Why kidnappers target schools
By Abdullateef Aliyu & Eugene Agha,
Two weeks ago, kidnappers stormed the Lagos Model College, Igbonla, Epe, Lagos State, where they kidnapped six students. The incident is the second such attack on the school within a year. Daily Trust reports the harrowing situation in the riverine community, and peers into possibilities why kidnappers target schools.
Parents, experts blame poor security
Igbonla, in the Yoruba language, literally translates to not just a big forest that boasts wild game and demons, it is one with intimidating qualities. A developing community in Epe, an old town in Lagos State, may have in the distant past been such a forest, but today it is simply an agrarian setting, innocent and unintimidating.
Igbonla is actually about 20 minutes drive from the Epe metropolis. It is surrounded by other communities like Ilara, Ibonwon and Iji. It is just like any other rural community in Epe, but is distinguished by the presence of a college, which runs a full-time boarding system with thousands of students enrolled in its junior and senior secondary schools. A drive towards the community from the Ibonwon junction, with borders of thick forest, allows a suggestion that Igbonla, indeed, has a history of intimidating credentials.
But today, rather than be intimidating, it is Igbonla that is being intimidated. Twice within one year, kidnappers had stormed the Lagos Model College, the only landmark that announces the community as a centre for educational tourism. Penultimate Thursday, May 25, 2017 when the kidnappers came calling again, they made away with six students. Till yesterday, their victims were still in their custody as the kidnappers continue to engage the students’ individual parents in discussions on ransom.
The second kidnap incident has thrown the community into chaos. The exodus of students of the school being dragged home by their parents, Daily Trust observed Thursday, aptly illustrates the disorder Igbonla is suffering.
The arrest on Wednesday in Benin, Edo State, of three of the kidnappers who abducted the students has done nothing to calm nerves in the community. The police may have succeeded in nabbing Egelu Endurance, alias Jubby, 25; Stanley Yomi Irabomini, 25 and Bentel Endurance, 24, all of whom the police said had confessed to being part of the ruthless gang of kidnappers that abducted the students, but the more important freedom of the girls remains a worry. By yesterday, there was still no news of the release of any of the abductees.
The kidnap of the students – Yusuf Farouk, Ramon Isiaka, Pelumi Philips, Peter Jonas, Adebanjo George and Judah Agbaosim – has deepened the apprehension that has been the lot of the school authorities and the people of the town in general since gunmen first stormed the school in October 2016 and took away two teachers and four students. They later demanded the sum of N20 million per head as ransom before they would release their victims, which they did after collecting the ransom, the exact sum which was not disclosed.
When Daily Trust visited the community during the week, students were yet to resume after the incident, and it was not clear they would resume any moment soon. About five policemen have been stationed at the school since the incident, while another patrol vehicle belonging to men of the Rapid Response Squad could be seen within the school.
The private security man at the gate prevented access into the premises, insisting there was an order from above not to allow anyone in. But a peep inside showed that there was no student in the premises, while only few teachers were around. “You can see the students have vacated the school since the incident happened, so what else are you looking for?” the security man snapped.
The community is suffering from the aftermath. Business transactions are dwindling, while some residents have been relocating to safer places for fear of the unknown. A neighbouring community, Iji, through whose waterway the kidnappers accessed the school, is said to be completely deserted. Residents of Igbonla and the neighbouring communities are crying to the federal and state governments to provide adequate security at the school to prevent a recurrence of the incident.
Mr. Wakilu Shuaib, a fisherman who resides in the community, is angry that all levels of government “have failed to act after the first incident” and maintained that political leaders and the security agencies seemed to be waiting until another kidnap happens in the school.
Shuaib said, “I am a fisherman but since the incident happened, I can no longer go to the river to work. Those women who produce gari cannot also go to their farms. We are not happy with what has happened to us. This is just a small community, yet we are being reduced in number everyday because of these attacks.
“You can take a walk around this community; you can count the number of houses in the village. This school is our pride, it is the only thing that gives us visibility. If not for this school, nobody would have known about this community. But it is so shameful and sad that this thing is happening to us. It is our hope and prayers that these students are returned safely because whatever happens to this school indirectly happens to us. Already, many people have been forced to leave this community for fear, as we don’t know when another attack will happen.”
As the fisherman said, the location of the school at Igbonla has been the community’s pride and has thrown it up into public consciousness. Unfortunately, it has also seemingly become Igbonla’s albatross. So what is the special attraction for kidnappers in the model college?
Shuaib said, “Even here, we wonder what can be the special attraction for kidnappers to this school. But some of us believe it is because they think many of the parents of the students here are rich and they can easily get huge ransom from them. We didn’t know how much they collected from parents the last time they came, so maybe that encouraged them.”
He appealed, “We need soldiers and naval men here to support the policemen. We need to have more security officers around to keep surveillance on the school and, by extension, the community. “I remember when the first incident happened, we thought they were Boko Haram people that came around and there was confusion in the community. Other students also scampered out of the premises and I am among the people that rescued them from the gully. I am imagining the trauma those kids would have gone through. Our appeal is for government to find a lasting solution to these frequent attacks by these so-called militants.”
Another resident of the community who identified herself as Mrs. Iyabo Olawale tasked the management of the school to improve the security of the school in order to protect the students. Mrs Olawale said, “Government should raise the school fence and probably install CCTV cameras that would signal security agents anytime these people are coming. This attack was similar to the first one. They came in through the water and left through the same riverside.”
