Twenty-six days after the abduction of an unspecified number of pupils from an Islamiyya school in Tegina, Niger State, there is the silence of the graveyard in the agrarian community as parents, teachers and local authorities have been directed by the powers that be not to speak to the media.
Anxious parents have been forced to stop voicing out their frustration or appeal to relevant authorities to push for the release of their children who have been in the enclaves of bandits for 26 days.
Before the incident, Tegina, a sprawling community sandwiched between Zungeru and Kagara, the headquarters of Tafa Local Government Area of Niger State, never went to bed as people used to carry out their commercial activities deep into the night.
But all that changed following the abduction of dozens of schoolchildren at an Islamic school on Sunday, May 30. Fear and anxiety have enveloped the community following the sad incident as residents now close shops and retire to their houses as early as 8pm.
Apart from commercial and business activities, residents said farming activities had also been affected as farmers no longer go to their farms for fear of being attacked. Many residents spoken with said there was threat of famine in the community.
Over three weeks in captivity
Daily Trust reports that gun-wielding bandits stormed the Salihu Tanko Islamiyya School, located in the heart of Tegina on Sunday May 30 and started shooting indiscriminately. One person was reportedly shot dead and another seriously wounded during the afternoon raid, after which the bandits, who rode on motorbikes, made away with over 150 children.
The owner of the school, Abubakar Tegina, had reportedly said he witnessed the attack, saying: “I personally saw between 20 and 25 motorcycles with heavily armed people. They entered the school and went away with about 150 or more of the students.”
Although some of the abductees later escaped to reunite with their parents, majority of them are still being held captive by the bandits, who are demanding for hundreds of millions of naira while also threatening to kill the children.
Barred from media, parents live in pain, anxiety
Our reporter, who visited Tegina at the weekend, reports that over three weeks after the abduction, parents are still living in fear and anxiety. Although the parents and the school management, as well as the Kagara Emirate Council, said they had been barred from granting interviews to journalists until the students are rescued, some of them who spoke with Daily Trust Saturday on the condition of anonymity said they were devastated.
One of the parents, whose two children – a boy and a girl – were abducted said, “I have been devastated since the abduction of my two children, but as a Muslim I have left everything in the hands of God.”
He said two of his relatives also had their children abducted. “On that fateful day, I was in my shop with my friend when I sighted the bandits emerging on motorbikes in their numbers. They started shooting sporadically to scare away residents. This caused panic as people were running helter-skelter.
“They ended up at the school and abducted the children, including mine. I personally ran to a neighbour’s house and hid inside a well to escape them. They went to my house and searched everywhere but couldn’t find me,” the visibly distraught parent said.
While acknowledging the efforts of the government in trying to secure their release, he said, “I have hope that they would be released if they are still alive. I appeal to the government to do more in securing their freedom.
“Government should also try to do something to secure education because if left the way it is now, our future is doomed.”
He, however, said he would still allow his children go to school despite the abduction.
Another parent, who wouldn’t want his name mentioned because of the instruction to stop granting media interviews, said he developed heart attack following the abduction of his two children – all boys.
“On that fateful Sunday, I went to Zungeru market, and on my way back I discovered that the road was blocked by the bandits. I was forced to hide somewhere inside the bush until about 20 minutes when they completed their operation, then I made my way home.
“They later passed through my house and were shooting sporadically. Fortunately, one of my abducted children escaped,” he said.
He said there had been no direct communication between the bandits and him, except through the security committee put in place.
“Following the incident, I developed heart attack and went to hospital for medical attention. One of my abducted children had even completed primary school and I was making efforts to take him to secondary school.
“I am appealing to the government to come to our assistance in securing their release.
“There is tension everywhere, even as businesses and farming activities have been paralysed,” he said.
Another parent, whose boy and girl were abducted, said he was in his provision shop that fateful day when they came.
“We hurriedly closed our shops. There was shooting and I personally hid in a neighbour’s house.
“There has not been any communication except through the security committee. My business has collapsed. This morning there was panic following information that they were coming. Government should come to our assistance,” he said.
We’re living in fear – Tegina residents
Apart from parents of the abducted schoolchildren, other residents of Tegina also said they were living in fear following the sad incident.
A resident who wouldn’t want his name mentioned said, “There has been anxiety in Tegina community since the abduction of the schoolchildren. People have been running from the rural settlements to Kagara town for fear of attacks. There is no hiding place. Nobody is willing to allow their children go to school any longer because of insecurity.
“Commercial and farming activities have become paralysed. We appeal to the government to come to our aid. We need more security personnel around to give people a sense of security.”
Rabi Sani, a provision shop owner in Tegina, also expressed worry over the security situation in the community.
“We are currently living in fear following the abduction. This has been made worse by the absence of security. Everyone is afraid that they may come again.
“Some residents have even left Tegina due to fear of being attacked. Our businesses have been adversely affected. Sometimes we close our shops out of fear. We appeal to the government to expedite action to rescue the children. Indeed, government is trying but they can do more,” Sani said.
Although efforts to get an official comment from the Niger State Government on the directive on parents and management of the Islamic school to stop granting media interviews until the abducted children are rescued were not successful, a Government House source said the decision was taken to protect the abducted.
The source who wouldn’t want to be mentioned because he is not authorised to speak on the matter said, “The decision was taken to safeguard the abducted children until they are released.”
Time to end banditry in Niger – Gov Bello
Daily Trust reports that the Niger State Government, last Monday formed a special security squad to ensure the safe return of the Tegina schoolchildren.
Addressing the squad of combined security personnel deployed to Rafi Local Government Area, Governor Bello said the time had come for the state government to take decisive action, once and for all, to end banditry in the state.
“We will give you all the necessary support to enable you implement all your security strategies to ensure safe return of our abducted children and others,” the governor said.