Some of the 136 abducted pupils of Tanko Salihu Islamiyya School, Tegina, Rafi local government area of Niger State, are reported to have fallen sick in captivity.
Their distraught parents are said to have visited churches and mosques to raise the ransom money.
The bandits had struck at the school about two weeks ago, whisking away 137 schoolchildren into captivity. Thereafter they demanded N200 million ransom. However, the state government said it was keen to have the children released but that it would not pay ransom.
Later, it was reported that one of the kidnapped children, a three-year-old, died after the bandits abandoned him for not keeping up with their pace.
It was learnt yesterday that the bandits contacted the headmaster of the school, Alhassan Garba Abubakar, and reported the children’s ill health.
The bandits told the headmaster that all the abducted pupils were still alive but that some of them had fallen sick because of the conditions they are subjected to over the past two weeks.
The headmaster also told LEADERSHIP that the bandits had lowered their ransom demand from N200 million to N150 million.
“I just finished speaking with them (bandits)and they confirmed all the pupils are alive but you cannot expect them not to be sick with the conditions they are now with the bandits”.
He said the parents of the abducted children had continued to raise money to meet the demands of the bandits.
“They have gone to churches and mosques to raise the ransom,” he said. “The amount raised so far has been a far cry from what the bandits are demanding before they release the pupils.
“I am not part of the committee of the parents going to churches and mosques to solicit for donations for the ransom money to be paid; so I cannot tell you the exact amount of money raised so far,” he said.
Asked whether they were collaborating with the state government to fast-track the release of the pupils, he said, “The government sent Rafi local government chairman and they claimed they were doing something; we don’t know what they are doing.”
Reacting to the development in an interview with LEADERSHIP, the secretary to the government of Niger State, Alhaji Ahmed Matane, said the bandits could use any kind of strategy to make the parents agitated to pay ransom.
He said the government was clear on non-payment of ransom but not averse to negotiation that will lead to bandits turning a new leaf and be embedded in the grazing reserves policy for them to have a legitimate means of livelihood.
The SSG said the government was in constant touch with the families of the abducted pupils and had given them confidence that efforts are ongoing to ensure the safe release of the pupils.
UNICEF Seeks Freedom For Abducted Niger Pupils
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has called for immediate and unconditional release of 150 students abducted at an Islamic school in Niger State recently.
UNICEF in a statement yesterday expressed concern over the fate of the children taken away by their abductors at Salihu Tanko Islamic School, Tegina, two weeks ago.
“We are appalled that two weeks after 150 students were abducted from their school, they continue to be held by their abductors,” Rushnan Murtaza, officer in charge and UNICEF representative in Nigeria, said.
Murtaza said parents had been grieving about the disappearance of their children while siblings were missing their brothers and sisters now in the hands of armed kidnappers.
She called for the release and return of the children to their parents and guardians.
She described attacks on schools and students as horrific, noting that children as young as three years, have continued to become Target of armed attacks and kidnapping.
Unicef called on the Nigerian government to take “all measures” to protect schools in the country. It also urged the government to implement the promise made in the Financing Safe Schools in Nigeria Confence in April this year.
“Schools must be safe places to study and develop, learning should not be a risky endeavour,” the UNICEF rep said.