FG says no ransom paid for release of Kaduna schoolchildren

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The federal government has shed more light on the circumstances surrounding the release, weekend, of the 137 schoolchildren kidnapped from Kuriga in Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State, saying no ransom was paid.

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All the 137 kidnapped schoolchildren from Kuriga were released on Sunday, while the 17 Islamic school pupils kidnapped in Sokoto were released on Saturday.

Speaking with newsmen yesterday in Abuja at the end of the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, presided by President Bola Tinubu, Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, however, added that the controversial Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, was not above the law and could be cautioned and even reprimanded when making unguided statements.

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The Nigerian Army handed over 131 of the 137 rescued Kuriga schoolchildren to the Kaduna State governor, Senator Uba Sani.

While receiving the children, Sani regretted the death of a member of staff of LEA Primary School and the Government Secondary School, Kuriga, Mr. Abubakar, in captivity of the terrorists.

Briefing newsmen yesterday, Idris said, “Mr President and members of Council were happy to note that, as promised by Mr. President, these children were reunited or have been rescued from the captors and as usual and in keeping with the commitment of Mr. President, no ransom was paid.”

The minister disclosed that FEC and the president had expressed their appreciation to the National Security Adviser (NSA), the security chiefs, and others who participated in the process that led to the freedom of the captives.

He stated, “The Federal Executive Council and Mr. President are very grateful, to especially the National Security Adviser, the service chiefs, and all security agents, who participated diligently in ensuring that these kidnapped children are reunited with their families.”

Idris further assured that the federal government would continue to prioritise the protection of the lives and property of Nigerians. He stated that those currently feasting on the gaps in the country’s security situation and perpetrating all manners of criminal activities would soon be fished out and made to face the wrath of the law.

According to him, “Government is determined to ensure that the lives and property of all Nigerians are protected at all times and Mr. President has also charged security agencies to ensure that these kidnappings are brought to a halt finally in this country.

“Indeed, all those who are participating in this criminal act will be fished out by the security agencies and will never go unpunished.”

Idris confirmed that the number of schoolchildren kidnapped was the exact number rescued, as there was no information to the effect that any of them died or was held back by the kidnappers.

He said, “There was a question that reports that 287 of these children were taken. What I can tell you is that there is no report that any of these kidnap victims either died or has been withheld. So, all those that have been taken, have been brought back in safety to their families. I can tell you that.”

On the controversial comments and interventions by Gumi, Idris said he was aware that the cleric had been a guest of security agents to answer questions in the past, saying government would not hesitate to go after anyone it believes has questions to answer, as no one is above the law.

He said, “What I can tell you is that government will not stop at anything to get any kind of information that it requires to solve our problems. The security agencies are doing their best. Sheikh Gumi, or any other individual for that matter, is not above the law.

“If you have suggestions that are constructive enough for the security agencies to take, they will take, but if they think that he is also making some statements that appear to be reckless, he will also be reprimanded.

“There is nobody that is above the law in this regard. And I’m aware, let me put it here, that I’m aware that he has also been a guest of the security agencies to answer questions.

“When you make remarks, especially remarks that border on national security, it is incumbent on the security agencies to dig further into that, and they are doing just that. No one is above the law in this direction.”

Army Hands over Rescued Children to Sani

The Nigerian Army handed over 131 of the 137 rescued Kuriga schoolchildren to the Kaduna State governor, Senator Uba Sani.

General Officer Commanding (GOC) I Division of the Nigerian Army and Force Commander, Operation WHIRL PUNCH, Major. Gen. Mayirenso Saraso, handed over the children to Sani at Government House, Kaduna.

Saraso said all the 137 children were rescued unhurt, and six of them were currently receiving medication at the army health facility in Kaduna.

He said the only teacher, Abubakar, who was abducted alongside the children, died while in captivity.

The GOC said the children were rescued in Dansadau forest in Zamfara State through sustained and coordinated application of both kinetic and non-kinetic efforts by the security agencies under the strategic guidance of President Bola Tinubu.

He stated, “Recall that on Thursday, 7th March 2024, some violent extremists and insurgents (VE/I) infamously called armed bandits invaded the LEA Primary School and the Government Secondary School both co-located at Kuriga, in Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State, where they criminally abducted several pupils and students, including a staff member of one of the two schools.

