●I met my abducted dad in bandits’ camp, says student
●Gov: Repentant bandits assisted in the release
Students of Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe, Zamfara State have been released after four days in captivity of their abductors. The girls yesterday relived their experience while being held hostage by the gunmen who kidnapped them from their hostel on Friday. Recounting her ordeal, a 13-yearold girl, Shatu Ahmed, said the abductors always asked them to quickly rush and hide under the trees any time search and rescue fighter jet flew over the area so that they would not be seen. Shatu said they slept in a dried water channel littered with excreta and dried human parts. According to her, it was an indication that the bandits used to defecate there and also drop victims’ bodies there. She said: “Mostly in the night, during our stay at the camp, I witnessed frequent visits by some people who did not look like the people living in the forest.
They only came and parked their Jeeps far away from the place we were being detained. It is only the bandits who used to meet them. They would discuss before they drove away again. “We had to ease ourselves with escorts standing behind us.
They watched us throughout the nights to avoid escape of the captives. Some of those we met there were chained while waiting for the payment of their ransom by their families.” One of the schoolgirls, who refused to give her name, said she met her father at the bandits’ camp. According to her, her father had earlier been kidnapped by the bandits. She said: “I saw him tied with rope and from all indications they wanted to kill him because I heard when a bandit shouted at him because of ransom. He later cut my father with a machete.
“When we first arrived the camp, my father saw me among the abductees, but he quickly gave me a sign with his hand that I should not show any sign that I even knew him. I could not eat until we were released because of the terrible things I saw.” Another school girl, Jamila Aminu, said they were not tortured by the abductors while at their camp in the forest.
She said: “They only flogged any person that defied their orders. “They fed us once or twice daily with a handful of half-cooked white rice. One sachet of pure water was shared among four of us and that was all for the day. If you hesitate to move forward to collect your package, then there would be no food for you that day.” A 12-year-old girl, Fatima Usman, said the bandits’ leaders had on their arrival at the camp warned their boys not to make any attempt to sexually harass the abductees. According to her, none of the bandits defied the order until they were freed. Another girl, Hafsat Anka, said the captives threatened to kill, fry and eat them if they misbehaved. Hafsat added that they trekked over a long distance from the school and had a stopover for some hours before they reached their destina-tion.
She said: “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.
He was the one that stopped them from touching any of us.” According to her, the bandits wore military uniforms and claimed they defeated the security officials by invading the school and successfully whisking the girls away. Hafsat, who said she was happy for being rescued, pointed out that she would continue her studies but as a day student. On her part, Hunainatu Abubakar said the abductors asked the captives to pray for them to be good citizens. She said: “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 English. “They also threatened to rape us, but their leader warned them against that.
They always added sand to our food and only allowed us to dig for water with our fingers at a drying pond.” Hunainatu said she would go back to Kaduna where she came from and continue at a day school to fulfil her dream of becoming a lawyer. She added: “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.” Hunainatu said that although they were taken at night through the back of their school, she could trace the location and can still remember their faces if she saw any of them. 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.
Hunainatu said they slept in the open while in captivity only to go into hiding along with the criminals when they heard the sounds of helicopters on search and rescue mission. Some of the victims’ parents who went to Gusau from different parts thanked God for the release of their children. They urged government to continue to provide security for communities.
The girls arrived the Government House, Gusau, at about 4a.m. under escort of a large number of security personnel. A driver of one of the buses in the convoy said they picked up the girls at Bingi forest near Buruwaye village in Maru Local Government Area of Zamfara State. Expressing his appreciation over their release, Governor Bello Matawalle said although all the 279 students were in good health, they would still undergo medical checkups. Matawalle assured parents of the girls and the citizens of his administration’s commitment towards provision of security of lives and property in the state. The governor said repentant bandits assisted security agencies in the operation that led to the rescue of the schoolgirls.
Matawalle, who received the girls at about 5a.m., said the 279 girls were returned safely without paying any ransom. He said: “This is the result of our peace effort and putting to shame all those saying there is no security in this country.
“We have been in discussion since Friday with the abductors and reached agreement on Monday by 4p.m. that the girls were released. “We are happy that all 279 have safely returned, they will undergo medical checks and given balanced diets by the state government to recuperate before they are handed back to their respective families. “I want to appeal to parents not to remove their children from school as a result of this; we will ensure additional security in all the schools.” The governor congratulated parents of the victims and Nigerians for the safe return of the girls.