Stopping Short of a State of Emergency, FG Bans Mining and Flights over Zamfara
Bandits offered money not to release abducted students, says Matawalle
They threatened to kill us, freed schoolgirls narrate ordeals in captivity
By Deji Elumoye, Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja and Francis Sardauna in Katsina
President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday took bold steps towards addressing the worsening insecurity in the country with a directive to the service chiefs to immediately flush out all Boko Haram terrorists in the North-east as well as bandits and kidnappers in different parts of the country.
Stopping short of declaring a state of emergency in Zamfara State as recommended by his security chiefs, Buhari also banned mining activities in the new ground zero of banditary, kidnappings and abductions. And declared the state a no-fly zone, asking the security chiefs to go after non-state actors causing trouble in the country.
National Security Adviser (NSA), Maj. Gen. Babagana Monguno (rtd), announced the raft of measures ordered by the president to contain the security crisis on a day the pupils of Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe, Zamfara State, abducted last Friday, regained freedom.
The state Governor, Mr. Bello Matawalle, broke the news of the release of the 279 schoolgirls in a dawn tweet.
He described the abduction as politically motivated, adding that the sponsors offered money to the bandits to sabotage the negotiation by the state government for the release of the girls.
Some of the 279 girls also recounted their ordeals in captivity.
The marching orders to the service chiefs formed the major decision taken at the National Security Council (NSC) meeting presided over by Buhari in Abuja.
Monguno, who briefed journalists at the end of the closed-door meeting that lasted for five hours, stated that the meeting also resolved to clamp down on individuals and bodies sponsoring crisis nationwide to undermine the unity of the nation.
He added that the security challenges facing Zamfara State also received the attention of the council with the state being declared a no-fly zone while mining, suspected to be one of the major drivers of insecurity in the state, has been banned indefinitely.
According to him, the president, through the Minister of Defence, Maj. Gen. Bashir Magashi (rtd), ordered the service chiefs to reclaim all areas that have been dominated by bandits, kidnappers and other non-state actors.
He said: “In doing so, I’ve also asked all the intelligence agencies to collapse all their efforts onto one platform so that with the convergence of efforts, we will be able to give the required intelligence to the operational elements of government.
“Given the fact that we have a new organisation with new service chiefs, the president has charged all of us to redouble our efforts, especially in view of the occurrences of the last couple of weeks. The predominant issues raising concern for the entire nation remain kidnapping, banditry, and of course terrorism in the north eastern part of the country.
“Apart from that, we’ve also had issues with farmers and herders, which have also resulted in some unpleasant ethnic situations.”
Monguno stated that the meeting expressed concern over the activities of some Nigerians promoting disunity by sponsoring crisis and that the federal government has decided to clamp down on them.
He added that those individuals on the government security watch list will now be hounded and prosecuted forthwith.
The NSA said the president had asked the security chiefs to go after suspects on the watch list.
Monguno said: “I need to stress also that there are individuals in this country who have assumed a status that is beyond what they should be. The intelligence from our own sources, the intelligence at my disposal and the disposal of the other intelligence agencies, reveals that we have certain entities, certain individuals who are making capital out of insecurity, especially kidnapping.
“This is a situation that has to be brought to an end and I’m sending a warning to anybody who is hiding beneath a veneer of some status, whether official, in terms of an official capacity or traditional or religious, to stoke the flames of disorder will have himself to blame. The government is very serious about this.
“As I said, we’re drifting into a situation that we can no longer afford to lose lives. We are not going to be blackmailed; we’re going to use whatever is at our disposal, while operating within the confines of legitimacy, within the confines of legality. But the government has a responsibility to assert its will, using the instruments at its disposal to keep the state moving, alive, happy in prosperity; this will not be compromised.”
According to him, while the government is not averse to the application of non-kinetic means to resolve the security crisis, it will not hesitate to apply kinetic means to restore normalcy to the country.
“I’m sure you’re all aware of the fact that no country will tolerate a group of non-state actors. No sovereign nation will allow a group of non-state actors to bring it down to its knees and render the state in the state of panic, apprehension, mistrust, disorder, and so on and so forth.
“Therefore, both the defence and intelligence organisations have been charged that while we look forward to having a peaceful, non-kinetic resolution, we will not allow this country to drift into state failure and with effect from today,” he said.
The council, he stated, also declared Zamfara State air space a no-fly zone while all forms of mining are banned forthwith in the state due to the rising security challenges facing the state.
THISDAY gathered the declaration of no-fly zone means that aircraft will not be allowed to fly over Zamfara State.
Monguno said Buhari had directed him and Magashi to deploy the military and intelligence assets to restore normalcy to the state.
“He has also approved that Zamfara State should be declared a no-fly zone with immediate effect.
“Now all non-state actors that have been causing problems for the innocent peoples, not just in Zamfara State or the North-west zone, but also, the North-east and other parts of the country in the South-south, have been placed under surveillance by the intelligence agencies, we’ve had a lot of reports coming in; collusion with people from all walks of life,” he added.
Buhari Excited over Release of Schoolgirls
Buhari had earlier yesterday expressed excitement over the release of the 279 abducted pupils of Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe.
He also called on the police and the military to step up action towards arresting those who kidnapped the schoolgirls with a view to bringing them to justice.
The president, in a statement by his media assistant, Malam Garba Shehu, expressed overwhelming joy over the release of the abducted female students.
“I join the families and people of Zamfara State in welcoming and celebrating the release of these traumatised female students,” he said.
Buhari said he was excited that their 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 Nigerians.
However, while celebrating the release of the students, the president called for vigilance by the people so that human intelligence could be collected early enough to stop the bandits.
