Some of the students say they were notified of the attack before it happened.
Ahmed still believes the attack of Tuesday could have been averted if he and his colleagues had relayed the intelligence they got hours earlier to the school management.
“On that day, we were sitting in the hostel then we got a phone call from our friends that armed bandits are coming to our school. But we did not care. We just told our school head boy to tell the management but he did not do so,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.
Ahmed, a final year student of Government Science College, Kangara, the headquarters of Rafi Local Government Area of Niger State, was amongst those that escaped during the attack that led to the abduction of at least 42 people including students, staff members and their relatives.
Two of the five hostels in the school – Barde and Lafene halls- were raided by the bandits.
One of the students, Benjamin Doma, was murdered during the attack, PREMIUM TIMES gathered.
According to the state government, 27 students were kidnapped alongside 15 others. The 15 include officials of the school and their relatives.
As of the time of filing this report, none of the 42 kidnapped people had been rescued but the government and security agencies have assured that they will be released unhurt.
On Friday evening, the Niger State Government announced that its negotiation with the criminals has reached the final stage, raising hopes that those in captivity will be freed by Saturday.
When PREMIUM TIMES visited the school on Friday, it was virtually deserted after most occupants relocated to other villages while students of the school had been asked to go to their respective homes.
The state government, after the attack, ordered the closure of all boarding schools in four local government areas, including Rafi, Mariga, Munya and Shiroro, where the bandits have been very active in the last two weeks.
Security operatives, deployed after the abduction, were seen at the Kankara school’s entrance and its vicinity.
Students narrate experiences
Ahmed was one of the five students who shared their experiences with PREMIUM TIMES in their various homes in the village.
“At about 12:00 a.m., we started hearing gunshots. By the time we opened the door, we saw them. They were many. They were shining torchlights and shooting,” he narrated.
He noted that some of his colleagues got injured and were robbed of their valuables.
“They beat some of our classmates. They collected money from them. They collected phones from some.”
Ahmed said Benjamin was killed around 2:00 a.m., adding that the attack lasted until around 5:00 a.m.
“Some of the junior students went to pray in the mosque around 4: 45 a.m. and they came back shouting that the bandits were still around,” he said.
Another student, Usman, said he called his mother, who instructed him to remain on the same spot until security operatives came to their rescue.
“We were in the hostel when we heard that armed robbers are going to come to our school. I now got my phone and called my mother, I told her and she said ‘yes, they heard that”. But we should not go out. So we remained in our hostels. At about 1 a.m. we heard gunshots around the school. We did not go anywhere but quietly hide (hid) somewhere.”
“It was when we were hiding we heard them around and there we remained until 5 a.m. when we heard the arrival of security operatives. We came out and saw the dead body of our fellow student (Benjamin). Some students were taken away and also some of our teachers,” Usman told our correspondent.
Corroborating the experiences of the students, one of the teachers, who does not want his name mentioned, because of the sensitivity of the matter, said the bandits came in from the bush, and moved through the admin block to Barde hostel.
He said it was one of the teachers who were accosted by the armed men that directed them to where the hostels are. “When they saw that the students in Barde hostel were not enough, they moved to Lafene to pack some,” he said.
According to the teacher, the students were tied together “in twos with their clothes”.
Very early in the morning, the kidnappers packed them all to the bush where their motorcycles were parked and zoomed off, he said.
On the death of Benjamin, the teacher said he was shot after flashing a torch at the bandits.
“He didn’t know what was going on. So, as he pointed his torch towards their side, they shot him immediately.”
Students dispute government’s figures
Meanwhile, all the students who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES countered the government’s claim of 27 missing students.
They maintained that the students abducted were majorly SS3 and SS2 and they were more than 27.
“They are more than 27. They are almost 50 to 60 apart from the staff and their families,” Ahmed said.
After the incident, the government released 27 names of the missing students.
Checks by this newspaper coupled with the interviews with the students and teachers showed that 12 of the names released are SS3 students while 11 are SS 2 students.
This newspaper could not ascertain the class of the remaining four students.
However, all the students interviewed mentioned two SS 3 students whose names were not found on that list. They are Fauzullah Dauda and Bashir Dada.
The principal of the school, when approached on Friday, refused to speak to PREMIUM TIMES. He referred our reporter to the ministry of education.
“I cannot grant any interview,” he said.
But one of the teachers who witnessed the attack said they arrived at 27 after a headcount of the students when they were leaving the school after the invasion.
All efforts to get the spokesperson of the ministry of education to comment were unsuccessful as his known telephone number was not reachable.
Support from locals
Local hunters and members of the vigilantes have joined in the search for the missing students and workers.
Apart from the surveillance being carried out by the groups, they are also attending to security alerts in different areas.
Abdullah Adamu, one of the hunters who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES, condemned the government’s decision to negotiate with the bandits.
“Why person go negotiate with terrorists. People that should be killed. Kai!” he exclaimed.
When PREMIUM TIMES visited the palace of the Emir of Kagara, Salhu Tanko, his secretary, Abdulkadir Bala, said he was ill..
He said he monarch is ill and has been admitted in a hospital.
Nevertheless, Mr Bala reassured the people of the support of the traditional council.
“We cannot say we are not aware of the incident but our people know that we are always with them. We are working with the state government and security agencies to bring all these to an end,” he said.
(Editor’s Note: The real names of Ahmed and Usman were changed to protect their identity and ensure they suffer no form of victimisation).