The factional Boko Haram will most likely ask for ransom or prisoner swap to release the hundreds of schoolboys abducted in a school in Katsina State, credible sources and security experts told the Daily Trust on Tuesday.
In an audio message, a man who claimed to be Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the factional group, claimed that they were responsible for the abduction of over 500 students at Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State, on Friday.
The man said a total of 523 students were taken away. Governor Aminu Bello Masari had said that 333 were still missing. The school register seen by our reporter had shown that 668 students were missing but some of the students have resurfaced in the last two days.
Based on their findings, security experts and those with knowledge of Boko Haram operations confirmed that the abduction was carried out by the Boko Haram loyal to Abubakar Shekau.
They, however, expressed doubts as to whether the man in the audio was Shekau, considering the manner he spoke, the way he called himself (Abubakar Shekau) instead Abu Muhammad Asshakawi, the way he normally addresses himself in most of his messages, both audio and video.
One of the experts also wondered why the man slipped in pronouncing the name of the group: Jamaátu Ahlis-Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal Jihad.
He said, “But setting the inconsistencies aside, the message is clear that Boko Haram is responsible for the mass abduction.
“Of course, we have been saying it for a long time that the terrorists have infiltrated the North West and North Central… A lot of atrocities being committed could be attributed to them but the message they sent yesterday has put everything to rest,” the source, a retired military officer said.
Daily Trust reports that after the group was checkmated by the intelligence community and fighting forces between 2015 and 2017, two factions of the Boko Haram- Shekau and ISWAP- restricted their activities mostly along the shores of the Lake Chad, parts of Borno South, Yobe and Adamawa states.
The Kankara incident is, therefore, the biggest and visible onslaught by the group of recent outside their enclave.
In the audio message, the man behind the microphone said the attack was carried out to “promote Islam and discourage un-Islamic practices.”
According to him, “What happened in Katsina was done to promote Islam and discourage un-Islamic practices as western education is not the type of education permitted by Allah and his Holy Prophet.
“They are also not teaching what Allah and his Holy Prophet commanded. They are rather destroying Islam,” he said.
Boko Haram will soon roll out conditions
Security expert, Salihu Bakhari said on Tuesday that the Shekau faction will soon give their conditions for the release of the Kankara schoolboys.
According to him, “They (Boko Haram) don’t have the luxury of time to keep the boys for long. I learnt that they are keeping the boys in clusters around Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna for now but the federal government must act very fast to avert the Chibok saga.
“I can confidently tell you that the location of the abduction is not favourable for Boko Haram… It is extremely far from the North East and therefore, free movement with such a huge number of people might be problematic for them in the coming days.
“I have the conviction that they would soon ask the government to pay a ransom on each of the boys to be released and they may release them in batches. In the alternative, they would ask the federal government to release some of their high profile members being kept in various prisons across the country.
“These boys are highly treasured captives, just like the Chibok girls. After the 2014 episode, the government used different options including payment of ransom and prisoner swap to get back some of the Chibok girls,” he said.
Another source said the government should not use force. “It will be a disaster if they deploy force to release the boys because the Boko Haram can do anything. I think the advantage at the disposal of government is the location of the abduction.
“But if they give space in terms of gathering intelligence, the terrorist would find their way to Sambisa Forest or Alagarno Forest in Yobe. And once they achieve this, they would start conscription the children, God forbid,” he said.
No word from FG, army
The Presidency on Tuesday kept mum over the claim by the Boko Haram group that it was responsible for the kidnap of schoolboys in Katsina State.
The Senior Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, didn’t reply to inquiries sent to him by our correspondent over the matter as of the time of filing this report.
The Defence headquarters and the Nigerian Army have also kept mum over the claim.
Several calls to the mobile phone of the Coordinator, Defence Media Operations, Maj. Gen. John Enenche were not picked, neither did he respond to a text message sent by our correspondent. The Nigerian Army spokesman, Brig. Gen. Sagir Musa did not also pick his calls.
A former Director-General of the Department of State Services (DSS), Mike Ejiofor, in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents, noted that the public proclamation by Governor Aminu Bello Masari was not necessary.
“I don’t even know why the government would come out openly to say they are in talks or they are negotiating with bandits,” Ejiofor said.
The former DSS boss noted that there was no difference between the bandits and Boko Haram, describing both as criminal gangs involved in various criminalities.
He said, “The claim implies that they are still very potent and they are possibly spreading across other regions. If they can come to North West to abduct a great number of people than the North East where they have their concentration, then we need to up our games,” he said.
On his part, Dr Amaechi Nwaokolo, an international terrorism and intelligence analyst called for a halt in paying a ransom to bandits, saying it is like the country is funding them and therefore boosting their activities.
“These bandits have links with Boko Haram. In identified settings, terrorists’ gang are going to be liaising and working together with criminal gangs everywhere. That is the effect of giving the criminals money,” he said.
Mal Kabir Adamu Matazu, a security expert, said that the Katsina State government was not truthful in its claim of establishing contacts with bandits.
