The schoolgirls abducted from Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe, in Talata Mafara local government area of Zamfara State yesterday narrated their harrowing experience while in the bandits' den.
The 279 girls, who were abducted from their hostels in the early hours of last Friday and regained their freedom yesterday, said the criminals asked them (the girls) to marry them while others requested that they should teach them the English language.
The girls who arrived at the Zamfara State Government House in Gusau early yesterday wearing face masks and light blue and brown chadors had breakfast before visiting the hospital for checks before reuniting with their families.
The abduction of the girls on Friday was the latest in a series of school abductions witnessed in the country in the past three months.
Announcing their release, the state governor, Bello Matawalle, pegged the actual number of the students abducted against the 317 earlier given by the police.
Matawalle said no ransom was paid to secure their release, adding that the students were returned very healthy.
According to him, 30 repentant bandits were involved in the negotiations that led to the eventual release of the schoolgirls.
Recounting what they went through in the hands of the criminals, the schoolgirls said the bandits asked them to marry them, while others sought to be taught the English language.
A JSS 2 student, Hauwa'u Yusuf, said they were forced to trek for several hours and stopped intermittently under trees to rest for a while.
According to Hauwa, they trekked to a big ditch where all the schoolgirls were parked in.
On feeding the abductees, the abducted minors lamented that they were given a handful of rice to eat for the four days of the abduction.
One of the girls, Habiba Iliyasu, said she saw her father and elder sister in the kidnappers' den, but her father warned her not to show that she is related to him or else they would be killed.
"He signaled to me not to recognise him or my sister or else they would all be killed. My colleagues who got to understand that he is my father also asked me to heed his warning," she recounted.
Also, one of the abductees, Hunainatu Abubakar, said the abductors had asked them to pray for them to become good citizens.
"They ridiculed us, called us many bad names, threatened to kill us and then later, they asked us to pray for them to become good citizens and that we should teach them English language so that they could speak in English.
"We prayed for them but they said they did not have time to learn anything. They also asked those who either are from Kaduna or whose parents are policemen or military officers to step out but those whose parents are security men refused to be identified.
"They also threatened to rape us but their leader, Kasalle, warned them against that. They always added sand to our foods and only allowed us to dig for water with our fingers at a dry pond."
On whether she would continue with her education, Hunainatu who answered in the affirmative, however, said she would go back to Kaduna where she came from and continue her education at a day school in order to fulfill her dream of becoming a lawyer.
"Some of the bandits even asked if we would marry them but none of us responded and so they said they would be looking for those with big eyes and kill them, to which we all lowered our gazes," she added.
Asked if she could trace the bandits' hideout, Hunainatu said, "Though we were taken at night through the back of our school, l believe l can trace the location where we were taken and l can still remember their faces if l see any of them".
She also corroborated the story of Habiba Iliyasu who said she saw her biological father who was kidnapped over three months ago but that the man cautioned them against showing that she is her daughter to avoid being killed.
She said most of them returned with wounds and swollen legs because they were asked to leave their shoes on the day they were abducted.
Hunainatu said that they slept in the open while in captivity only to go into hiding along with the criminals whenever they heard the sounds of helicopters on rescue mission.
One of the parents, Akilu Mayanchi, said since the incident occurred last Friday they have been spending sleepless nights praying.
"This is a terrible situation, though we appreciate the efforts of the governor in the rescue of the students, but I'm planning to move out of Zamfara State and to another area," he added.
PMB Declares Zamfara No-fly Zone, Bans Mining Activities
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday declared Zamfara State a no-fly zone, even as he approved the ban of mining activities in the state.
The president, who read the riot act to bandits and insurgents wreaking havoc across the country, expressed what he described as "overwhelming joy" over the release of the abducted female students in Zamfara.
Reacting to the development, the president in a statement by presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu said, "I join the families and people of Zamfara State in welcoming and celebrating the release of these traumatised female students."
He warned that the time has come to reverse completely the grim and heart-breaking incidents of kidnapping.
"Ransom payments will continue to prosper kidnapping," he warned, urging the police and the military to go after kidnappers and bring them to justice.
On the declaration of the state a no-fly zone, the National Security Adviser (NSA), Maj Gen Babagana Monguno, who disclosed this to State House correspondents after the national security council meeting presided over by President Buhari at the presidential villa, stated that non-state actors causing havoc in the country have been placed on surveillance by the intelligence agencies.
He said, "Given the fact that we have a new organisation with new service chiefs, the President has charged all of us to redouble our efforts, especially in view of the occurrences of the last couple of weeks.
"The predominant issues raising concern for the entire nation remain kidnapping, banditry, and of course terrorism in the north-eastern part of the country. Apart from that, we've also had issues with farmers and herders, which have also resulted in some unpleasant ethnic situations.
"Now, His Excellency, the President has approved, based on our
recommendation, the imposition and enforcement of a ban on all mining activities in Zamfara State with immediate effect, until further notice.
"He has directed the Honourable Minister of Defence and the National Security Adviser to deploy massive military and intelligence assets to restore normalcy to that part of the country. He has also approved that Zamfara State be declared a no-fly-zone with immediate effect.
"Now, all non-state actors that have been causing problems for the innocent people, not just in Zamfara State or the Northwest zone, but also the Northeast and other parts of the country in the South-South, have been placed under surveillance by the intelligence agencies, we've had a lot of reports coming in; collusion with people from all walks of life."
He said the federal government was not averse to the application of non-kinetic means to resolve this problem, saying that the federal government will not hesitate to apply to the fullest its kinetic means to restore normalcy to the country.
