Gusau, Abuja, Jos — The over 300 schoolgirls abducted from Government Girls Junior Secondary School Jangebe, Maru Local Government Area of Zamfara State in the early hours of Friday have been sighted at Dangulbi Forest, credible sources told the Daily Trust last night.
Gunmen stormed the school around 1am and abducted most of the students who are between 12 and 16 years old from their dormitories.
A school teacher who spoke to Daily Trust on the condition of anonymity said out of 600 students of Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe, only about 50 were left behind. However, the police in the state said 317 students were kidnapped while the Zamfara State Commissioner of Information, Alhaji Sulaiman Tunau Anka, said the exact number of abducted students was yet to be ascertained.
Daily Trust last night gathered that security personnel and officials of the Zamfara State government have established the identity of the girls' abductors.
An authoritative source close to the efforts to secure the release of the girls told Daily Trust Saturday that the window of engagement was being opened to discuss with the armed bandits.
"The schoolgirls are being held at Dangulbi Forest in Maru Local Government Area," one of the sources said.
The source, who craved for anonymity because he had no permission to speak on the incident, said they mystery behind the abduction would come to the fore soon.
The forests between Dangulbi and Maru are known enclave of bandits who for years have been terrorising residents of neighbouring villages.
The Zamfara State government said security operatives have launched a manhunt for the criminals. Governor Bello Matawalle has been pushing for a dialogue with bandits for peace to reign while the abduction happened hours after the state government said some repentant bandits had surrendered their arms.
Boarding schools shut
The Zamfara governor yesterday in a state-wide broadcast ordered the closure of all boarding schools in the state.
Matawalle said his heart is with the families of those affected by the abduction.
"My dear good people of Zamfara State, this is not a moment to trade blame. The recent twist in the spate of banditry brings to the fore the need for the adoption of a uniform strategy across all the affected states.
"I appeal to the people of the state to remain calm and resist the evil machinations of those who would want to exploit the current situation to achieve political ends. Insha Allah, with our collective resolve, we would emerge out of this situation stronger," he said.
Second school attack in ten days
News of the latest abduction comes nine days after armed men abducted some students of Government Science College, Kagara, Niger State. The government is yet to secure the release of the students.
The first major attack on a school by an armed gang happened in Borno State, where over 250 students of the Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, were abducted on April 14, 2014. Four years after, gunmen hit Government Girls' Science and Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe State, and abducted 119 students. In December 2020, over 300 male students were abducted at Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State.
Parents pull down doors, windows
Some parents of the remaining students damaged some property in the school when denied access to their daughters.
One of the teachers at the school said some angry parents pulled down doors and windows of the school after Friday's kidnap incident.
Speaking with Daily Trust, the teacher said many parents trooped to the school after the incident. He said some of those whose children were abducted slumped in the school while those who found their children unharmed, made efforts to take them away but the school authorities initially stopped them for safety concerns.
However, the parents were said to have reacted negatively, forcing the authorities to allow them to have their way.
"Initially, the school authorities prevented them from leaving with the remaining students but they got angry and began to pull down doors and windows of the buildings in the school and the authorities had to yield to their demands," he said.
Survivors left shattered
Some of the students who escaped told Daily Trust Saturday that the gunmen had in their midst women wielding sophisticated guns who went from bed to bed waking them up.
"One woman in black attire woke me up by banging a gun on my bed and shouting at me. I woke up in fear. I observed that dozens of my colleagues were being sent out of the dormitory. Some of them covered their body with their blankets," a student, Madina Hamisu Kawaye said.
She said she sneaked under a double bunk as the armed woman went to wake other students from their sleep. She shared the space under the bed with two other students.
"They were asking for money and phones, one of the women among them asked for the house captain and the matron. I overheard one of the gunmen telling someone on the phone that they had just entered the school and that they had begun gathering the students in large number," she said.
She said one of the gunmen spoke in Fulfulde adding that "it was really a terrible moment for us. We could not get out of our hiding point until they vacated the hostels."
Another survivor simply identified as Zainab escaped into the toilet when they were gathered near the school's mosque about to be taken to the vehicles.
"I sneaked out of the crowd and ran inside the toilet. From where I was hiding inside the toilet, I heard gunshots as their vehicles zoomed off into the forest. We were crying and pleading with them to spare us," she said.
A parent in Kawaye community in the neighbouring Anka Local Government Area, Malam Sadi Kawaye, said his two daughters Mansura and Sakina were among those kidnapped.
"I got to know about the abduction around 3am and immediately after Subhi prayer, I left for the community where the school was located and came back along with five girls from our community who managed to escape. Nine are with the kidnappers," he said.
Tense atmosphere in Jangebe as police call for calm
The atmosphere in Jangebe community was tensed when our correspondent visited yesterday. Some visibly disturbed residents stood in front of their houses while others pelted vehicles conveying government, security officials, and journalists. A journalist was injured in the attack.
