News of the release of the pupils of Salihu Tanko Islamiya School, Tegina, on Thursday night threw Tegina town, in particular, and Niger state as a whole into wild jubilation.
While their parents and government officials were happy seeing them, the pupils were, however, not happy with the way they were treated by the bandits during their stay with them.
One of the victims, Furera Isah, while narrating their ordeal in the abductors’ den, said they were beaten every day throughout their stay with the kidnappers.
He also revealed that the abductors fed them with only rice and kunu.
Almost in tears, Isah said, “They beat us often. We were fed but only with rice and kunu. They would call us out in the night and beat us. We were never comfortable. They beat us every day, but they fed us three times a day with just rice and kunu, throughout the period we stayed with them.
“They called us to beat us every day, but they allowed us to say our prayers. Sleeping was also another problem. We slept in a shabby place under the rain and the sun.”
Another pupil, who merely gave his name as Musa, added that he would not wish any of his enemies the experience he and his fellow students had in the hands of the abductors.
He said since the day they were abducted, the kidnappers always beat them “mercilessly,” adding that they were not spared even when they begged their tormentors.
He said, “We went through hell. We were beaten and they even threatened to kill us, if our parents did not pay the ransom they demanded.
“We begged them, they did not listen. Though there were a few of them who realised that we could not influence the early payment of the demanded ransom, others did not care.
“We told them we were poor and that our parents were mere farmers. But they neither listened nor cared about us, even though we were speaking the same language. I will not wish my worst enemy undergo what we went through in the hands of those wicked souls.”
My child could’ve died at home the same day he died in the forest – Parent
Meanwhile, the head teacher of the school, Mallam Abubakar Alhassan, whose child died in the forest, said he was still happy that the remaining pupils returned safely from the kidnappers’ den.
The Islamic school pupils, who were kidnapped on May 30, 2021, arrived in Minna, the state capital, in the early hours of Friday.
The children, looking weak and malnourished, were taken directly to a government health care facility within the Minna metropolis, where medical professionals were on hand to carry out checks on them. After the medical check-up, the pupils were fed.
As they were reunited with their parents, the head teacher of the school, whose son died at the hands of the kidnappers, said she was thankful all the same.
Alhasaan had five children in the school.
The head teacher was at the forefront of the process in the struggle aimed at getting the pupils released.
Despite what the pupils experienced, Alhassan vowed the experience would not deter them from continuing with their education in the school.
Alhassan, who declined to disclose the amount that was paid to the bandits before the release of the pupils, described the process leading to their release as “a long process”.
He said, “It is a long process as we can’t mention everything here. We received blessings from people that we know and the ones that we don’t know. The late Pastor TB Joshua prayed for us before he died, the Imams and other pastors, Muslim communities and a host of other people also prayed for the release of our students.
“I am feeling comfortable now that they are back. Only one died but we thank God that we got them (others) back alive. The child who died is my child. We are not closing down the school, we will continue with it.
“If we do close the school, the generation that we are protecting will feel bad. I believe it is my child’s destiny to die that day because if he was at home with me, he could have died that same day as well. So I thank God for everything.”
On the measure being put in place to protect the school in order to avoid another ugly experience, Alhassan said, “We usually protect the town before now. We will re-strategise and see how best to further protect the town and our school. We will take more measures to protect the school.”
One of the parents, Idris Umar, described the 88 days that the pupils spent in the kidnappers’ den as “the most dreaded 88 days of my life.”
“It is a terrible thing for a parent. We just heaved a sigh of relief now that they are back. We don’t wish that they (the kidnappers) come again but we will improve on our security in the town,” he said.
Asked if he would still allow his children to go back to the school, he answered in the affirmative, saying, “The school is secure but we will still do more to protect our children. I only saw my children from afar now, but they are fine.”
Meanwhile, the Niger State Governor, Alhaji Abubakar Bello, while receiving the pupils and reuniting them with their families, appreciated those involved in the rescue operation.
Recall that the pupils were released barely 24 hours after the governor returned from a security tour aimed at boosting the morale of security operatives in the state.
The security personnel were said to have flushed out bandits in Ma’undu community that was deserted by residents due to incessant banditry activities for about a year.
Bello disclosed that a total of 91 children and two passers-by were kidnapped out of which 92 regained freedom. He regretted that one of the pupils died in the hands of the abductors.
Bello expressed concern over the callous manner in which the bandits operated, adding that their activities were in no small measure discouraging parents from sending their children to school.
The governor, however, assured the gathering that the criminals would be hunted down and be made to face the wrath of the law.
He said, “This goes to show the sickness and madness in the heads of some people. Otherwise, I cannot explain or imagine why you should abduct an innocent three-year-old child and keep him or her for over 80 days.
“This has affected the morale and confidence in people and has made even parents to think twice before they send their children to school.
“However, I can assure you that we will do whatever it takes to bring the kidnappers to justice. We have put in place all necessary measures to hunt, arrest and prosecute those involved in this heinous act.”
The governor, however, said that the children had been examined and declared fit to join their families except for four of them who he said would require more medical attention.
Bello, while addressing journalists at the Government House, announced that only 92 pupils were kidnapped from the school instead of the 136 that was in the news before.
Nevertheless, he said the head teacher had explained that some of the parents misled them on the number of the children affected.
“We had a record of 136 but after three weeks, we discovered that some escaped but despite that, some parents who reported that their children were among later discovered that their children were not part of them (the kidnapped pupils.)
“They later found their children but they didn’t inform the school. What we see now are those we believed were taken away. So it became difficult to come out again to change the number,” he said.