“Through the sustained and coordinated application of both kinetic and non-kinetic efforts by the security agencies under the strategic guidance of the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu GCFR, through the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), the abducted Kuriga school children have in the early hours of yesterday, Sunday 24th March 2024, been safely rescued after spending about 16 days in captivity.

“The students were initially received and administered first aid at the Nigerian Army Troops Forward Operating Base, Dandadau, in Zamfara State, before being served refreshment and, subsequently, conveyed from there under escort to Kaduna this morning/afternoon.

“In all, there were 137 children and one staff member making 138 persons altogether that were abducted from the co-located schools on the ill-fated day. But, unfortunately, the staff member, Mr Abubakar, is not here with us today because he died while in captivity.

“Consequently, there are here at present a total of 137 students of the Govt Secondary and LEA Primary Schools Kuriga in Chikun LGA of Kaduna State, who were successfully rescued from captivity around Dansadau forest in Zamfara State and safely brought back to Kaduna.

“The breakdown of the figure of the rescued children shows that there are 76 females and 61 males, making the total of 137 altogether (less the teacher that died while in captivity).”

The GOC thanked Tinubu for his support and strategic guidance, through the Ministers of Defence, NSA, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), service chiefs, heads of other security and law enforcement agencies, the Kaduna State government, and the GOC, 8 Division of the Nigerian Army, who severally contributed to the successful rescue efforts and the safe return of the school children, “without payment of ransom.”

In his remarks, Sani expressed happiness over the safe return of the children and thanked the security agencies for their effort.

The governor also warned the media, insecurity and conflicts merchants to be cautious of issues concerning security.

He said, “We have to be cautious, we should not politicise the issue of insecurity in Nigeria. Any attempt to continue to undermine the efforts of security agencies in Nigeria in the name of politics is jeopardising the lives and property of our innocent citizens in Nigeria.”

He added, “I want to caution particularly the media and some elements within the society. Since the return of these children, they have been coming with some permutations about what happened and how this children were released.

“In my own opinion maybe most of these people are not happy that these children are back, because if they are happy, they should celebrate it. That is the most important thing, just like the families of these children are celebrating their returns.”

The governor said his government was happy over the release of the children.

He stated, “We had 16 days of sleepless nights but today we are happy that the children are back and I want to emphasise again that in Kaduna, we will continue to work with relevant security agencies to ensure that all our communities are safe at the grassroots.”

Sani called on communities to tackle the issue of informants in their midst.

The schoolchildren arrived Government House about 2pm in buses belonging to the 1 Division of the Nigerian Army amid tight security. They were dressed in new clothes and shoes and were in high spirit. But journalists were prevented from interviewing them.

Their parents were conspicuously absent at the event. It was learnt that the absence of the parents was to prevent them from interacting with the media.

The state government was expected to host the children to a dinner in the evening (yesterday).

Meanwhile Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) said the rescue of the 137 abducted schoolchildren signalled a new dawn in anti-terrorism measures being adopted by the government.

In a statement in Kaduna, the forum expressed joy over the safe return of the children.

The statement signed by the spokesperson of the forum, Professor Tanimu Muhammad-Baba, said the rescue of the children was highly commendable. It said the operation was made possible by collaboration between various security stakeholders and locals.

ACF stated, “This is as should be, as many have, indeed, been stridently calling for such an approach to stamping out for good, the menace of terrorism and banditry that has (posed) existential threats to communities in Nigeria.

“ACF also rejoices with the students, their parents and guardians.

“Going forward, ACF calls for strengthening this new anti-terrorism multi-stakeholder, multi-pronged strategy, involving all those with direct and indirect responsibilities for securing peoples and communities and, ultimately, Nigeria.”

The forum also called for intensified efforts towards the release of other captives, everywhere.

The statement added, “For Kuriga, this is vital, because the number of victims released is at variance with earlier figures of abductees as, indeed, reflected in various news reports.

“The adoption of simple but effective community-based measures, including simple or user-friendly gadgets, incorporating solid intelligence gathering and processing, for early warning, early response strategy to secure all vulnerable communities and facilities;

“Psychological counselling for the released victims so that mental effect of the trauma is minimised and they return to normalcy soonest.

“ACF reiterates its earlier call on the parents and students to remain defiant and not to be discouraged. The terror merchants must not be allowed any semblance of victory, pyrrhic as it will be; and the immediate rehabilitation of schools to make the learning environment conducive.”

 

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