Saturday, December 19, 2020

How bandits tortured us in six nights of horror – Freed Katsina schoolboys

Some of the 344 schoolboys kidnapped in Katsina State by suspected bandits and released on Thursday, six days later have recounted their experiences in the den of the kidnappers.

The pupils were kidnapped last Friday from the Government Science Secondary School in Kankara. Boko Haram had on Tuesday claimed responsibility for the kidnapping though some government officials had refuted the claim that the terrorist group was involved in the mass abduction.

Following their release, the pupils looked dirty and tired when they arrived in Katsina on Friday morning where they narrated their ordeals in the hands of the bandits.

They said shortly after their abduction, the abductors divided them into groups and marched them into a forest with thorny plants, where they slept in the cold.

The kidnapping raised concerns and anger about worsening insecurity and violence in the country.

The pupils said food was rationed for them and they were given cooked cassava and potatoes every other day. According to the victims, some of them who could not keep pace with the kidnappers and other victims in the bush were flogged. Those who spoke with Saturday PUNCH however said none of those in their groups died.

For instance, one of the pupils, Farouq Aminu, said, “Right now, I’m not feeling well and it is because of the terrible experience I had. The people (bandits) forced us to walk throughout. They flogged those who were not keeping up with others. We were fed Donkali (potatoes) and cassava and we were not fed every day. But some of us were able to get some fruits that we also ate. I did not hear that anybody died among us. I thank God for bringing me back home. After we were released, we were first taken to some areas in Zamfara State. We were taken to Tsafe (in Zamfara) and eventually brought to Katsina.”

According to another pupil, Abubakar Sodiq, the bandits exposed them to “every dehumanising condition.”

He said, “Our ordeals began from when we were abducted from our school. The bandits kept on shooting in the air to scare us and they warned us against making any attempt to escape.  They gave us food when they felt like and gave us dirty water to drink. This made some of us to fall sick but they were able to recover without being attended to. As I’m talking to you, I’m not feeling well. I want to go home.”

A senior secondary school 1 pupil, who was also a victim, Yusuf Sulaiman, said he would not like to return to the school.

“I thank God for bringing us back home. The bandits took advantage of the weak security in our school. I will advise my parents to help me seek transfer to another school. I did not see anyone who died but I can only speak for my group as they divided us into groups when they took us into the forest,” he said.

Another victim, Abdulmajid Umar, who noted that the location of the school exposed them to the attack, said, “The location of our school made us vulnerable. When the bandits came, the policemen could do little or nothing because the bandits were many and also because of their weapons. I thank God that we have been freed. I will not be surprised if many of us prefer to go to another school when schools resume.”

One of the freed schoolboys featured in a video purportedly released by Boko Haram on Thursday said he was ordered by the kidnappers to speak in the video.

“I don’t know who they were but they said I should say they were Boko Haram (members)—gang of Abu Shekau,” the pupil said at the Katsina State Government House on Friday, shortly after they were received by Governor Aminu Masari.

The abduction took place some hours after the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), arrived in Daura, Katsina for a week-long private visit.

A video purportedly released by Boko Haram had claimed that the terrorist group was responsible for the abduction.

But speaking on Friday after their release, the pupil, who said he was the teenager who featured in the video, said from “what I experienced, they (his captors), are not Boko Haram.”

The teenager, who spoke during a programme on Arise TV monitored by one of our correspondents, further said, “Sincerely speaking, the gang of armed robbers was very scared of what was happening from the jets. They assigned me to speak directly from the video to tell the government to stop sending the army and jets, if not they were going to kill us (sic).

“We suffered a lot physically; they beat us morning and night. They only gave us food once in a day and water twice in a day. Some of those who beat us are just tiny boys with big guns.”


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