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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

The Abducted Children Of Kuriga And Other Stories

By Reuben Abati

On March 7, 2024, we all woke up to the bewildering news that students of LEA Primary School and Government Secondary School, and at least one of their teachers had been abducted in Kuriga, Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna state. The figure was put at 287. About the same period, 16 students had been abducted in Tsangaya, Sokoto State. Still in Kaduna state, just about a week earlier bandits attacked the Gonin-Gora community, a suburb of Kaduna metropolis and abducted 16 residents. We are in a situation in Nigeria today, marked by creeping anarchy and full-blown impunity whereby abductions, banditry, and terrorism no longer constitute any special news. What confounds is the seeming helplessness of the Nigerian state and the audacity of the criminals. The bandits who kidnapped 16 persons in Gonin Gora on February 28 in fact asked for a ransom of N40 trillion. Nigeria’s total budget for 2024 is N28.7 trillion, and yet bandits are bold enough to ask for almost double that as ransom. Those who kidnapped the pupils of Kuriga and their teacher were a bit modest. They asked for N1 billion. The sheer size of the ransom demands points to one thing: that the crime of kidnapping is now a big business in Nigeria.

There are persons among us who live off the proceeds of kidnapping, banditry and terrorism and they are unapologetic about it. They have become so bold they ply their trade in the open, even in the Holy Month of Ramadan and Lent, something that was thought unthinkable in recent years. The bandits have lost their conscience. They are no longer touched by the spirit or season of Holiness. This is an indication of how bad things have become. It is in fact so bad that one report states that since President Tinubu’s assumption of office in May 2023, a total of 4, 777 persons have been abducted. Tinubu did not invent the crime of kidnapping – remember Chibok (2014), Dapchi (2018), Kankara (2020), Kagara (2021), and Jangebe (2021) before him, but it has since become worse under his watch. Large-scale, unprecedented insecurity stalks the land. Just when Nigerians were grieving over the abductions in the North, it was reported further that 17 soldiers of the Nigerian Army had been killed in Okuama community in Ughelli South Local Government Area of Delta State. The soldiers were butchered. Also in Ohoro Forest, Delta State, six men of the Nigerian Police Force who had been deployed in search of their missing colleagues were ambushed and killed. Six other policemen have also been declared missing. In Okigwe, Imo State, two more policemen were killed in the month of March. Anomie could not have chosen a worse time to manifest.

It is therefore not surprising that President Bola Tinubu, commander in chief of the armed forces whose 72nd birthday comes up on Friday, March 29, has now declared that he would rather use the occasion to reflect and rededicate himself to the service of Nigeria. I consider his chosen sobriety in keeping with the spirit of the times. No commander in chief should dance on the graves of his own troops. Indeed, times such as this call for sober reflection, not just on the part of the President alone but all of us. How did we get to this point that nobody is safe anymore, and the people are so opposed to the men in uniform that they even kill them for sport? President Tinubu has declared that there will be no drinking or dining on Friday. He has directed that nobody should place any adverts in the media to celebrate him. Whoever wants to mark the day should donate whatever they have to charity. I applaud the choice that the President has made. And incidentally, March 29, this week falls on Good Friday, the Friday before Easter, the significance of which is the crucifixion and death of Christ, the Son of God who sacrificed his life, so that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have Everlasting life (John 3: 15-19). The key symbolism is sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice of Christ, and the end of the Christian Holy Week. Thursday or Maundy Thursday is the commemoration of the Last Supper of Christ. On Friday, he was crucified, and He ascended to the Heavens. On Sunday, Easter Sunday, He rises, and the brethren break out in joyful celebration. President Tinubu is well advised to set aside Friday, March 29, as a day of sober reflection even if he made no reference to Christian orthodoxy, or that we are in the Holy Month of Ramadan, as Nigeria has no state religion, so explicitly affirmed in Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution.

It is however, nonetheless a week of good news, with the rescue of the kidnapped pupils of Kuriga, and the 16 abducted persons of Tsangaya in Sokoto state. The Defence Headquarters of the Nigerian Military had announced that due to the collaboration of the Federal Government and state/local authorities, the latter had been rescued and handed over to the Sokoto State Government and that the former, abducted on March 7 have also been rescued. Even in the face of the tragedy of the murder of 17 of their men in Delta, the Nigerian Army remains faithful in active service to its mandate of protecting the integrity and sovereignty of the Nigerian state. This is noteworthy. The pupils of the LEA school and the Government Secondary School in Kuriga, Kaduna state, were yesterday handed over to the State Governor, Senator Uba Sani and the school authorities and their parents. Kidnapping episodes in Nigeria do not always have happy endings, and even with this, there are unanswered questions. We were told on March 7, that a total of 287 persons were abducted from the morning assembly in the affected schools. But now, nobody seems to know the exact number of the persons that have been rescued, other than that one teacher died, and that 137 pupils have been rescued.

