The situation looks grim, confusing, nerve-racking, slow death, and grossly uncertain. These are some of the immediate ways to describe the plight of parents of the 39 students of the Federal College of Forestry, Kaduna, who today, have spent two weeks, that is 14 days, in the forest somewhere in the North-Western part of the country.
A widow whose only child was abducted, presently has her world hanging in the balance. A staff of the college with two daughters somewhere out there in the forest, yet for the sake of his daughters and that of others, is doing a yeoman’s job, coordinating efforts from the parent’s angle while another, whose child is also missing, unable to have any form of communication with him, shuttles between St. Gerald Hospital, Kaduna on visits to other parents who have been hospitalized because of the trauma of having their children held captive by murderous bandits.
The situation for the parents, some of whom spoke with Our Source, is even more discomforting, almost hopeless, and disheartening, as they complained that they are totally in the dark as to the whereabouts of their children and the extent of efforts to secure their release through dialogue or have the security agencies rescue them.
According to the parents, both the Federal and state governments have chosen to remain silent, treated them with disdain, and failed to show any form of empathy for their plight and that of their children, many of whom they said were captured barefoot and almost unclad.
Tired of Waiting
One of the parents, Samuel Kambai, in a telephone interview with Our Source, said they are tired of waiting without any meaningful feedback on efforts to rescue the students and have decided to hit the streets again today, Thursday, to call the attention of the world to what they are going through.
He said: “We have been up and down in an effort to get a lasting solution and to bring our children back home. This morning (Wednesday), we spoke with the Provost of the College, who said that a meeting was ongoing to provide feedback that would make us know the condition of the children and when they are coming back. According to him, he is also working tirelessly to also see the outcome of the issue, adding that he was at the Commissioner of Police office to discuss how the children are coming back.
“We, the parents don’t know what to do! We are still waiting and believing the feedback we are getting from them but we have also agreed that by the end of today (Wednesday) if we don’t see our children, we are going back to the streets because we are tired. Today would make it thirteen days they have been in the bush and we still have no idea about their condition or what is happening to them.”
Groping in the Dark
The distraught parent also disclosed that no one, the bandits, the government, or security agents have contacted them. He added that they have also tried in vain calling the phone numbers of their children. According to him, the bandits are only communicating with the government but the government has refused to talk to them.
“We even tried to see the minister of the environment while he was in Kaduna but he denied us access. We also tried seeing people from the state government but we got the same response, saying they can’t see us.
“We have not heard anything from them. We are the ones trying to contact them but to no avail,’’ Kambai said.
Why the Sudden Change?
Speaking further, Kambai queried the hard stand of Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai in refusing to negotiate with the bandits for the release of their children. According to him, it is confusing why a governor that once told the world that he had to negotiate and pay huge sums to bandits so as to stop them from killing innocent people in Southern Kaduna has remained adamant in his new ideology and endangering the lives of their children.
Kambai said further: “As far as I’m concerned, before now, Governor Nasir el-Rufia made a statement that he was ready to negotiate with bandits and even pay them money to ensure there is no more kidnapping or killing in the state, but unfortunately we are surprised to see that this same governor who made this statement has come out to say that he is not ready to negotiate with bandits. We believe that if it were to be his children, they would be out by now. But since they are not his, that is why he is making such statements.
“We are now saying they should connect us with these people so that if it comes to it, let us make negotiations with them to get our children back. We are ready to do that if they are not ready because we are tired of waiting and our children are still in the bush; we just want our children back.
A Harrowing Experience
Kambai also painted a grim picture of what the parents have been going through for the last 14 days, with many of them unable to sleep, others developing high blood pressure, while some have been hospitalized.
“To be honest with you, on this matter we have not been sleeping; some of the parents have developed high blood pressure. I just came out of St Gerald Hospital where I went to see some fellow parents there because of the condition of their children.
“Like one of us, her only child, a girl is today in the bush, so we feel bad. We are not happy about it and don’t know what to do. Some of the parents even said we should go into the bush and begin to search for our children because we have been hoping that the government would do something, but up till now, they have still not done anything,” he said.
A Passionate Appeal
Kambai, on behalf of the parents, however, appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari and Governor el-Rufai to urgently intervene in the matter, help search for their children, and bring them back home.
“We are begging them, the state government and the federal government to please help us find our children because we believe they can bring our children back.
“No one would want to see his child in the situation we saw them in the videos that were posted online. We are just begging the government to help us because of the condition we saw our children in that video, we do not like it, that is why we are using this opportunity to beg the government to please help us out because we do not have where to go again.