He warned that the time has come to stop the kidnapping.
“Ransom payments will continue to prosper kidnapping,” he warned, while urging the police and the military to go after kidnappers and bring them to justice.
Bandits Offered Money Not to Release Students, Says Matawalle
Early yesterday, Zamfara State Governor, Mr. Bello Matawalle, accused some alleged sponsors of the abduction of offering money to the bandits to sabotage the negotiation by the state government for the release of the 297 schoolgirls.
Addressing the freed pupils yesterday at the Government House, Gusau, the governor said: “While the state was in negotiation with abductors for the release of the schoolgirls, other persons offered money to the bandits to keep the girls in captivity.”
He added that he had given the information to the police and other security agencies to investigate the matter.
He said the abduction of the schoolgirls was mysterious and politically motivated, vowing to expose the sponsors.
“The actual number of confirmed abduction from the school’s register was 279, not 317 as earlier said by the police,” he clarified.
The governor said the abduction gave him four sleepless nights as he worked round the clock to ensure the safe return of the girls.
“I didn’t sleep for four days. We worked hard for days to ensure the safe return of the girls to their families.
“(We are) using kinetic and non-kinetic approaches and the non-kinetic is working for us. If not, we wouldn’t have successfully negotiated the release of these girls,” the governor stated.
Matawalle added that the state did not pay any ransom for the release of the pupils.
Meanwhile, the state police command has promised to unravel those behind the abduction.
According to a statement yesterday by the command’s Public Relations Officer, Mr. Bello Shehu, a Superintendent of Police, detectives from the state CID, headed by the Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of Investigation, have begun interrogating the pupils with a view to unravelling the circumstances behind their abduction.
They Threatened to Kill Us, Freed Victims Narrate Ordeals in Captivity
Some of the girls have shared their harrowing experience while in captivity, saying their abductors threatened to kill them.
The freed pupils, who looked weak, arrived Gusau, the state capital, around 4 am yesterday and were received by Matawalle; his wife, Aisha, and the heads of security agencies and other top government officials.
One of the freed victims, Hunainatu Abubakar, told THISDAY that the abductors threatened to rape them and also asked the captives to pray for them to be good citizens.
“They ridiculed us, called us many bad names, threatened to kill us and then later, they asked us to pray for them to be good citizens and that we should teach them English so that they could speak.
“We prayed for them but they said they did not have time to learn anything now. They also asked us for those who either came from Kaduna or their parents were police or soldier but those whose parents were security personnel refused to stand up.
“They also threatened to rape us but their leader, Kasalle, warned them against that. They always added sand to our foods and only allowed us to dig for water with our fingers at a drying pond,” she said.
On whether she would continue with her education, Hunainatu said she would go back to Kaduna where she came from and continue at a day school in order to fulfil her dream of becoming a lawyer.
“Some of the bandits even asked if we will marry them but none of us responded and so they said they would be looking for those with big eyes and kill them to which we all lowered our eyes,” she stated.
Asked if she could trace the bandits’ hideout, Hunainatu said: “Though we were taken at night through the back of our school, l believe l can trace the location where we were taken and l can still remember their faces if l see any of them.”
According to her, one of the pupils also saw her father who was kidnapped over three months ago but the man cautioned her against disclosing their relationship to avoid one of them being killed.
She said most of them returned with wounds and swollen legs because they were asked to leave their shoes on the day of the kidnap and that they slept in the open while in captivity.
According to her, they also went into hiding along with the criminals when they heard the sounds of helicopters on search-and-rescue mission.
Another victim, Hafsat Anka, stated that their abductors threatened to kill, fry and eat them if they misbehaved.
Hafsat said they trekked over a long distance from the school before they reached their destination.
“There was no clean water or good food, and we felt we had already spent years even though it was our first day and the bandits kept firing into the air to scare us.
“They were very young boys with one elder they called Kasalle or Yaya who gave them instructions, and he was the one that stopped them from touching any of us,” Hafsat stated.
According to her, the bandits wore military uniforms and claimed they defeated the security officials by invading the school and successfully abducting them.
Another victim, Hafsatu Hamza, said: “They kept us in a deep hole littered with excreta.
That’s where we live and sleep. We were earnestly praying and waiting on God. Those that abducted us are Hausa men, and they are Muslims. They do pray but they do not allow us to pray.”
Hafsatu, a SSS 2 pupil, added: “They took us along mountainous paths and trees asking us to run. We ran to the extent our legs sustained bruises and some even had dislocations. They asked me to remove my head tie for them to tie my leg with but l refused. They even threatened to cut off my leg and kill me but l still insisted.”
Another student, 14-year-old Amina Sogiji, while narrating her ordeal said: “The day we were kidnapped, we walked through the forest from 2.30 am till around 7 pm to the thicker forest where the bandits hide us in a deep hole located in the forest.
“We suffered so much in the hands of the kidnappers. I have never experienced such in my life. In fact, I thought I was dreaming because the torture was too much for us. I am happy now that we have been freed. We thank our governor and security agencies.”
Meanwhile, one of the parents, Mr. Jamailu Sanda, who could not hold his tears when he saw his daughter, said the trauma he had was indescribable because he could not eat, sleep nor think right.
Another parent, Mrs. Shemsiya Muhammed, and mother of Rabiatu Muhammed, who expressed her happiness for their daughter’s release, told THISDAY that the experience of knowing that a child is kidnapped is traumatic and can lead to one’s death.
One of the teachers, Mrs. Rashidat Balogun, also spoke to ARISE NEWS Channels to share her experience during the night raid by the bandits.