Asked how the community reacted when they heard about the incident, she said, “We heard many gunshots in the early hours of Thursday and we thought the shots were fired by security agents who were patrolling the community. It was when we woke up that we got the news that some students had been kidnapped. We were taken aback because we never expected that this thing would happen again after the first incident.”
Parents of the kidnapped pupils have also been taking a swipe on the school authorities and government over what they called the authorities’ insensitivity to their plight. The parents, who met at Epe last Sunday to deliberate on the incident, confirmed that the kidnappers had established contact with them demanding N400m ransom.
But contrary to what Shuaib believed was the reason the kidnappers have made the school their target, the parents disclosed that the kidnappers made it clear to them that their grievances were against the government and the school authorities. But why the school authorities? The parents said the kidnappers didn’t expatiate; they only expressed concern on the frequent kidnap cases involving schools and urged the government to do more in area of security.
One of the parents, Pastor Samuel Akinola, said that they were told on arrival by some residents that the suspects entered the community through the Imeru/Iji waterways, and gained entry into the school premises after they had pulled down a portion of its back fence. The pastor noted that the school, which is located beside a swampy forest, should have been reinforced with armed security manning the back of the school, particularly after the last incident.
He also pointed out that last year’s incident should have prompted the state government to provide enhanced security for the students. He said, “These are children who should have their lectures under a conducive environment and not in a situation like this where fear is boldly written on the faces of the students. I am urging the state government to tighten security in the area. These children are our future. If the security is better, parents will bring back their children.”
The parents of the abducted students are livid with anger despite the arrest of the three suspects. Two mothers of some of the students reluctantly spoke in annoyance, condemning the government for “not improving security in the school” after the first incident. “You don’t need to interview us because this is not the first time something like this is happening. The concerned authorities should have done something about it by now. We are not happy with the situation and we don’t know if we can bring them back to this school even if the security is better,” one of them snapped.
Another, Mrs. Bolaji Eniola, noted that her children were yet to recover from the trauma which they went through in the previous incident. She said, “It is very bad they are making the children to go through this trauma. Now, another one has happened. We cannot keep our children where it is not safe and I don’t know if I can bring them back to this school.”
Another parent, Mrs Deola Daodu, said government should urgently address the porous security in the school. She said, “The state governor should come here himself to see how bad things are and how vulnerable our kids are. We pay our children’s school fees and if you fail to pay, your child will not be allowed in. But what have they done to justify the school fees we pay? The fence at the back is small. One does not need to enter inside the school compound to see the environment inside. I don’t know why we should bring our children here to suffer.”
Mrs Daodu disclosed that parents have resolved to bring back their children only if the government improves on the security situation around the school. “This place has become a centre for hoodlums who will just come and kidnap children and be demanding for ransom. Only God knows how the children are right now,” she added.
The Deputy Inspector-General of Police, D Department, Joshak Habila, described it as unfortunate. He, however, urged members of the public to be more security conscious, noting that those who abducted the school kids live in a house within a community and are known by members of the community.
A Lagos lawmaker, Mr Tunde Braimoh, urged residents, including religious and traditional leaders in the Epe area to end the activities of kidnappers by providing intelligence reports to security operatives.
Braimoh, Chairman, Lagos State House of Assembly committee on Information, Strategy and Security, noted that residents of the area had a role to play in ending the incessant harassment and kidnapping by gunmen, and needed to rise to the occasion.
He said, “The criminals are not spirits; they are human beings and they cannot do these things alone. If the people assist government with intelligence, such will not arise. If the people around that locality want to get rid of these incidents, they can. The criminals don’t fly or jump from heaven.”
A retired Assistant Inspector-General of Police (AIG) Ambrose Aisabo, blamed the spate of kidnapping on the high unemployment rate in the country, as well as on greed. Aisabo said the reason why kidnappers have made schools their targets, is because of the realisation that provision in schools was not adequate.
In a chat with Daily Trust, the retired AIG said, “The schools are vulnerable. The kidnappers believe parents of such students are prepared to pay any amount of money to rescue their children. They feel when they go to schools to kidnap, the level of resistance is very small, compared to when they kidnap in main towns. The security men in schools are not armed, and once it is 11 or so, they have slept off. And that is why it keeps recurring.”
He called for improved security, as well as improvement in the economic conditions of Nigerians, adding that government should try as much as possible to ensure that majority of Nigerians enjoy dividends of democracy. “They should try as much as possible to make things less difficult for average Nigerians,” he said.
Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr Fatai Owoseni, blamed the siting of schools close to rivers as one of the reasons that have made students vulnerable attacks from criminals, saying that kidnappers take advantage of the dangerous swampy areas to attack. He cited the area where the Nigerian-Turkish International School is located, as well as where most model colleges are built, as examples.
Owoseni also accused proprietors of schools of not providing adequate security arrangements despite collecting huge fees from parents. He, however, assured that the command now has an improved police visibility in and around the metropolis to thwart kidnapping. He also called on residents of such areas to avail the police with useful information about the movement of strange faces in their community, stressing that it was only by doing so that the police can combat crime effectively.
Owoseni said, “We need the people to volunteer useful information to the police. We also encourage people to be security conscious. Report the movement or the presence of strange faces in your area to the police. You may be saving a life close to you if you do so.”
Source: Daily Trust