Conspiracy theorists and deep thinkers have once again declared that the December 11 abduction of 344 students from the Government Science Secondary School Kankara, Katsina state by gunmen, was stage-managed by certain vested interests within the government ranks. A script was written and acted to vindicate the guilty.

Unlike the Dapchi and Chibok episodes, it took less than a week for the captives to regain freedom and dine with the President. Maybe some individuals wanted to make a statement; that they are working. The abduction has now taken its place of pride among the history of abduction as the biggest so far in Nigeria, ahead of Chibok, 276, and Dapchi, 110. Meanwhile, Kankara is just a few hours’ drives from Mr. Buhari’s home in Daura.

Looking at the timing (while Buhari was in Katsina), his body language (went to inspect his cows 24 hours after the abduction), the nature of the abduction (over 300 pupils evacuated by men on bikes to Zamfara without confrontation), and the rescue mission (in which no arrest was made, no casualty recorded and no rumored payment of ransom), the difference whether the boys were actually kidnapped or ‘taken’, may not be far from each other.

Again, if the Boko Haram sect carried out the operation, it would mark a big extension of the group’s reach and a further deterioration of security across northern Nigeria, being that Kankara is more than 700 km by road from Maiduguri, the Borno state capital, where Boko Haram was birthed.

While the government said bandits carried out the operation, Boko Haram has laid claim to the incident. But its leader, Abubakar Shekau, has offered no proof that his group was behind the kidnapping. The sect is popular for providing photos and videos of mass kidnappings to spread fear and propaganda. Both explanations are plausible. Hence, many security experts have wondered if this was just a publicity stunt.

Moreover, this is not the first mass abduction by bandits in the president’s home state. 26 girls kidnapped in October in another town in Katsina were freed after a ransom was reportedly paid, with the victims confessing that the kidnappers raped and beat them. Even so, the latest attack would suggest a hitherto unseen level of brazenness by hoodlums.

But one must carefully examine the possibility of moving over 300 pupils by gunmen on motorbikes. Even if they were shepherded into the bush, as it seemed, in the course of doing that, where were the community leaders? Where were the teachers, caregivers, and other non-academic staff? What effort did they make to ensure that their students did not go with those bandits? After all, there were reports that some staff members of the school sighted the mobilization and advancement of the abductors beforehand.

Recall that President Muhammadu Buhari, flew off to take a holiday at his country home in Daura, Katsina. It was on the night of his arrival that the gunmen in their hundreds stormed the school and made away with the boys. Some other schoolboys reportedly jumped over a fence and ran away when they heard gunshots. But more than 300 were rounded up and herded into the surrounding forest. One who later escaped told the BBC that they were beaten, threatened, and forced to walk through the night.

“Whether it was stage-managed as some conspiracy theories are leading to, I am not one of those that believed it was stage-managed. I think it was a laxity and security lapse. Look at the spate of time that incident may have happened. How could students of a boarding school, about 800 we were told, is the entire population, and bandits came, they said they saw them around, early in the evening on a motorbike and there was no beefing up of security.

“Why is it that everybody is keeping quiet as to where they were when the incident happened? Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the attack but the government is saying it was bandits, but what is the difference between six and half a dozen? Whether it was stage-managed or not, this was the same insinuation people were having about the Dapchi and Chibok abductions. People said they were stage-managed to embarrass the president.

“I don’t think our leaders stand to gain anything by playing with the lives of citizens of this country. This is the biggest abduction in the history of Nigeria with 344, Chibok was 276, Dapchi was 110. How easy was it to have 344 students on motorbikes? We were told security has been beefed up in Katsina, how come there was no reinforcement or intelligence until this abduction took place,” popular Public Affairs Analyst, Jide Ojo told our correspondent in an interview.

On December 12, the Nigerian military said they found the gang’s hideout in a forest in Zamfara and exchanged gunfire with them. According to sources, on December 13, an unidentified Beechcraft Super King Air 350i ISR aircraft was seen patrolling the eastern Kano region in search of the missing pupils. The aircraft reportedly took off from Niamey in Niger and patrolled the Kano airspace for over 10 hours.

In 2014 Boko Haram gained the world’s attention by kidnapping nearly 300 schoolgirls from Chibok in Borno. Again in 2018, it snatched more than 100 girls from a boarding school in Dapchi, in neighboring Yobe state, a move that intelligence officials said demonstrated its ability to mount sophisticated raids over long distances.

The announcement of the Katsina State Governor, Aminu Bello Masari last week Thursday that 344 of the victims had been freed from where they were being held in neighboring Zamfara state, was greeted with mixed feelings. In the rescue operation for the boys, he said the security forces had cordoned off the area where the boys were being held and had been given instructions not to fire a single shot. While males are more likely to be killed than kidnapped, Boko Haram has occasionally used kidnapping to show that it still holds sway across the troubled North-East region.

“At the moment, 344 of the students have been handed over to security agents. I think we have recovered most of the boys if not all of them. By tomorrow we will get them medically examined and then arrangements will be on the way to reunite them with their families.

“We had already established indirect contact to try to make sure that we secure the release of the children unharmed. We thank God that they took our advice and not a single shot was fired. The government will be working with the police and also to engage private security firms to safeguard schools to prevent the ugly experience of the last six days,” Masari said.

Masari’s announcement came hours after Boko Haram released a video purportedly showing some abducted boys. In the footage which carried Boko Haram’s logo but has not been independently verified, dozens of boys were seen clustered under a tree, with many appearing disheveled and exhausted.

A teenager, speaking in English and Hausa, said he was among students taken by a gang belonging to the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau. Noticeable was also that the said boy appeared to have been coaxed into making demands on behalf of his captors. He called for the closure of all non-Qur’anic schools and said government troops sent to find the boys should be withdrawn. The video was released with a recording of a voice resembling that of Shekau.

While hosting and welcoming the students, president Buhari described their safe return as “a big relief to their families, the entire country and international community”.

His spokesman Garba Shehu said on Twitter that: “President Buhari specifically cited what he called the ‘spirit of partnership and the collaborative efforts of the government of Katsina, Zamfara and military leading to the release’.

“The Governor, Aminu Bello Masari, and the army worked extremely hard. As soon as I got the information I congratulated them. The Armed Forces know their job. They have been well-trained and properly motivated”.

The Nigerian government has routinely denied widespread suspicions that it pays ransoms to kidnappers, especially in the Chibok case.

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We were told security has been beefed up in Katsina, how come there was no reinforcement or intelligence until this abduction took place


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