Twenty-eight students of the Bethel Baptist High School, Kaduna, were released on Sunday after spending 20 days in bandits’ den.
Those who regained their freedom were among the 121 students who were abducted when bandits invaded the school on July 5.
The PUNCH gathered that the bandits released the students after collecting N50m as ransom.
On Sunday, there was panic among the parents of the remaining students as the Nigerian Baptist Convention said 87 schoolchildren were still with the bandits.
In Kebbi State, parents of the 83 students of the Federal Government College, Birnin Yauri, who were still in captivity since their abduction 40 days ago, told The PUNCH that their abductors were insisting on the release of their colleagues arrested by security agents.
About 136 pupils, who were abducted from an Islamic school at Tegina, Niger State in May, spent 54 days in bandits’ den on Sunday.
In Kaduna State, there were mixed reactions as bandits released 28 students of Bethel Baptist High School, Damishi in the Chikun Local Government Area of the state.
It was gathered that the bandits demanded a N60m ransom, but N50m was raised by the school and some parents who contributed what they could afford.
Some parents, whose children were not released, were anxious over their safety.
A parent whose daughter was not released said that they were surprised that the bandits were still keeping 87 students.
He said, “The school and some parents raised N50m. Some parents contributed the amount they could afford. The bandits told the school to bring the money to a designated place. The money was taken to them. We thought they would release all the students, but we were surprised when only 28 were released. My daughter is among those still in captivity. I am praying for her safety.”
The PUNCH had ,on Friday, reported that the bandits contacted the management of the school and demanded more food items.
Also on Friday, The PUNCH reported that the NBC had contacted some of its chapters to raise the ransom demanded by the bandits.
The President of the NBC, Rev Israel Akanji, had, in an interview with The PUNCH, said, “We have been boxed in; we have been given no option but to look for ways to rescue the children.”
But contrary to the claim of those who said the bandits were given N50m, Akanji in an interview with journalists on Sunday said no ransom was paid by the church.
Most of the 28 students, who regained their freedom after spending 20 agonising days in their captors’ den, looked pale, while others had rashes all over their bodies on Sunday.
At exactly 11:21am on Sunday, the students arrived in the school premises amidst songs.
Bandits said they would release students in batches – Proprietor
While addressing the parents, some of whom arrived at the school as early as 7am, the Proprietor of the school, who is also the President of the Kaduna Baptist Conference, Rev. Ishaya Jangado, said the bandits stated that they would release the abducted students in batches.
Jangado, therefore, appealed to the parents to bear with the management of the school and remain calm, noting that the “good Lord who started the work, will complete it.
“God has answered our prayers. By the grace of God, I have been talking to these people (bandits) and they told me they would be releasing the children in batches. Are you getting me? They are in batches and they have released the first batch. I am trusting God that very soon again, others will come.
“So, please, I am begging you, calm down. This good work that the Lord has started, He will complete it. We never knew we would be here today but God has proved Himself to be faithful.”
Hope not lost, CAN appeals to parents of students still in captivity
On his part, the Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria in the state, Rev. John Hayab told the parents to exercise some patience as the leaders of the Baptist Church were doing everything humanly possible to see to the release of all the students.
Hayab said, “Please if your child or children are not among the first batch released, hope is not lost yet.
“We are going to celebrate the return of these children in batches. So, we are celebrating with the first 28 parents and we shall celebrate with the other ones shortly and likely even with all.
“The Lord will do it. So, please, don’t be confused and don’t say things that tomorrow, you will not like it.”
I can’t speak for others involved, but we didn’t pay any ransom, we’re against it, says NBC president
Speaking to journalists shortly after reuniting the released students with their parents, President, NBC, Akanji, assured parents that all the students would soon be reunited with them.
Akanji said that with the release of the students, 87 students were still in the custody of the kidnappers.
He reiterated the Church’s stance against payment of ransom to kidnappers, debunking claims that a N100m or N60m ransom was paid before the students were set free by the bandits.
