The latest mass abduction victims in northern Nigeria, 136 pupils kidnapped last Sunday from Salihu Tanko Islamiyya School in Tegina, Niger State, are all children from poor homes, paying paltry N200 monthly as school fees.
The pupils, according to investigations, were deliberately targeted by the bandits in line with their new push for the seizure of the poor and vulnerable, following recent difficulties in abducting from the middle class and wealthy people, who have found better ways of protection.
The parents of the abducted Tegina pupils Friday raised the alarm saying the bandits, based on telephone conversation with them last Thursday, are serious about killing their children if they fail to meet N200 million ransom.
By Friday, sympathisers had contributed N11 million towards the payment.
This trend of kidnapping from among the poor and vulnerable is evident in the series of abductions that have taken place in the last few months in Kaduna, Niger, Zamfara, Katsina and Sokoto states.
In the case of Tegina School, these pupils from poor homes, study in ramshackle buildings (with help of a charitable indigene), with no iota of security in the premises. So, they were easy prey.
The middle class and the rich in the listed trouble-states have apparently found a functional way of protecting themselves against abduction, thus forcing the bandits to switch to soft targets.
A lot of abductions of the poor and vulnerable in Niger State are taking place in Shiroro, Munya, Rafi and Mariga local government areas.
Twelve of such poor people were abducted at Malam Bako village, Mariga LG on June 1 and five others at Batati town, Lavun LG on May 29, both in Niger State.
In Kaduna State, the poor and vulnerable are being abducted in communities in Chikum, Birnin Gwari, Igabi, Kajuru and Giwa local government areas.
In Katsina State, a lot of abduction of the poor and vulnerable are occurring in communities in Batsari, Safana, Dutsin-Ma, Kankara, Kurfi, Dan- Musa, Jibia, Faskari and Sabuwa local government areas.
‘Bandits Serious About Killing Our Children’
Meanwhile, parents of the abducted Tegina pupils Friday raised the alarm saying the bandits, based on telephone conversation with them last Thursday, are serious about the threat to kill their children
The bandits have also increased their ransom demand to N200 million. Initially the bandits demanded for N110 million for the release of the victims, mostly girls, with a threat that if by Thursday the money was not delivered they (children) would be killed.
However, the bandits reportedly got across to the parents last Thursday evening that the ransom had been increased to N200 million with the same threat after the deadline was not met.
Father of five of the victims and a tipper driver, Malam Ali Mohammed, confirmed the latest development to THISDAY Thursday night.
Mohammed, who was sobbing in the telephone conversation with THISDAY said: “The bandits are serious about killing our children if we cannot pay. We are poor people, we don’t have such money we plead with the government to come to our assistance.”
THISDAY also learnt that public-spirited people in the community had been able to raise N11 million for the ransom demanded, a large chunk of which was by a top political office holder in the area.
It was also learnt that the mother of one of the victims whose name was not given died on Thursday as a result of trauma.
The remains of the deceased were interred in Tegina on Thursday evening according to Islamic injunction.
The state government insists it has set necessary machinery in motion to ensure the safe release of the school children but completely ruled out the payment of ransom to the kidnappers.
‘Abducted Pupils are Toddlers Who Need Help’
Parents and teachers of the abducted Tegina pupils Friday painted a gory picture of the toddlers in the bush for the sixth day running.
Some of the parents, who spoke on Arise TV, called for the immediate rescue of the kids “because they are too tender for the harsh realities of kidnappers’ den.”
The parents lamented that some of the kidnapped pupils are between ages four, and 13, maintaining that the younger ones are vulnerable to sickness in the bush where they were kept for days without food and shelter.
The headmaster of the school, Alhaji Abubakar Alhassan, whose two children and a sister are among the abducted, said some of the victims were too young for the ordeals they are facing.
He also indicted both the federal and state governments for abandoning the school and the parents of the students in their moment of despair.
Alhassan, popularly called Mallam by his community, in an emotion-laden interview, claimed there had been no sympathy from the government, and wondered why the federal government failed to provide the ransom demanded by the bandits.
He said it was a lie that the government had sent vehicles and motorcycles into the bush for the rescue operation.
“There is no way people can be in the bush without the community getting wind of this. They can’t be inside the office and begin to tell lies. It’s only the local government official who has been with us,” he said.
He also denied the report that he had prior information of the attack.
The head teacher disclosed that the abduction had already led to the death of two parents of the victims, warning that more casualties may happen unless the students regained their freedom quickly.
Fighting back tears, Alhassan said: “I have witnessed the funeral prayer of one of the parents here very close to the school. She died because she had just one child who is our student. She was not around when the incident happened. When she came back they told her and within 30 minutes, she collapsed and died. That was the day before yesterday.
“A day after the incident happened, another parent died. She had two children. One was sent to the town while the one with her was kidnapped. She died of a heart attack.
“As I’m talking to you now, my wife is down. She was put on a drip, she didn’t cook, she didn’t eat. My little child at home, who slept with me on my bed, woke up only to begin to shout the name of his elder sister, asking me “Baba, when is she coming back?
“One painful thing was that my sister called me before the last discussion with the bandits, crying. She swore that the children are sick, they cannot work. She told me they have removed their hijabs. They have unveiled them. They removed their shirts and they are left with only trousers.
“There is no food. They gave them kulikuli (groundnut cake). How do you expect them to survive? They took them to unknown environments. I heard people saying they kept them on the floor. When you are talking about floors you are talking about classrooms or a house. No, they are kept in the bush. They are sleeping on the ground, no leaves, not mat. How do you expect them to live like that?”
Another parent, a mother, Mrs. Hashimu said five of her children were initially kidnapped, but that the two toddlers among them, ages two and four were sent back home while the rest were taken away.
Giving her account, she said, “The whole incident was terrifying because everything happened in my presence. I was hearing everything. I saw when the bandits were going away with these children but there was nothing I could do. Government is not helping matters at all saying this, saying that, yet we cannot see anything on the ground.”
Festus Akanbi in Lagos and Laleye Dipo in Minna