It is two weeks since students of the Federal College of Forestry Mechanization, Afaka, Kaduna State, were abducted and parents of the victims are saying they have no idea what the government of the state is doing to free their loved ones.
Overnight on March 12, unknown gunmen whisked away 39 college students to a forest. Hours after their abduction, a video surfaced online showing how the students were being caned and cowed in the bandits’ den.
Their abductors had demanded N500 million ransom but the Kaduna State Government vowed not to negotiate with them. Yet no significant steps have been taken to free them. Although the state and the federal government had promised to rescue them, not much has been heard regarding where they are being kept.
While the students are languishing in their abductors’ den, their parents and relatives are in tears and agony. Ibrahim Shamaki, the father of one of the abducted students, Fatima Shamaki, has died of heart attack. FIJ gathered that Ibrahim had been sick since he heard of the abduction of his daughter. His health had since deteriorated until he died on the eve of Friday.
The Kaduna State government has been criticised for its unwillingness to negotiate with the kidnappers. Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, the Governor of the state, had been pilloried on several occasions for insisting that negotiating with bandits is synonymous to merchandising terrorism.
The abduction of the Afaka college students came after the attacks and abductions by bandits on schools in Katsina, Niger, and Zamfara states. And the governments of the aforementioned states had rescued the abducted school children basically through negotiation with their abductors.
‘WE’RE IN DARKNESS’
However, following El-Rufai’s insistence on not negotiating with bandits, worried parents and relatives of the students have accused the Kaduna government of neglect. They accused the government of blocking their access to kidnappers in order to stop them from negotiating with them.
Abdullahi Usman, the husband of one of the kidnapped students, said the government has put them in darkness and fear since the incident happened.
“There is no information on their whereabouts for now. We’re not in talks with the kidnappers. They’ve only been talking to the government and we’ve not been told anything yet,” Abdullahi told FIJ.
“They kidnapped my wife. Unfortunately we lost my in-law yesterday, that is her father. So for now, we’re in darkness.
“But we’re talking to the government so that they will give us the kidnapper’s contacts so that we can liaise and negotiate with them. We’re ready to pay the ransom so that they can release our people.”
‘WE’RE LEFT TO OUR FATE’
Friday Sani, another parent whose two female children were kidnapped, said the government had abandoned their matter because none of the family members of the authorities are involved.
“We’re left to our fate. Just as you know, the government has said it can not in any way have a negotiation with the bandits. We may say they don’t want to encourage subsequent incidents. Professionally, telling the military to drop their arms and negotiate with bandits is like undermining their profession,” he told FIJ.
“We as parents are opting for a negotiation in the most safe means of bringing us the children. We had a meeting with the government functionaries yesterday and they were telling us that they are trying their best. But to us their best is not enough because the result of their best is on the table to see.
“We are asking that since the government cannot negotiate and the military have not also succeeded in bringing out the victim, we want to use another option of allowing we the parents to see how we can get contacts and speak with the bandits and if possible negotiate with them, if they will accept.”
He reiterated that the Kaduna government was not forthcoming “because none of their children is among the victims”.
Mike Odeholonta, a journalist and social commentator in Kaduna, said the government was reluctant to negotiate with the bandits because most of the students kidnapped are Christians. He noted that over 20 of the students are non-Muslims, saying “religion and ethnicity have come to play”.
He also said bandits are reacting to the Kaduna government’s insistence not to negotiate with them.
“Kaduna is currently under siege of bandits’ attacks,” he said. “The bandits have intensified attacks following the government’s attitude that they are not going to negotiate with them.”
He advised the Kaduna government to take precautionary steps in stemming subsequent attacks in the state.
When FIJ contacted Samuel Aruwan, the spokesperson to the Kaduna State government, he said he was not available to talk. “I’m in a meeting. I’m busy… I said I’m in a meeting, I can’t talk now,” he said.
He did not pick our reporter’s subsequent calls when hours later.
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