Motion Without Movement
Another parent, Mr. Sunday Sani, who is the leader of the parents of the 39 students and a staff of the College where they were abducted, said what is happening can be likened to motion without movement.
According to him, the first contact they had with the bandits when the children were abducted was through the phone number of one of the students and that the bandits told them they had no business with parents but with the government.
“It’s the government they are expecting to negotiate with them and pay the ransom. The management and the provost have spoken to them severally and no headway.
“All of us, parents, were in the dark until last week Friday when we met with the provost and asked him about the situation of things. He told us that everything is going on well and they are recording progress. But they have been saying this for a while now, so we requested to know what progress had been made if it was built on security report or they have negotiated,” he said.
Sani, whose two daughters are in the hands of the bandits said they told the Provost that the parents would want to partner with the College if they don’t have the money to pay.
Sani said further: “We want to be carried along, but we could not get a response to that. We have set up a committee because we realized the provost was restricted to some levels and the best we could be to protest, and that was what we did on Monday, calling the government out to speak to us.
A Brilliant Lie Told the World
Sani also accused the Kaduna State Commissioner of Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan, of deceiving Nigerians and the world that the military rescued 108 students from the hands of the bandits, with 39 remaining.
“The first lie the commissioner, Samuel Aruwan, told was to say that the military rescued 108 students, leaving 39. We have countered this; the military did not rescue anybody. They only came in when the bandits were kidnapping, and they started shooting into the air from the gate and the bandits ran away with those they already took. It was those who ran into the bush when the kidnapping and the shooting started that came out when the military showed up, that they evacuated to the barracks.
The Trauma, Resolute Defiance
The team leader of the parents also noted that they are all resolute in their determination to get their children back and would go to any length, even if it means defying the government because the current situation is too traumatic for them to stay silent.
“You needed to be with us on Monday, even when the military came, we were like let them kill everyone. I have two daughters with the bandits but even with that, I had pity on some widows who came out crying that day.
“If today, parents are asked to pay the ransom, some won’t even have up to fifty thousand to pay; that is why we are calling on the government. The government is about the people. You promised us you were going to take care of us in terms of security of lives and property but here we are today.
“When the bandits came, they said they are fighting the government but did not destroy any property belonging to the government. They instead abducted people's children”, he said.
Ignored, Left in the Cold
Speaking further, Sani accused the state government of ignoring and refusing to say a word even after the protest they held on Monday. According to him, despite the fact that the video of the protest went viral, the Kaduna State government has remained mute.
He also accused the government of shutting them out of whatever they are doing to get the students back, explaining that they requested that a representative of the parents should be co-opted into the security meetings involving the abduction or even the negotiation team.
“They have not answered us; in fact, they ignored us because they do not want us to know what is going on. We are, however, begging the bandits to leave our children for us in whatever deal they are having with the government because it is not a crime to send our children to school,” he submitted.
Killing Education in the North
With the constant attack on schools in the North, Sani believes that the government has not just failed to live up to its words but the inspiration and motivation for education in the North have been dealt a fatal blow.
“It is unfortunate that the government that promised us security is the same that is telling us today that they cannot secure all the schools. They asked us, parents, to be watchful because they can’t help us.
“They have killed the whole inspiration for education in the north. Bandits have entered a lot of schools in Kaduna, almost everywhere, including tertiary institutions that we are tempted to believe some are conniving with the bandits.
The Way Forward
Sani, while also appealing to the government to live up to expectations, said it must also realize that life is precious to God and that both Christianity and Islam know that no one has the right to take another person’s life, adding that it is against God’s will for humanity.
“The government at the federal and state levels, the management of Federal College of Forestry, the local government, and Minister of Environment should all join hands to bring our children back.
The government must also try as much as possible to end all these kidnappings in the state and the nation as a whole; that’s my plea to the government”, he said.
Attempts at getting the reaction of Samuel Aruwan, the state Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, proved abortive. Calls to his mobile phone were rejected, while text and WhatsApp messages to the same number are yet to be responded to as at the time of filing this report.
For these distraught parents, they can only continue to wait, appeal to the government, vent their frustrations as they have vowed in today’s protest and, of course, continue to pray for the safe and speedy return of the 39 children the nation and its security has failed to protect. According to them, children in search of knowledge for a great future, have become prey in the hands of a band of criminals, whose only motivation is to kill, maim and make a profit out of the misfortune of others.