Adelani Adepegba, Maiharaji Altine and Adebayo Ayinla
Niger State Government on Thursday stepped up efforts to rescue students and workers of Government Science College, Kagara who were abducted on Wednesday.
A competent source, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, told one of our correspondents that officials of Niger and Zamfara state governments met some bandits at Dutsin Magaji of Kotonkoro forest in the Rafi Local Government Area of Niger State on Thursday evening.
The source stated, “The committee from Niger State went to Kotonkoro forest this evening where the bandits who allegedly took the students chose as meeting centre. Some officials of Zamfara State also joined them.”
Kotonkoro forest, according to him bordered four states of Kebbi, Zamfara, Niger and Kaduna where the bandits from the affected states could easily meet if there was any serious issue.
A popular Kaduna-based cleric, Ahmad Gumi, also met some bandits in Niger State as part of efforts to rescue the students.
Gumi met the bandit in a forest between Tegina in Niger State and Birnin Gwari Kaduna State on Thursday afternoon.
Effort to get the comment of the Niger State Government on the state officials’ meeting with the bandits did not succeed.
The State Commission for Information Sani Idris, and the Special Adviser to the state Governor on Media, Mohammed Mohammed, did not respond to calls and SMS sent to them.
When contacted for comment on the involvement of Zamfara State Government, the Special Adviser to the state Governor on Public Enlightenment Media and Communications, Zailani Bappa said, “There is nothing like that at the moment.”
Bappa stressed that the state Governor, Bello Matawalle, had been making frantic efforts to make sure he worked with other North-West governors on how to end banditry but was not getting much support from them.
Also on Thursday, more facts emerged about the abduction of students and workers of GSC Kagara.
A resident, Aliyu Isa, who escaped while his colleagues were being taken away, said abductors told the abductees that they were soldiers.
Troops locate students, workers in forest
Also, The PUNCH learnt on Thursday said security team dispatched to Niger State from Abuja had through air surveillance detected the location of abductees from Kagara and 18 passengers of the state transport service, who were kidnapped at Yakila village also in the Rafi LGA on Sunday.
A top security source, who confided in The PUNCH, said the kidnappers of the students and the passengers belong to the same gang.
He said the two groups of abductees were being kept close to each other in Kotonkoro forest in Niger State, but close Zamfara State, adding that security forces had cornered the bandits.
Meanwhile, Isa, who stays in the GSC Kagara staff quarters, in an interview with The PUNCH, said he escaped shortly after the bandits raided the school hostel.
He stated, “After all domestic work, we went to sleep. After 2pm, we heard some people trying to force our door open. Before we knew what was happening, they forced the door open and came into the bedroom, held me by trousers and took me outside.”
“They took me to the students’ hostel. On reaching there, they started gathering the students, so when the students discovered who they were, they started running, but the kidnappers told them not to run. They said they were soldiers who came to provide security, not kidnappers. The person, who held me, wore uniform of the Nigerian Army.
“They were three that came to my room, but one wore black clothes. When we were at the hostel, they gathered the students, but some of the students succeeded in running into the bush. They took those they caught outside and tied them in pairs.
“So when they started tying us, I stayed at the rear, pulled off my shirt and God gave me the courage to run. I was running in a zigzag manner as they were shooting. At a point, I prostrated and started crawling. I ran to a driver’s house, I knocked at the door and he opened and I stayed there till around after 4pm. The kidnappers operated for two hours.”
A source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, lamented that a police station was two kilometres away from the school, but the bandits operated for two hours without any move by the security agency to stop them.
Another student of the school, who also escaped but refused to disclose his identity said the bandits first attacked two houses by the fence.
He added that the kidnappers were chasing and shooting students, who were running away and in the process killed a student.
A member of the security team sent from Abuja, who spoke to The PUNCH on condition of anonymity, stated, “ I can confirm to you that after the aerial surveillance, the two groups of abductees have been spotted in a bush close to Zamfara. The kidnappers have been cornered, but we are being careful because of safety of the victims.
IG drafts additional 252 operatives, chopper in Niger
Also on Thursday, the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, drafted additional 252 operatives and a helicopter to reinforce the ongoing rescue operation for the abducted students and staff of the GSC Kagara.
The IG said that the joint search and rescue mission involving the police, the military and other law enforcement agencies would rescue the hostages unhurt and reunite them with their families.
According to a statement by the Force spokesman, Frank Mba, titled, ‘Kagara abductions: We are committed to the safe rescue of abductees, says IGP,’ the police component of the search and rescue operation was being coordinated by the Commissioner of Police, Niger State.
It said the commissioner of police was effectively harnessing all the deployed resources and working in sync with the military and other law enforcement agents in ensuring an intelligence-driven, focused and result-oriented ground and aerial surveillance in the rescue operations, and to bring the perpetrators to book.
The statement read, “To give impetus to the rescue operation, the IGP has ordered the deployment of additional tactical, intelligence and investigative assets of the Force including four units of Police Mobile Force attached to Operation Puff Adder II, one unit of Police Special Forces, personnel of the Counter-Terrorism Unit and operatives from the Force Intelligence Bureau and the Force Criminal Investigations Department. One police aerial surveillance helicopter has also been deployed.’’
While calling for calm, the IG enjoined members of the community to provide the Force and the security community with useful, relevant and timely information that can assist in the ongoing search and rescue operations.
We’ve deployed more troops where abductees, kidnappers are, says CP
Also, at the inauguration of the first phase of Operation Adder II at Minna on Thursday, the Niger State Commissioner of Police, Adamu Usman said that the special security troops would reinforce the fight against banditry, kidnapping and other violent crimes in the state.
At the event, Adamu said security agencies knew where the abductees were.
He said that the police would embark on the well-planned deployment of four units of Police Mobile Force and special forces alongside other operational assets to crime prime local government areas in the state.
He expressed optimism about rescuing the abducted victims, adding that the state could no longer complain about inadequate security personnel.
Usman stated, “We will deploy them in all the areas that are regarded as red flag points. We had problems with inadequate personnel in the past but that is no longer a problem with the coming of these troops. They will be deployed to Munya, Munya, Shiroro, Mariga and the Lapai-Agaie axis.”
The commissioner of police said that the operation Puff Adder II would be intelligence-led and community-driven adding that their operations would be executed in sustained collaborate with the Armed forces, the intelligence community and other sister security agencies.
“We are also using the locals. We have mobilised the vigilantes and the police will work with the vigilantes.”
Speaking about the abducted students and other victims, Adamu said that all abducted persons were still with their abductors but the security agencies were working tirelessly to bring them back.
Adamu stated, “The abducted victims are still there. We are trying to reinforce and with the deployment of this special deployment troop, we will rescue the victims.
“Everything is being properly handled. We are have deployed troops to where they are. , We know what is happening and we are monitoring them.
“We have a lot of personnel in the area both land and air. This reinforcement will also assist and go a long way in this way in ensuring that we rescue the victims.”
The Niger State Deputy Governor, Alhaji Mohammed Ketso, commended the President for his prompt response to the predicament of the state.
He expressed optimism that the deployment of Operations Puff Adder II would go a long way towards restoring the peace and safety of people and properties in the state.
He assured the people of their safety adding that efforts were ongoing to ensure that all the abducted victims would be rescued without harm.
“The security forces are gathering all the information that will lead to the rescue. We hope that within the next possible time the people will be rescued unharmed.”
He assured the special operations troops of the support of the state government. “The government will support them because we want their morale to be high, we will give them all the necessary support and information to enable them to have a successful operation,” he added.