[By VICTOR NZE]
United States has condemned Friday’s abduction of school girls by unidentified gunmen in Zamfara State, even as it told the Nigerian government to ensure the immediate release of the students.
In a statement issued via the Twitter handle of its Mission in Nigeria by the newly-appointed ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S also told the Nigerian government to ensure the prosecution of the culprits responsible for the attack.
It would be recalled that suspected bandits attacked the Government Girls Secondary School in Jangebe, Zamfara State, late Friday night, abducting 317 students of the institution.
“The United States condemns the violent kidnapping of over 300 girls from the Government Girls Secondary School in Jangebe, Nigeria. The girls must be returned to their families immediately, and those responsible for this attack held accountable to the full extent of the law,” the envoy said.
Confirming the attack of the school and kidnapping of students, the state’s Police Public Relations Officer, Shehu Mohammed, said in a statement, Friday, that 317 schoolgirls were missing in the aftermath of the siege by the armed bandits.
Mohammed disclosed that the girls were kidnapped around 1:00 am. when the bandits stormed the school, adding further that already a joint team of military and police operativesl have been deployed for rescue operation.
“The Commissioner of Police, Abutu Yaro; the Force Commander Operations Hadarin Daji, Major General Aminu Bande; Brigade Commander, 1 Brigade, Nigeria Army Gusau and other state government officials led a heavily armed team to Jangebe to complement the ongoing rescue operation in the locations where the students were believed to be taken to.
“The CP, while interfacing with the principal of the school and the parents, appealed to them to be calm as joint efforts of the police and other security agencies will lead to the successful rescue of the students,” the statement read.
The latest abduction comes barely one week after armed bandits stormed the Government Secondary School in Kagara, Niger State, abducting school pupils, teachers and workers.
That Niger incident also follows on the heels of the December abduction of 344 secondary schoolboys of the Government Science Secondary School in Kankara, Katsina State, hours after President Muhammad Buhari had arrived his hometown of Daura for a private visit.
The Zamfara attack also came a day after Buhari had publicly criticised state governments and agencies for rewarding bandits with cash and gifts for kidnappings.
President Buhari had described the latest abduction of hundreds of students of Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe in Zamfara State as inhumane and totally unacceptable, sending out a strong warning to bandits and their sponsors.
Reacting to the incident, Friday, Buhari said that his administration ‘will not succumb to blackmail by bandits who target innocent school students in the expectations of huge ransom payments.’
“No criminal group can be too strong to be defeated by the government,” adding that, “the only thing standing between our security forces and the bandits are the rules of engagement,” the President said.
Buhari also frowned at State Governments for emboldening bandits, insisting that they ‘must review their policy of rewarding bandits with money and vehicles. Such a policy has the potential to backfire with disastrous consequences. States and Local Governments must also play their part by being proactive in improving security in & around schools.’
“Our primary objective is to get all the school hostages safe, alive and unharmed.
“We have the capacity to deploy massive force against the bandits in the villages where they operate, but our limitation is the fear of heavy casualties of innocent villagers and hostages who might be used as human shields by the bandits.
“A hostage crisis is a complex situation that requires maximum patience in order to protect the victims from physical harm or even brutal death at the hands of their captors.
“Let bandits, kidnappers and terrorists not entertain any illusions that they are more powerful than the government. They shouldn’t mistake our restraint for the humanitarian goals of protecting innocent lives as a weakness or a sign of fear or irresolution.
“Let me say this again: We will not succumb to blackmail by bandits and criminals who target innocent school students in the expectation of huge ransom payments,” Buhari said through his media aide, Garba Shehu.
The Zamfara school attack is the third in three months in the country.
Meanwhile, in response to the attack on the Zamfara school, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Mr Mohammed Adamu, had ordered the immediate deployment of two additional operational surveillance helicopters to the state.
The latest deployment, according to a statement by the Force Public Relations Officer, Mr Frank Mba,
Is part of a coordinated search and rescue operation, involving the deployment of both ground and aerial assets geared towards locating and rescuing the students abducted in the early hours of last Friday.
According to Mba, the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, has ordered the immediate deployment of two operational surveillance helicopters to Zamfara State.
“This is in addition to the personnel of Operation Puff Adder II earlier deployed to the State to support efforts by the Command to combat banditry, kidnapping and other related crimes.
“The IGP, while condemning the barbaric and callous abduction of the innocent female students, has assured that the Police and other security forces will not relent until the abducted students are successfully rescued and reunited with their families.
“The joint rescue operation is being carried out by the Police, the Military and other members of the law enforcement community with support from the State Government and other Stakeholders.
“The IGP has called for calm and enjoins members of the public, particularly the people of Zamfara State, not to hesitate in availing the Police and the law enforcement community with useful information that can assist in the rescue of the abducted school girls,” the statement read.