable that Nigerian children are being subjected to the dehumanising and traumatic experiences, which the bandits have continued to subject them. It is a slap on the face of the entire country that common criminals have turned the national space into a lawless, chaotic, and non-habitable place.
“It is most unfair to the long-suffering citizens of Nigeria that the Buhari government has woefully failed to stem the tide of insecurity. It is not tenable that Nigerians, especially young people seeking education, can no longer do so in a secure, peaceful, and conducive atmosphere.
“In the face of these traumatic experiences for the families of young scholars abducted by criminal gangs, CDD believes it is time for the government to adopt a holistic approach to deter further attacks.”