Controversy surrounds Niger students, workers’ release, abducted travellers freed

There  was controversy on  Sunday over the release of 27 students and 15 workers of Government Science College, Kagara, Niger State, who were abducted on Wednesday,

Earlier on Sunday, officials of the state government said the victims, who were abducted when gunmen invaded their school on Wednesday, had  been released.

Also, a  top security source told one of our correspondents at 11pm on Sunday  that the abductees  were  around Birnin Gwari area of Kaduna State on their way to Minna, the Niger State capital.

The state Governor, Sani Bello, other top officials of the state government and parents of the abductees, were at  the Government House Minna,  waiting to receive the abductees.

But while addressing  the parents  at 11:40pm on Sunday, the governor said the abducted students and workers  were still in captivity.

“We still have the students of Kagara in the hands of the bandits and everything is being done to secure their release soonest,” the governor said.

Earlier on Sunday, 18  passengers of the Niger State Transport Service, who were abducted on February 14 at Yakila village in the Rafi Local Government Area of the state, were  released.

Recall that a prominent Islamic cleric, Sheik Ahmad Gumi had in an interview on Saturday, said the students and other abductees would be released on Sunday.

One of the 18 passengers of the state transport service, on condition of anonymity,  narrated her ordeals, adding that the bandits threatened to start killing them on Sunday (yesterday) if their conditions were not met.

The 18 passengers, who are members of the same family, were abducted on Sunday last week on their way to Minna from Kontagora, where they went for a wedding.

The passenger, said she and other abductees were made to trek a long distance to a forest in Zamfara State.

She said where the abducted travellers  were kept was not far from the place 27 students and 15 workers of Government Science College, Kagara, who were kidnapped on Wednesday,  were kept.

She also revealed that the bandits as a way of protecting themselves from any form of air strike  gave the military uniform they wore in exchange for    students’ uniform in order to disguise.

She said,  “They threatened to start killing us today (Sunday) if our family did not fulfill their agreement, but thank God every thing is now history.”

The Head of the family, Isa Kadir, had earlier in an interview  on Sunday, confirmed the  release of 18  family members.

Also, the state Governor, Sani Bello,  in his tweets page this evening,  wrote “We are pleased to announce to the general public the release of the NSTA passengers abducted a week ago while returning to Minna along the Minna-Zungeru road.”

It was learnt that the bandits demanded N50m, but later reduced it  to N30m, but it could not be confirmed if government or the family made the payment.

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Extend amnesty to bandits in South, everyone with gun –  Gumi

Meanwhile, a Kaduna-based  Islamic cleric, Sheik Ahmad Gumi, on Sunday said the amnesty he proposed for bandits in the North should be extended to the Fulani involved in kidnappings  in the South.

Gumi, who stated this in an interview with one of our correspondents, also said the bandits involved in kidnappings were not foreigners, but Nigerians.

The prominent cleric had after a meeting with bandits in Zamfara State forests two weeks urged government to grant them amnesty.

He also met bandits along Kadun-Abuja road, which had witnessed a series of kidnappings and killings.

After the kidnapping at Kagara, Niger State on Wednesday, Gumi also visited the state and held a meeting with  some bandits.

Justifying his call for extension of amnesty to the South, Gumi said  everyone carrying a gun should also be included for the country to have a fresh start.

He noted that northern governors, except Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, had accepted his reaching out to bandits in the North.

Gumi insisted that the bandits involved in kidnappings were not foreigners, but Nigerians.

He said, “People don’t know the Fulani at all. They are not after money. Even when they are burning houses in Oyo, don’t you see where they live? They stay in huts. They are not into buying flashy cars. They just like their cattle. The money they are collecting from kidnappings, they are buying weapons with them. The more you fight them, the more they fight back. They don’t surrender. They are saying if the air force continues to pester them, they will have to get anti-aircraft.

“Not all of them are criminals; the hard-line (position)  taken against them turned  them into the militants that they are. They showed me a village, which does not belong to the Fulani, but was bombarded by the air force. A well was filled with dead bodies. The air force killed them because they thought it’s a Fulani enclave, if they are Fulani, what about the wives and children? It is the military that produced these monsters, just like they did with the Boko Haram. We need dialogues with them.

“I am encouraged because I have started  seeing instant results. The bandits; nobody can call them except we use the religious card. So, these people making noises, let them try to see if they can get them to listen. They don’t respect any authority because they have formed an authority of their own. But if you speak to them and say, ‘This is sacrilege to the sanctity of religion, they’ll listen. So, why won’t we explore it?

“I spoke to the warlord there (Niger State) and he does not know the current situation of things (about the kidnapped Kagara pupils). There is a communication gap because the forest is vast. The terrain does not leave room for expediency. But I believe that ultimately, they will be released today (Sunday). They could have been released now, but before they get to the town, it will take time. When we left them (the bandits), it took us from 6pm to 3am before we reached home.”

He said like the Federal Government gave the people of the Niger-Delta amnesty, the same gesture should be extended to those carrying guns in the country.

“It should be a blanket amnesty, not only the Fulani. Anybody that is carrying weapons, you give him amnesty. Let’s do it for all these people carrying weapons and Nigeria will open a new page. Don’t be surprised, these Boko Haram people, if you approach them the way you approach these people (bandits), they will listen. If you talk, it is better than all this language of might. Dialogue will give you what violence cannot give you.

“El-Rufai is the only one left. There is no other governor. But he is a very intelligent man, and if he sees reason, he will (key into my mission). I don’t see any governor that will not key in. The more you get close, the more you see reason with these people, and to ask why are they doing it,” he added.

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