Students of the Government Science College Kagara, Niger State, their teachers and other persons kidnapped by gunmen in the early hours of February 17, remain in custody eight days after because the condition for a swap proposed by the abductors is yet to be met.
The school abduction came about two months after a large number of students were abducted in a similar style from a secondary school in Kankara, Katsina State.
Niger State Governor, Abubakar Sani Bello had confirmed that the government was negotiating for the safe release of the abductees.
Two former heads of state who hail from the state, retired Generals Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) and Abdulsalami Abubakar, have asked government and security agencies to employ all means necessary to secure release of the abductees.
The Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar who was in Minna, the Niger State capital over the kidnapping, said the police knew the identity of the abductors.
Daily Trust gathered from reliable sources familiar with the ongoing negotiations that the kidnappers, who operate between Birnin Gwari in Kaduna State and Rafi Local Government in Niger State, had demanded for the release of six members of their group arrested at different times by security agents.
The abductors, it was learnt, demanded the release of the identified persons arrested as the only condition for them to release the abductees.
One of the sources said the Niger State Government has engaged security agencies in an active search for the persons to effect the swap.
"Four of them are so far identified. Two were located in Katsina, and one each in Kaduna and Niger states," he said.
Identifying the two remaining gang members, Daily Trust learnt, was what was delaying the conclusion of the process.
As the dialogue with the bandits continued, governors from the North under the Northern Governors Forum (NGF) are scheduled to meet in Kaduna today and tomorrow, with insecurity on the top agenda.
'Employ all means to rescue Kagara abductees'
Babangida and Abdulsalami urged the federal and state governments to consider all possible means to secure the release of the victims.
The former leaders who were worried by the situation expressed concern over the continuous stay of the children and their teachers in the hands of the bandits.
The two elder statesmen who expressed reservations on government dialoguing with the bandits, said they will support it if that would be the best way to secure the release of the victims.
Both leaders expressed this while speaking during the visit of the delegation of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) led by the Chairman, Dr Kayode Fayemi.
According to Babangida, "The safety of the children is of the utmost importance for now. We want them to come out safely without anyone being hurt. Any measure the government takes to secure their release will be okay."
On his part, Abdulsalami said, "Dialogue is not the best way but when you are the one wearing the shoe, what will you do? He asked.
"Our children have been abducted for over five days, even if you know where they are, it will be foolhardy to storm there and fight them (bandits) because there may be casualties.
"Sometimes there is a need to see the best way you can talk to these heartless people to see how you can get these people released. But dialoguing is not the best way."
While speaking on the solutions to the insecurity situation in the country, the two elder statesmen said that the bulk of the work falls on the table of the law enforcement agencies in putting up strategies to prevent future incidences.
"Going forward, it requires a lot of planning and thinking but these problems can be overcome. The law enforcement agencies need to work together to map new strategies on how to deal with the problem," IBB said.
Meanwhile, Abdulsalami in his own submission said, "The best way is to make sure that this doesn't happen again and for it to succeed, the security agencies need to step up their game."
Abdulsalam further urged the governors to stop inciting speeches and take their responsibilities seriously.
Earlier, NGF Chairman Fayemi told the two leaders that they were in Niger State in solidarity with the government and people in the state.
He said all resources would be employed to prevent future occurrences.
Gunmen kill 18 in 2 Kaduna LGAs
Bandits have killed at least 18 people and abducted an unspecified number of residents in multiple attacks in Igabi and Chikun Local Government Areas of Kaduna State.
Daily Trust gathered that in the last 48 hours, seven people were killed in Anaba village of Igabi while eight were killed when gunmen invaded Barinje village in Chikun LGA.
Kaduna State Government, while confirming the attacks, said bandits had also attacked the loosely connected communities of Kwarten Rigasa, Kwarten Waziri and Kwarten Shaku within Igabi LGA and in the process, killed one Danjuma Isa from neighboring Ungwan Kanti village. The Kaduna State Government also stated that gunmen had invaded Sanhu Makera village in Igabi and killed one Yakubu Abdullahi, a farmer while unknown assailants on Tuesday killed one Maryam Lash Tahir in an unusual circumstance around Ministerial Pilot Housing Estate, Millennium City, Chikun LGA.
While speaking with Daily Trust, residents of Barinje said the bandits attacked the village on Tuesday around 6 pm, shooting residents at sight.
Hassan Silas said residents have now relocated to Buruku town adding that many had sustained gunshot wounds while the bandits had abducted a toddler and rustled about 100 cattle.
Kaduna State Commissioner of Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan stated that in Anabe, the bandits had also burnt down houses, storehouses and barns as well as escaped with 20 cows.
According to Aruwan, the attacks on soft targets at Anaba and Barinje villages in the two LGAs followed the killing of several armed bandits via targeted air operations in which probing shots were fired at bandits on motorbikes.
"Suspicious movements were sighted at Goron Dutse, the sources of which were promptly engaged and neutralised. Also, at Kuyanbana, a long convoy of motorcycles was observed heading into the forest, which was likewise vigorously engaged and neutralized," he said.
The commissioner said Governor Nasir El-Rufai had noted the reports with sadness and sent condolences to the families of all those killed in the attacks, while offering prayers for the repose of their souls while wishing the injured a quick recovery.
By: Abdulaziz Abdulaziz (Abuja), Romoke W. Ahmad (Minna) & Lami Sadiq (Kaduna)