“There are governments that work with the speed of light and there are others that work at the speed of snail. Our government is like snail, and that is what is killing us. The response is not an issue of being positive or negative; it should be fast.”
Those were the assertion of prominent northern Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi in reaction to efforts of governments at all levels to end banditry and other security challenges in the country.
Gumi’s assertion came just as at least 327 female students of Government Girls Secondary School (GGSS), Jangebe in Talata-Mafara Council of Zamfara State were abducted by gunmen suspected to be bandits in wee hours of yesterday.
Not less than 70 students were said to have escaped by hiding and did not come out until after the attackers had disappeared deep into thick forest with their victims.
Meanwhile, seven out of the 317 students were said to have escaped from their captors and arrived home yesterday evening.
A resident close to the school, Mallam Sani Jangebe, said the bandits, who came in about seven vehicles, one of which had a GPMG-like rifle mounted on it, were in war mood, with some wearing military uniforms.
He said: “They started with shouting, followed by sporadic shootings towards all directions before we began to hear our children in the school helplessly screaming for rescue, as the bandits forced them into the parked vehicles.”
Father of one of those abducted, Alhaji Bello Maikusa Jangebe, said the sounds of gunshots woke up the entire town at around 1:30am, adding: “We thought they have come to attack residents, as they usually do. Unfortunately, this time around, they aimed at the students and abducted about 327 of them. Later, we noticed that only few of the students were left behind.”
Some residents of the community said the bandits drove away with the abducted students towards the direction of Wuya Forest in Maru Council, one of the most dangerous axis the criminals have long occupied.
A guardian of one of the victims, Mallam Sa’idu Kwairo, also said the gunmen drove into the town well armed in about seven Toyota Hilux vehicles, shooting sporadically to scare off any attempt for resistance.
“We could hear the helpless voices of the abducted girls screaming for help amidst unpleasant sounds of various dangerous rifles, as we noticed they had come to abduct the students in the school,” Kwairo added.
This came eight days after gunmen kidnapped dozens of students and workers and family members of Government Science College (GSC), Kagara, Niger State.
Bandits had earlier kidnapped travellers in a vehicle belonging to the state transport authority, who were released on Tuesday.
Commissioner of Police, Mr. Abutu Yaro; the Force Commander, Operations Hadarin Daji, Maj-Gen. Aminu Bande; Commander, 1 Brigade of Nigeria Army in Gusau and other state government officials, led a heavily armed re-enforcement team to Jangebe to complement the ongoing rescue operation in the locations where the students were believed to have been taken to.
Yaro, while interfacing with the Principal of the school and parents, appealled to them to remain calm, as joint efforts of the Police and other security agencies would assuredly lead to the rescue of the students.
Spokesperson of the state Police Command, Mr. Shehu Muhammad, said the Police, in collaboration with the military, have commenced a joint search and rescue operations to free the students.
Muhammad, in a press statement, said the Command was working hard to ensure protection of lives and properties of the people.
Following the incident, Governor Bello Matawalle, has ordered the closure of all boarding schools in the state.
The Governor, who gave the directive in a broadcast, yesterday, said: “As we are making efforts to strengthen security around our schools, I have directed the immediate closure of all boarding secondary schools across the state.”
In Kaduna, Gumi told The Guardian that the abductors he has been negotiating with in the forests were not responsible for yesterday’s incident.
This is an indication that more splinter groups are beginning to emerge, making negotiation more difficult and increasing cases of banditry, as it may have become a thriving business.
The cleric, in a short telephone interview with The Guardian, said the abduction was carried out by a splinter group of the Zamfara bandits, saying he had reached out to the bandit leaders recently, who claimed “they are not the ones that abducted the girls, but a splinter group.”
When asked whether he would be going to Zamfara to meet the bandits for talks and plea for release of the schoolgirls, Gumi, who had taken his peace message to bandits hideouts in Zamfara in recent times, where about 500 were reported to have repented in Shinkafi Council, and also met with bandits at Sububu and Pakai Forests, simply said: “Maybe.”
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) has commenced a coordinated search and rescue operation, including the deployment of both ground and aerial assets, aimed at locating and rescuing the students.
To ensure the success of the operation, Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, has ordered the immediate deployment of two operational surveillance helicopters to the state.
Force Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba, a Commissioner of Police (CP), who disclosed this yesterday in Abuja, said the deployment was in addition to the personnel of Operation Puff Adder II earlier deployed to support the state Command’s efforts to combat banditry, kidnapping and other related crimes.
