The schoolboys who were kidnapped from Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, in Katsina State, Nigeria, by suspected bandits on December 11, have given more insight into the developments that led to their release by their captors.
Speaking to Wall Street Journal (WSJ), based in the United States, some of the boys narrated how they were thoroughly beaten by the bandits, adding that a ransom was paid to the kidnappers before they were freed.
Their narration conflicted with that of the federal government, which said no ransom was paid.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, on Tuesday, said the rescue of the 344 schoolboys from their captors who took them to a forest in Zamfara State, was facilitated by repentant bandits.
He also reiterated an earlier statement by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, that the federal government didn’t buy freedom for the pupils.
However the WSJ, in a report on Wednesday, quoted three of the 344 boys as saying in interviews that the kidnappers told them a ransom had been paid for their release, while a person familiar with the kidnappers’ talks with the government said a sizable sum had been paid for the boys’ freedom.
Eight of the freed students, boys as young as 13, the report said, were forced to eat raw potatoes and bitter kalgo leaves to survive. They were seldom allowed rest and slept on rocky ground.
Government officials denied paying ransom and said the kidnappers released the schoolboys because the military had surrounded them.
According to WSJ however, three boys said their kidnappers told them they were initially paid 30 million naira, equivalent to around $76,000, but decided not to release the boys because they had demanded 344 million naira—1 per head.
“They threatened to release only 30 of us when the 30 million initial ransom was paid, said 16-year-old Yinusa Idris. They even took 30 of us away on motorcycles ready to release,” the news medium stated.
It quoted another of the abducted pupil, Imran Yakubu, a 17-year-old, as saying that the kidnappers told them: “One million naira must be paid per each student…or we will recruit or kill you.”
The paper also noted that person familiar with the negotiations said a ransom was transferred in three batches.
The boys were further told, according to the WSJ, on December 16, that if they returned to school, they would be kidnapped again.
“There were more than 100 armed men in the school courtyard. They were shining bright flashlights and streaming into the pastel-coloured buildings. ‘Gather here. We are soldiers,’ they said.
WSJ added: “The gunmen, some on foot, others on motorcycles, ordered the boys to walk in a long column, hitting anyone who walked too slowly with a whip or rifle butt.
“At one point, when the guards were looking at the sky, two students close to the back of the convoy tried to slip away. The hostages were all told to halt so they could watch their classmates being punished.
“The older one’s hands were tied to a tree and he was beaten. Water was poured on his body in the early morning so that he could feel the freezing cold,” one of the students narrated.
However, the Nigerian military said that “ kinetic and non-kinetic approaches were used to ensure all the boys were rescued unhurt”, saying that there was resistance from the abductors who laid an ambush against the troops.
The Coordinator, Defence Media Operations, John Enenche, and Ahmed Jibrin, former Director, Military Intelligence, who spoke when they featured on an NTA programme, “Good Morning Nigeria”, insisted that no ransom was paid.
“Following the directive, the troop closed in on the abductors from four different fronts, including the reinforcement that was made from other divisions to ensure that the entire location was sealed off.
“The bandits were all under siege and they were fully aware of that, feeling the impacts of the presence of the troops both from the air and on the ground,” said the military.