Fifty-five days after they were abducted from the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka in Igabi Local Government Area of Kaduna State, 27 students of the 37 abducted from their school dormitories have also regained freedom Wednesday.
Sources said the students were received around Kidandan in Giwa Local Government Area of the state after a ransom of about N15 million was paid to the bandits and a convict was released.
Daily Trust gathered reliably that the release of the students was delayed even after payment of ransom last month because the bandits insisted on the release of one of their own arrested by the police.
The identified bandit, whose name was given simply as Laulu, was moved to Kaduna from a police facility in Kano on Tuesday ahead of the prisoner swap.
The negotiations suffered setbacks after the abductor, known as Buderu, reneged on his promise even after payment of the agreed sum.
Daily Trust learnt that father of one Buhari, alias General, who is also a fierce bandit had to be brought in to use his son in forcing Baderu to agree on the deal.
But Buderu, it was learned, insisted that even if no more money would be given to him, a relative of his arrested at Falgore Forest in Kano State must be released.
The students were released yesterday to intermediaries who served as a go-between between negotiators and the group, which masterminded the kidnapping on March 11, 2021.
The negotiations were facilitated by the Sheikh Ahmed Gumi dialogue committee with support from former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Obasanjo and Gumi have had at least two meetings over banditry ravaging northern part of the country and spate of abductions in recent past.
Gumi had led a team to Obasanjo’s residence in Abeokuta in April and the former leader hosted Gumi and his team to an iftar (breaking of fast) dinner in Abuja, last month.
The negotiators, it was learned, reached out to federal government to approve the release of Laulu, identified as a “repentant cattle rustler who was lured and arrested by vigilantes”.
However, contrary to information earlier that 39 students were abducted, it was revealed yesterday that 38 students had been abducted before one escaped a day after while the bandits later released 10 of the victims on April 5 and 8 after about N17 million was paid.
Intermediaries played key role
Security sources told one of our correspondents that intermediaries that were involved in the negotiations were relatives and in-laws of the bandits but never took part in the criminal activity.
“We were actually expecting them last night (Tuesday) and waited till midnight with a medical team but they did not arrive. However, the intermediaries called Wednesday morning and asked us to be on standby to receive 27 students,” a security source said.
On arrival in Kaduna, the students were taken to the state’s police command headquarters where they were received by the Kaduna State Police Commissioner, Umar Muri.
Our reporter who witnessed their arrival reports that the students appeared sickly and weak with many of them limping.
The chairman of the student’s union, Abdullahi Usman thanked all those who assisted the families during their trial moment saying as parents they were aware of the support rendered by clerics and past leaders including security agencies in ensuring the release of the students.
One of the parents of the students who was in the know of the security operation, said: “They slept in the home of a Fulani leader somewhere in the outskirt of Kaduna. We had earlier sent vehicles to evacuate them but something happened so they passed the night there. We commend all those that supported us to see to their release including Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the security agencies. We pray such a nightmare never happens to anyone of us.
Kaduna govt happy
Kaduna State Government while rejoicing the release of the students charged the students to view their ordeal as a motivator to put the past behind and work hard towards a happier and successful future ahead.
The government in a statement issued by the Commissioner of Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan, stated that the state government rejoices with the freed students, their families and the management of the institution over the development.
Speaking with Daily Trust last night, Sheik Gumi said negotiation with the bandits led to the released of the abducted students.
The cleric said he and former President Obasanjo took part in the negotiations, adding that the students will be taken for a medical check-up by the police before reuniting with their family.
Buhari, Jonathan’s govts paid ransom to kidnappers – Obasanjo
Our correspondent in Abeokuta reports that Obasanjo had tacitly confirmed his role in negotiating the release of the 27 students.
He spoke at his Penthouse residence within Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL), in Abeokuta, while playing host to members of Tiv professionals Group (TPG).
Obasanjo confirmed that he held a meeting with some group of people in Abuja over the abducted students.
The former president said during the meeting, he had asked those behind the abduction to free the victims without payment of ransom because he does not believe in paying ransom.
He said: “I have been looking expectantly since Monday last week when I finished my meeting in Abuja. There are 27 people who are kidnapped. And I ended that meeting by appealing to the people with whom we held the meeting.
“I said look, for me to be able to feel that there is something in the meeting that we can continue, those 27 people should be released without any ransom payment because I don’t believe in paying ransom. Since Monday, we have been hoping.
“Then those who kidnapped students from a private university, they also said they can reach out to them. Of course it was after that they killed two of the students. Some people are still reaching out, and hoping that lives can still be saved.
“But a situation whereby anybody thinks paying ransom is the way out, that person is folly. He is a folly. This is because when you pay ransom, you encourage. But if you are not going to pay ransom, you must have the means to deal heavily with it.”
Few hours after he spoke, news emerged that the 27 students have been freed by the kidnappers.
Obasanjo frowned that President Buhari’s government and that of his predecessor, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan had paid ransom to kidnappers and bandits, but denied it.
He, however, submitted that the government must develop means to deal with kidnappers and bandits heavily in place of ransom payment.
The former president equally insisted that it required a “carrot and stick” approach to fight insecurity challenges to a standstill.
“Government has always paid ransom. Not only this government, even during Jonathan (administration). They paid ransom, but they denied it.”
Presenting a paper earlier, the leader of the Tiv group, Prof Zacharys Anger Gundu told Obasanjo that “blood is flowing in Benue State” following killings of the people allegedly by herders and bandits.
He said people were being maimed in their sleep and on their ancestral land, calling on Obasanjo and other influential Nigerians to rise to the occasion to stem the tide.
While alleging skewed security architecture, Gundu said “Nigeria seems to be losing the battle against insecurity.”
Gundu also called for intensified advocacy against nomadic pastoralism and hosting “all nationalities summit” where issues would be discussed with a view to finding lasting solutions.