“The IGP, while condemning the barbaric and callous abduction of the innocent female students, has assured that the Police and other security forces will not relent until the students are successfully rescued and reunited with their families.
“The joint rescue operation is being carried out by the Police, the military and other members of the law enforcement community, with support from the state government and other stakeholders.
“The IGP has called for calm and enjoins members of the public, particularly the people of Zamfara State, not to hesitate in availing the Police and the law enforcement community with useful information that can assist in the rescue of the abducted school girls.”
In a related development, Mba said it would not hesitate to arrest and prosecute any person or group of persons found in possession of prohibited arms without due authorisation.
There have been calls by some governors and other prominent Nigeria for the Federal Government to allow Nigerians carry licenced guns to defend themselves amid the myriads of security challenges facing the country.
The Police spokesman disclosed that the Force was currently carrying out a systematic mop-up of illegal arms/weapons from unauthorised individuals and groups to curb the menace of increasing proliferation of arms in the country.
On when banditry would end in the country, Gumi, who has been a go-between bandits and government in efforts to secure the release of kidnap victims and continuously refused to called the bandits as such, insisting there are militants and deserve amnesty, like granted the Niger Delta ex-militants by the Federal Government, was optimistic that it would be stopped very soon. “The amnesty should come with a package and it would be over.”
He urged the Federal Government to urgently implement an amnesty for the armed Fulani herdsmen to save Nigeria from prolonged banditry, kidnapping and other security challenges plaguing the country.
He also said government should also compensate innocent families of the herdsmen who lost their lives during military operations that left their communities destroyed.
The cleric explained that the Federal Government has been adequately informed that Fulani herdsmen, in carrying arms, are acting in self-defence over attacks, killings of their kinsmen and rustling of their cattle, reiterating that it was time government came out with an amnesty package for the Fulani, whom he called militants.
Mba, reacting to the emergence of numerous security outfits and sudden resort to self-help by many individuals, communities and states across the country, disclosed that the Police have since stopped the issuance of licence to individuals or groups to bear prohibited firearms, while also reviewing licences already issued. “The duties and functions of the NPF are clearly enshrined in the constitution of Nigeria. It is only an Act of the law that can recognise and establish any group or organisation to bear arms and carry out policing functions.”
“Our position on the right (or otherwise) of citizens to bear arms is based on the provisions of the law. According to the Firearms Act, it is manifestly illegal and criminal for any citizen to bear a prohibited weapon without licence or appropriate authorisation.
“Consequently, the NPF would not hesitate to arrest and prosecute any person or group of persons found in possession of prohibited arms without due authorisation.”
He added that the Police was not oblivious of the various prevailing and emerging security threats in some parts of the country, but added: “As a responsible institution of government with clear understanding of our mandate in maintaining the internal security of the country, we are committed to continuous critical evaluation of the pattern and trend of crimes in the country.
“We do these by identifying the security threats and evolving anti-crime strategies to mitigate them.”
The Force spokesman informed that the Police was doing its very best in stabilising security and reclaiming the public space from criminal elements bent on threatening internal security order in the country and bringing them to book.
“In achieving these mandates, the citizens also have a huge role to play, but certainly not by resorting to self-help of bearing illicit arms or weapons. That will take us back to pre-civilisation era when life was ‘nasty, brutish and short.’ That is not what we deserve or desire for a new and modern Nigeria.
“What is expected of every citizen in our various communities, especially areas with security hitches, is to remain vigilant, cooperate and support the Police in the herculean, but surmountable task of ensuring that the country is safe and secure for all to live and thrive.
“The citizens must imbibe the spirit of patriotism, come together with a focus to partner with the Police in identifying the security threats in their areas and solving them accordingly. That is the whole essence and purpose of community policing operating under the principle of shared responsibility.”
Mba added that the Police remain resolute in its commitment to identify, clamp down, arrest and bringing to book, those who are arming and funding individuals or groups against the interest of the country.
“The activities become illegal or criminal once they operate extra-judicially. They are only permitted by law to carry out less lethal policing duties. They are not permitted to bear arms.
“Meanwhile, we are also working with government at all levels to ensure that the activities of groups they set-up are in conformity with the law. For those deliberately arming and funding individuals or groups against the interest of the state, we remain resolute in our commitment to identifying, clamping down, arresting and bringing them to book.”