The state government insists that this is the correct figure. But some other accounts are quoting 168. This is the terrible thing about Nigeria. In a country without correct population figures, and a proper identification system, we don’t know how many we are, we can’t account for goats or sheep, not to talk of human beings! Our schools don’t have a proper register of pupils or teachers. The students do not have identification numbers either. This is one country where human beings including uniformed officials of state can just disappear without trace, and they may never be found. It took the Nigeria Police Force, for example, a whole month to confirm that six of their men had been killed and another six were missing. The most ridiculous thing in Kuriga as of yesterday is that we were counting on parents to confirm if their missing children had returned. Some of the parents reportedly died during the agonizing 17-day wait, like one woman whose four children were abducted. Nigeria failed her.

This should be a major point of reflection for President Tinubu. He has promised that he understands his responsibility to make this country safe for all and that he will put mechanisms in place to that effect. He must. His opponents have even told him not to wait. I refer to the Waziri Adamawa, Presidential Candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar and Mr. Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP). Every other group, including the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) and the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) has asked that Nigeria must be made safe, for everyone. Tinubu’s big problem is that whereas people were willing to make excuses for President Buhari before him, the story out there is that Tinubu must live up to his election campaign boast that he performed wonders in Lagos, and that he will do it again in Nigeria. Buhari’s odd reputation is that he sleep-walked through the eight years that he was President. Tinubu must avoid a situation whereby before his very eyes, Nigerians would start saying that they are now missing Buhari, and that they were better off during the Buhari years. The sad story is that this is beginning to happen. Somnambulism, better still, playing possum, cannot be a strategy of leadership.

Under Buhari, people could eat bread, rice, beans, and plantain. In today’s Nigeria, even barbers and tailors are quick to tell you that the dollar has gone up against the Naira. Please what is a tailor or a barber doing with the foreign exchange market? The kind of thing we are beginning to see is that under Tinubu’s watch, a Binance Holdings Executive, Nadeem Anjarwalla, one of two persons accused of financial crimes against Nigeria, has disappeared from state custody, in broad daylight. The man simply vanished, we were told, from a guest house and fled to the Middle East even when his British passport was in the custody of the Nigerian authorities. We can’t even secure accused persons? Oh, come on. What is this? I have heard some persons saying that one big lesson Tinubu and his team would need to learn is that Abuja is not Lagos. Please, can we all get serious and sit up straight? The President of Nigeria must ensure that whoever had a hand in the killing of uniformed men in the Delta or that helped Anjarwalla (the Binance Ajantala – that is – Yoruba folk phrase for an abnormal creation) is made to answer for it. That Ajantala must be brought back here to answer to the charges against him, and on no account must the other Binance man who is still in our custody disappear. Tinubu must not take any form of nonsense from those who intend to ridicule him and are beginning to show their hands. There is no way Anjarwalla will find his way to the proverbial Aja escape hatch without the help of Nigerian officials.

Now back to the children of Kuriga that returned yesterday. The Federal Government has been making heavy capital out of the claim that the Federal government did not pay any ransom to get the children back. It is unfortunate that this seems to be more important to them than providing necessary counsel for the affected families and ensuring that this does not happen again in another school. If government officials think they are deceiving us, we are not deceived. The kidnappers asked for N1 billion as ransom. Yes, President Tinubu said the government will not pay ransom, but does anyone expect the sensible people of Nigeria to believe that the kidnappers who asked for N1 trillion just woke up on a good side of the bed and then decided to release the children, most of whom are between the ages of 8 and 15? When government officials feel like telling lies, they must learn to do so in an intelligent manner. The belief out there is that the real meaning of the collaboration between the Federal Government and state/local authorities is that money exchanged hands, and that the kidnappers made good money. Please stop passing off a dog to us as a monkey. A dog is a dog. A monkey is a monkey. There is so much monkey business going on. Otherwise, the actual story should have been that in the course of the negotiations, Federal authorities arrested and demobilized the kidnappers and bandits, but that never happens. In Nigeria, kidnappers always come across as benevolent spirits who release the hapless victims that they capture. Someday, for sure, we hope that the names of kidnap chieftains will not make the National Honours List, and become a bad comment on the state of values in our land.

There has been some talk about making our schools safe. A Commander of the National Safe Schools Response Coordination of the National Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) has been quoted as saying that the Federal Government is planning to deploy Civil Defence Officers in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) as School Safety Protection Squad. We have been on this School Safety Programme for decades. It is just another monkey business. I don’t believe that we are serious about it. I think that government thinks this is a joke. Our schools don’t even have blackboards. Most of them have no roofs. No fence. The teachers don’t get their salaries when due. In many public schools across the country, there are no desks, no windows. In parts of the North, students sit and receive classes under trees. Once upon a time in Kaduna State, the teachers were made to sit for the same examination with the students. The students passed, most of the teachers failed! That is the kind of ridiculous educational system Nigeria is running. Serious-minded and privileged parents have learnt to send their children abroad and to private schools at home. When President Tinubu begins to reflect, soberly on the occasion of his 72nd birthday, away from the noisome crowd of sycophants and opportunistic aides and family members, let him ponder upon these things and how to help the various afflicted families of Nigeria from the Niger Delta to the North West and elsewhere regain a sense of true citizenship and value…Have a happy birthday sir. Best regards.

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