“Unfortunately, Boko Haram’s Shekau came out and claimed responsibility. This shows that the state government was being economical with the truth. They only make that statement to give the parents of the children hope,” he said.
Mixed reactions trail Boko Haram claim
Abubakar Lawan, the father of one of the Kankara boys who came from Zaria, said he was not shaken by the Boko Haram outburst.
Lawal, who had three of his children in the school, said one has been recovered while the other two are still missing.
“I heard in the news and read in the papers that Boko Haram claimed responsibility but I don’t regard that as anything,” he said.
He said the fears expressed that the children could be conscripted into the terror organisations was just lack of faith, adding that, “Insha Allah nothing of such will happen to our children, we are hopeful that they will return to us safely”.
Similarly, Malam Ibrahim Sulaiman, one of the affected parents, said, “This is not the first time those kidnappers were taking people into the forest and demand for ransom.
“My concern is that my child was just discharged from the hospital two days to the incident, and from what we heard they don’t have enough to eat as the bandits were allegedly seen eating row noodles of the students on the night of the abduction,” he said.
But a resident of Kankara, who identified himself as Muhammad Shema said the Boko Haram claim was worrisome because of the similitude of the mode of operation of the two groups.
“If you consider the kind of weapons they are using, if you consider their way of life, how they feed, how they rustle animals and how they invade villages and rub people of their food and other daily consumables, you will see a lot of similarities between these people.
“Some people are even of the belief that it is the organisation bearing different names at different locations. We don’t have the capacity in terms of intelligence and facilities to independently verify this claim as the government does. We hope they will exhaust all avenues to prove the claim to be true or otherwise before they dismiss it,” he said.
Zamfara closes 10 schools near Katsina, Kaduna
Zamfara State government on Tuesday announced the closure of 10 schools in the state located near borders with Katsina and Kaduna State as proactive measure after security concern was raised.
The Commissioner of Education, Dr Ibrahim Abdullahi Gusau, said taking the decision became necessary to forestall any break down of law and order in the state and ensure the safety of the students.
However, normal academic activities would continue in other schools, he said.
Education under attack in the north
Amnesty International on Tuesday condemned the Kankara abduction, saying education in northern Nigeria is under attack.
“We condemn this appalling attack, which is the latest in a string of grave human rights abuses by Boko Haram. Since 2012 hundreds of teachers, schoolchildren and students have been killed or wounded by Boko Haram, and thousands of children have been abducted.
“Attacks on schools and abductions of children are war crimes. Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for several attacks on schools in the past and must be brought to justice for these and other human rights abuses.
“These children are abducted in serious risk of being harmed and being forced to become child soldiers. Nigerian authorities must take all measures to return them to safety, along with all children currently under the custody of Boko Haram.
“Education is under attack in northern Nigeria. Schools should be places of safety, and no child should have to choose between their education and their life,” the Amnesty said.
Also, the House of Representatives has called on the federal government to halt the threat being faced by educational institutions from bandits, kidnappers and insurgents in the northern and other parts of the country.
The call was made after a motion on matters of urgent public importance moved by Rep. Musa Sarkin Adar and 75 others during plenary.
The lawmakers noted that schools not only in the north have been attacked by criminal elements and students abducted in many instances.
They recalled that in April 2014, the Girls Secondary School Chibok, Borno State was attacked and 276 female students were kidnapped.
They said that another attack was launched at Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, in Yobe State in February 2014, whereby dozens of students were murdered and classrooms set on fire.
“In February 2018, 110 school girls aged between 11 and 19 years were kidnapped from the Government Girls Science and Technical College, Dapchi in Yobe State.
“Similar attacks include Babington Junior Secondary School, Ikorodu, Lagos State, Turkish International Secondary School, Isheri in Ogun State, Lagos State Senior Model College, lgbonia in Lagos State and Government Girls Secondary School, Moriki in Zamfara State,” the lawmakers said.
The House, therefore, called on the federal government to urgently bring to a halt, the attacks on educational institutions across the country.
Nigeria ridiculed internationally – ACF
The Arewa Consultative Forum has described the current security situation in the country as sad, stressing that it was ridiculing Nigeria in the eyes of the international community.
Addressing journalists shortly after its first Board of Trustee (BOT) meeting in Kaduna, the Forum, through its National Publicity Secretary, Emmanuel Yawe, said the federal government appeared not to take proactive measures to end the ugly situation.
“ACF complained about this insecurity in its October meeting, nothing was done. We are in December with the same complaint, nothing is being done. We are even tired of complaining. The government should have the love of the poor man at heart because it is the poor man that is suffering,” he said.
On its part, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) asked security agencies to “dig deeper” and tackle the security challenges bedevilling the nation.
Governor of Yobe State and Chairman of the APC Caretaker Committee, Mai Mala Buni, in a statement yesterday, described the abduction as sad, saying it was a difficult moment not just for the families of the student victims, the government and people of Katsina State, but the entire country.