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Governor Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina State said Thursday night that 344 students of Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, have been released.
However, it is not clear if all the students have been released because Masari had earlier said only 333 students were abducted from the school on Friday, December 11.
The abduction of the students sparked an outrage with calls from various individuals and groups on the government to step up efforts towards securing the lives of the people.
It occurred at a time when President Muhammadu Buhari had travelled to Daura, his hometown in Katsina for a private visit.
The President had condemned the incident in a statement shortly after it happened and sent a delegation of the Federal Government comprising the Minister of Defence, Major General Bashir Magashi, and the service chiefs to Katsina to work with the state government in securing the release of the schoolboys.
Sources tell DailyTrust Newspaper, while the abductors insisted that security operatives must not be involved, officials of the Katsina State government with others deployed by the federal government involved traditional rulers (village and district heads) in securing the release of the students.
The students were reportedly kept inside the bush in parts of Zamfara State. Another source said after the negotiation was successfully sealed, the abductors handed over the captives to some village heads in batches.
The source said the released abductees were first taken to a village called Hayin Alhaji by the negotiators who are mostly Ardo’s using Hilux vans.
“From Hayin Alhaji, the students were moved to another village called ‘Yan Warin Daji where they were handed over to security personnel,” the source said.
During the evacuation, locals in villages around Zamfara and Katsina said hundreds of security operatives, some in uniform and others in plainclothes were seen patrolling the area.
During the day, helicopters and fighter jets were also seen hovering around the Rugu Forest, which traversed many local government areas in Zamfara, Katsina and part of Kaduna State.
When contacted, the Principal of the school, Malam Usman Abubakar, told Daily Trust that his team arrived Katsina to meet with the executive secretary and other principal officers of the Katsina Science and Technical Schools Board to receive the students.
“We will receive them and proceed to the government house to meet the governor,” he said.
Why negotiation took long
A credible source with knowledge of what happened said the schoolboys could not be brought out of the bush as earlier anticipated because of misunderstanding among the three groups that connived and abducted them from their school.
“There are three groups in the deal and these include the Boko Haram elements from Abubakar Shekau that infiltrated the Rugu forest; a group of bandits from Katsina and another group of bandits from Zamfara,” the source said.
According to him: “The three groups are partners in crime.
“The abduction was not exclusively carried out by the Shekau’s Boko Haram faction; they connived and carried it out with the intent of gaining from it.
“Of course, the Boko Haram faction, which is deeply entrenched in the North East has a long-standing relationship with the bandits in terms of training, arms deals and intelligence gathering but their motives are completely different.
“In the last three years, some Boko Haram members also started living in the forests around Kaduna, Katsina and Zamfara carrying out abductions for money and other criminal activities; they rarely show the other side of their religious extremism.
“This is the biggest collaboration they ever had with the bandits that led to the abduction of hundreds of schoolboys in Kankara.
“It was the idea of Boko Haram and they brought together some bandits from Zamfara and Katsina and carried out the mass abduction.
“However, while the Boko Haram wants to dictate the negotiation process, including asking for a huge ransom and then the release of some of their high profile members in custody of the federal government, the bandits are not comfortable holding the students for a long period.
“The students were indeed kept in clusters but the Zamfara and Katsina bandits are not used to keeping many people at the same time.
“They don’t have enough food and other logistics to keep the abducted students.
“That is why the bandits established contact with the government and started negotiating but the Boko Haram faction kicked,” he said.
Asked why the Boko Haram elements kicked, the source said, “If they have their way, they would move the students to Sambisa forest where they would have absolute control of the negotiation.
“They would ask for a huge ransom and the release of some of their members.
“But for the fact that they know that the North West is not their territory and that they have been surrounded and being closely monitored by security operatives, they would have no option than soft-pedalling on their demands.
“So, while we are not sure if all the students have been released, it will not take long for all to return because the location is not conducive; they can only use the students as a human shield but this cannot last,” the source said.