Unravel Masterminds, Senate Charges Service Chiefs
Also, president of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, yesterday charged the newly confirmed Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and Service Chiefs to take the fight to bandits and insurgents in a renewed bid to ensure security of lives and properties across states in the country.
Lawan gave the charge during plenary in his remarks after the confirmation of the service chiefs' appointment by the upper chamber.
The confirmed service chiefs are Major General Lucky Eluoye Onyenucheya Irabor - Chief of Defence Staff; Major General Ibrahim Attahiru - Chief of Army Staff; Rear Asmiral Awwal Zubairu Agambi - Chief of Naval Staff; and Air Vice Marshal Isiaka O. Alao - Chief of Air Staff.
The Senate president who lamented the poor security situation in the country stressed that the confirmation of the service chiefs places squarely on them the responsibility of addressing the problems of banditry, kidnapping and insurgency.
He said, "Let me take this opportunity to thank the former Service Chiefs for doing their best, and also advise the Chief of Defence Staff and New Service Chiefs that Nigerians expect so much from them.
"We are in a very serious situation. The security situation must be improved, and the buck is now going to stop on their tables as far as operations are concerned".
Underscoring the importance of security in Nigeria, Lawan assured the new leadership of the military of the continued support of the National Assembly.
He described as "unacceptable" the recent activities of bandits which saw the kidnapping of students in Katsina, Niger, and Zamfara states, respectively.
He noted: "We in the National Assembly, particularly in the Senate, will continue to support our Armed Forces in whatever way is possible.
"We believe that there is no better investment today in Nigeria, and, indeed at any time, than investing in the security of our country, to protect the lives and properties of our people.
"And, therefore, we will continue to support them, but we expect excellence. We expect them - our armed forces - to take the fight to the bandits.
"In a situation where bandits will come to a school, take over 300 hundred students on motorcycles and disappear into thin air without any trace is not acceptable.
"Something has to give, because apparently this is becoming an industry. Some people are benefiting from this, and we have to unravel who this people are and fight bandits and insurgents until we rescue our country."
The confirmation of the new CDS and service chiefs by the Senate is sequel to the consideration of a report of the Senate Joint on Defence, Army, Air Force and Navy chaired by Senator Aliyu Wamakko (APC, Sokoto North).
We Must Collaborate With FG To End Insecurity - Governors
Meanwhile, chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) and governor of Ekiti State, Dr Kayode Fayemi, has called on his colleagues to join hands to end the act of banditry and other criminal activities in the country.
Speaking during a sympathy and solidarity visit to Zamfara State, Fayemi said state governments must collaborate with the federal government to deal with crime of all sorts.
He noted that incidence of students' abduction by bandits has continued unabatedly.
According to him, crime should not be attributed to any ethnic group, but be ready to deal decisively with perpetrators of the crime.
"It is our duty as governors to ensure that, criminals were brought to book to forestall occurrences of such acts," he said.
Fayemi stressed that there was a need for more cooperation and understanding among Nigerians.
The NGF chairman observed that violence has never solved any problem, but rather aggravated divisions in the country.
"We must continue to work together with the federal government in order to move this country forward," he added.
Fayemi, however, commended the federal government for its concern towards abduction of the schoolgirls.
He expressed optimism that the recent federal government's pronouncement that security would be marched with action.
Responding, Governor Matawalle while appreciating NGF, stressed the need for the meeting of the forum to deliberate and find a lasting solution to the menace.
He called on the National Security Council to act fast in order to crush the perpetrators of these ugly acts.
"We welcome any action the federal government would take to eliminate the bandits and make Zamfara State free and peaceful," Fayemi declared.
Troops Repel Attack On Dikwa As Insurgents Set LGA Ablaze
Troops of Operation LAFIYA DOLE yesterday foiled an attempt by Boko Haram terrorists and those of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) to infiltrate and attack Dikwa town in Dikwa local government area of Borno State.
The director, Army Public Relations, Brig Gen Mohammed Yerima, noted in a statement that the terrorists attempted to invade the town to loot food items and other logistics having got wind of the recent food distribution to residents of the town by the state governor, Professor Babagana Zulum.
He said the terrorist groups stormed the town in an unconfirmed number of gun trucks and motorcycles but the troops resisted with heavy bombardment and overwhelming firepower.
He said the troops of 81 Task Force Battalion with reinforcement from other formations of the Nigerian Army with support of the Air Task Force of Operation LAFIYA DOLE dealt decisively with the terrorists.
Again, Bandits Kidnap Over 50 Passengers In Niger State
Meanwhile, over 50 persons were said to have been kidnapped yesterday by armed bandits along the Tegina-Minna road in Rafi local government area of Niger State.
The abduction, LEADERSHIP gathered last night, happened at the same spot the 49 passengers of Niger State Transport Authority NSTA were kidnapped two weeks ago.
The incident, it was gathered, occurred when the three commercial vehicles conveying nine passengers including the drivers ran into the road block at Kundu set up by the bandits.
Residents said the passengers in the three cars were kidnapped at Kundu, between Yakila and Zungeru on the ever busy Tegina-Zungeru road of Rafi local government area of the state and were taken to an unknown location, leaving their vehicles by the road side.
An eyewitness account revealed that the Bandits blocked the road at Kundu town a few kilometers from Zungeru town and matched the passengers into the Bush.
Efforts to get the reaction of the state Police Command failed as at the time of filing this report, as the Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, ASP Wasiu Abiodun did not pick calls put through his line.
However, a senior government official who pleaded anonymity said up until this moment, nothing has been heard from the bandits for the government to identify those abducted.
The development came barely one week after bandits released the abducted Kagara schoolboys.