According to him, the Baptist Church as an organisation does not believe in the payment of ransom and will not pay ransom.
Akanji, however, said he would not speak on behalf of those who “probably were involved in certain ways but as for us as a group, we do not choose ransom as an option.”
He said, “We informed the government that this thing had happened and spoke at various levels to security agents. We spoke to the governor of the state and the governor said he was going to do his best to ensure that the children are out.
“We have waited. It’s three weeks now and finally, we are grateful that we have this batch that has come. So, know that a few came before. All together now, we have received 34 out of the 121. We are still expecting 87 to come back, who have not come back yet.”
Although three of the students had earlier been rescued, Akanji didn’t explain how he arrived at the remaining 87 students in bandits’ den.
He further stated, “I have heard a lot of information on ransom payment. Some said we paid N60m, N100m and even after now, I don’t know what people will say.
“What we said when we came originally is that we as a church, we don’t believe in ransom and we will not pay ransom as a church because it is not right to go and pay people who have done what is wrong in order to release the children. We also believe that it is wrong to do that.
“However, you know that we are not the only ones that are concerned about the children. There are parents. There are well-wishers. There are friends and neighbours too.
“All those are struggling for the children to come out. Therefore, we cannot really restrict people from their actions in getting these children out, but as a group we do not believe in ransom paying.
“We believe that children that were taken should be brought back. Well, I cannot answer for those who probably were involved in certain ways but as for us as a group, we do not choose ransom as an option.”
According to the clergyman, the bandits used an unknown telephone number to inform those involved in negotiations to go to a particular place and pick up the 28 freed children.
Akanji said: “They(bandits) kept them in a place and we went there and found the children there and picked them in our vehicles and brought them here.”
When asked if the state Governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, rendered any assistance in the release of the children, Akanji said it was God who freed the children and not the governor as he earlier promised.
He said, “We actually expected that whatever that he was doing should have resulted in the release of these children before now. However, they were not released and we kept being agitated.
“We wanted the promise of the governor to be fulfilled earlier than it finally got fulfilled. Right now, I cannot say exactly what he has done because he himself was not ready to give us the details of what he would be doing but he said he was going to do something. Whatever it is he has done, all we know, God has released these children. We have been praying. We have been struggling and God has released them.”
Mix reactions as 28 students reunite with parents
A parent, Mrs Jummai Francis, whose daughter, Marvelous, was among the first batch of 28, said she was grateful to God for “He has shown His face to me.”
She said she had the belief that her daughter would arrive safely and prayed that none of the other remaining children would be harmed.
Another parent, Mr Hosea Maisamari also expressed gratitude to God, saying, “I just want to thank God for He has done it for me.”
When asked if he would still allow his daughter to complete secondary education in the school, he added that the decision would depend on the school management.
My daughter did her birthday in the bush – Parent
A parent, Mr Bege Danboyi, said his daughter, Louis, celebrated her birthday in the bush.
“She was to start her National Examinations Council exams on the day she and others were abducted. She celebrated her birthday on July 23 in the bush but glory to God, she is back.”
But in Kebbi State, efforts of the management and parents of the abducted students of the FGC Birnin Yauri have not yielded any results.
One of the parents, who spoke to one of our correspondents, on condition of anonymity said, “As far as we are concerned, the government attitude to rescue our children is not only lackadaisical, but a gimmick to buy time and giving us false hope.
“When a delegation of the PTA visited the governor, he told us the government was on top of the situation to rescue the children but he would not be able to disclose the strategies to us for security reasons. Since then, the state government has not taken any tangible step to return our children.
“It is true that some parents were contacted on the phone by their children, under close supervision by their kidnappers but, disappointedly, our security agencies could not track the bandits with their phone numbers.
“The voice recording of the bandits where they demanded ransom, not from the parents of the kidnapped students, but categorically from the government is in the public domain. They also demanded the release of their members in government custody.
“We are gradually running out of patience and since the government is foot-dragging on the rescue of our children, we will be left with no option but to take a bold step to rescue of our children.”