Abutu Yaro, Zamfara State Police Commissioner, appealed to the residents not to take the laws into their hands but support the rescue efforts.
He said 317 students were abducted from the school, adding that security operatives are on the trail of the abductors.
"We have verified and unverified intelligence report and we are working assiduously to see that the girls are rescued and united with families," he said.
When he and other top security operatives visited the community hours after the incident happened, Yaro said efforts were in place for the rescue of the innocent schoolgirls.
UNICEF, EU react
The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) said it was "angered and saddened" by the abduction. UNICEF Nigeria representative Peter Hawkins called the kidnap a brutal attack.
"This is a gross violation of children's rights and a horrific experience for children to go through one which could have long-lasting effects on their mental health and well-being," he said in a statement.
Hawkins said they utterly condemn the attack and called on those responsible to release the girls immediately and for the government to take steps to ensure their safe release and the safety of all other school children in Nigeria.
UNICEF acknowledges efforts being made by the Government of Nigeria to secure the release of kidnapped school children in Nigeria and calls on the government and all concerned to make schools safe in Nigeria.
Also, the High Representative and Vice President of the European Union Delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Josep Borrell has called condemned the recent increase of mass kidnappings and attacks in North West and Central Nigeria.
In a statement on Friday, Borrell called for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, including the Kagara schoolboys taken more than a week ago in Niger State, and the hundreds of girls abducted on Friday from their school in Jangebe, Zamfara State.
"Children must not suffer from the consequences of conflicts. They must be protected as they have a key role to play in building a present and a future, where peace will prevail, as we have stated at the occasion of the international day against children in conflict. The EU is ready to engage further with the Nigerian authorities and other international partners in order to help protect civilians from such terror."
Lawan, Shehu Sani, others condemn attack
Meanwhile, Senate President Ahmad Lawan has condemned the attack on the Zamfara School, calling on state authorities to accord priority to securing schools and other locations now seen as soft targets by savage criminals.
Lawan, in a statement by his media aide Ola Awoniyi, expressed sadness and outrage that the incident happened while efforts were still being made to rescue those abducted just over a week ago at another secondary school in Kagara, Niger State.
The Senate President said the recurrent attacks on schools and other acts of banditry call for intense soul searching on how the nation arrived at this sorry pass and how to cage the monster of violent crimes in Nigeria.
Also, Senator Shehu Sani described the incident as sad and unfortunate. He said on his verified Twitter handle @Shehusani, "Every of our daybreak comes with its tragedy. Our clock ticks on horror."
"If there is any wisdom that is desperately needed from the leadership of this country, is the urgency to end the bloodshed and extinguish the raging flame of lawlessness and paralysis of security in the northern part of Nigeria. Nothing matters until human lives and dignity matters," he said in another tweet yesterday.
We'll not succumb to blackmail tactics - Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari has warned that his "administration will not succumb to blackmail by bandits who target innocent school students in the expectations of huge ransom payments."
President Buhari gave the warning on Friday and said the abduction was inhumane and totally unacceptable.
According to the President, "no criminal group can be too strong to be defeated by the government," adding that, "the only thing standing between our security forces and the bandits are the rules of engagement."
"We have the capacity to deploy massive force against the bandits in the villages where they operate, but our limitation is the fear of heavy casualties of innocent villagers and hostages who might be used as human shields by the bandits," he said, stressing that "our primary objective is to get the hostages safe, alive, and unharmed."
President Buhari, in a statement issued by his spokesman, Garba Shehu, said "a hostage crisis is a complex situation that requires maximum patience in order to protect the victims from physical harm or even brutal death at the hands of their captors."
He warned the bandits: "Let them not entertain any illusions that they are more powerful than the government. They shouldn't mistake our restraint for the humanitarian goals of protecting innocent lives as a weakness or a sign of fear or irresolution."
The president, who appealed to state governments "to review their policy of rewarding bandits with money and vehicles warned that the policy might boomerang disastrously."
He also advised states and local governments to be more proactive by improving security around schools and their surroundings.
Enough is enough - Northern governors
The Northern States Governors Forum has said school abduction is becoming an unacceptable trend.
The forum in a statement through its Chairman and Governor of Plateau State, Simon Lalong, said strong measures must be taken to put an end to it before it escalates into a monster that will consume educational pursuit and national aspirations.
"The assault on schools where innocent and harmless students are targeted should not be condoned in any way because it has the tendency to set the nation back to ignorance and more poverty. The northern part of the country in particular is more educationally disadvantaged and cannot afford to have these disruptions. Enough is enough," he said, urging security agencies to use every asset at their disposal to rescue the children and bring to justice those behind the act.
Tambuwal, Sultan pay sympathy visit to Zamfara government
Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal of Sokoto and the Sultan of Sokoto Alhaji Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar on Friday paid a sympathy visit to Governor Bello Muhammad Matawalle.
Speaking to journalists shortly after their meeting, Governor Aminu Tambuwal said the enemies of the country are unrelenting, and so all hands must be on deck to checkmate them.