The abducted schoolgirls of Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe, Talata-Mafara Local Government Area of Zamfara State, may regain freedom today.
A very competent source informed Sunday PUNCH on Saturday that negotiations with the bandits who kidnapped the schoolgirls had reached a very advanced stage, saying “they may be in Gusau (Zamfara State capital) today.”
Nevertheless, the Nigeria Police Force has said it will not suspend the ongoing joint rescue operation with the military and the Department of State Services to rescue the schoolgirls from their abductors’ hands.
Bandits on Friday morning kidnapped over 300 schoolgirls at Jangebe.
The girls were believed to have been taken to a forest by the gunmen, who abducted the schoolgirls by reportedly disguising as security personnel.
The incident is the latest mass kidnapping for ransom by armed gangs in the North in recent weeks.
A week earlier, bandits had kidnapped dozens of pupils and workers of Government Science College in Kagara, Niger State.
The abductees were released on Saturday.
Bandits had also last December kidnapped over 300 schoolboys from Government Science Secondary School in Kankara, Katsina State.
Meanwhile, a source told one of our correspondents on Saturday that the Jangebe schoolgirls might be freed today as negotiations between the bandits and authorities had almost been concluded.
According to the source, the kidnapped schoolgirls were kept in a forest between Dangulbi and Sabon Birnin Banaga in the Maru Local Government Area of Zamfara State.
“As I am speaking to you now (Saturday), vehicles have been arranged for their evacuation to Gusau town, the state capital,” the source said.
The source, however, refused to specifically disclose whether money was paid to secure the girls’ release from the bandits.
The source also said the kidnapped schoolgirls were 279 and not 317 as earlier reported by the media – though some of the girls were reported to have escaped from captivity.
In what appeared to be a confirmation that the girls would be released anytime soon, a parent of one of the kidnapped schoolgirls, Mallam Garba Ibrahim, told Sunday PUNCH on the phone that “we have been intimated by the authorities of this good news.”
Another parent, who pleaded anonymity, also said, “They told us that we should relax because our children have already been released by their captors.”
The parent said two of his daughters were among the kidnapped schoolgirls.
Also speaking, the father of three of the kidnapped schoolgirls, Mohammed Gashi, said he had been intimated of the positive development.
Gashi said he had four daughters in the school, narrating that his fourth daughter was able to escape from the school premises during the abduction.
Gashi said he was in his house when he received the news that the bandits had agreed to release his daughters.
“You cannot imagine how happy I was when the news came to me that our children will be released soon,” he said.
“I have been unable to sleep since the children were abducted because their mother died when she (the mother) was kidnapped two years ago,” he added.
However, the Zamfara Police Public Relations Officer, Mohammed Shehu, refused to confirm whether the girls would be freed or not.
“When tomorrow comes, we would know. For now, no further comment on the matter,” he said in a response to questions from one of our correspondents.
We expect good news anytime from now –Zamfara govt
Meanwhile, the Zamfara State government says it is expecting good news on the abducted schoolgirls.
The state government, however, refused to either confirm or deny the rumours that the state and the abductors had reached a truce concerning the expected release of the schoolgirls.
But the state Commissioner for Information, Suleman Anka, who spoke with one of our correspondents, insisted that the state was hoping to welcome the schoolgirls soon.
He said, “We are hoping that they (the schoolgirls) would be back soon. We have that hope and belief. We are expecting good news concerning them soon. That is all I can tell you.”
We aren’t going back on joint rescue operation, police insist
Nevertheless, the Nigeria Police Force has said it will not suspend the ongoing joint rescue operation by the police, military and men of the Department of State Services in Zamfara State.
The Force spokesman, Frank Mba, said this in an interview on Saturday.
When asked if the rescue operation would be suspended on account of the reported negotiation initiated by the state government, Mba said, “Our operations are still ongoing.”
He declined further comments and also refused to comment on the negotiation process.
Prodded about an update on the rescue operation, Mba said, “That’s a very sensitive operation and we don’t disclose such information. At the right time, we shall brief Nigerians.”
The Inspector-General General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, on Friday dispatched two helicopters and operatives for the rescue of the abducted schoolgirls.
Adamu also disclosed that the military, police, and DSS operatives had commenced coordinated search and rescue operations in Zamfara State.
Zamfara govt gifts Kankara schoolboys’ abductor free education
As part of the amnesty-for-bandits initiative of the Zamfara State government, the brains behind the abduction of over 300 schoolboys in Kankara, Katsina State last December, Awwalun Daudawa, will get the support of the state government to return to school.
The Special Adviser to the state Governor on Media and Communications, Zailani Bappa, told Sunday PUNCH that Daudawa and his gang had recently embraced the peace dialogue of the state government.
Bappa disclosed this to Sunday PUNCH while advocating amnesty for repentant bandits.
He said, “They (repentant bandits) are living with us in the towns. As a matter of fact, you know the leader of the gang that kidnapped the Kankara schoolboys, Awwalun Daudawa, came and submitted himself to the Zamfara State government.
“All his boys also surrendered themselves and their weapons. He is with us and said he wants to go back to school. The state government will assist him in his education. This is what amnesty for repentant bandits can achieve.”
Daudawa, reportedly on the orders of the Boko Haram terrorist sect, led the abduction of over 300 schoolboys from their school on the outskirts of Kankara, Katsina State on December 11, 2020.
The pupils were released six days later from where they were being held in a forest in neighbouring Zamfara State.
Earlier this month, Daudawa reportedly surrendered to the authorities in exchange for an amnesty agreement.
Zamfara State government said Daudawa and six other bandits handed over their weapons, swearing on the Holy Quran not to return to their former practices.
APC faults Matawalle’s amnesty
Following the rampant cases of banditry in Zamfara State despite the amnesty initiative of the state government, the state chapter of the All Progressives Congress has faulted the peace accord by Governor Bello Matawalle.
In a statement, the state APC Caretaker Committee chairman, Lawal Imam, advised Matawalle to stop paying lip service to the security situation in the state, advising him to seek help in the fight against banditry.
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