Fresh facts emerged on Friday that the 344 schoolboys freed from bandits were forced to trek for about eight hours to a border forest in Zamfara State after they were ambushed in Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State.
One of the freed schoolboys also on Friday gave chilling details of the suffering their abductors subjected to, saying that they were fed with animal food.
It was also learnt that “the siege” by the military and security agencies on where the schoolboys were camped put the bandits under pressure to negotiate and set the students free.
It was gathered that leaders of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) and influential local leaders in Zamfara State were engaged to speak with the leaders of the bandits.
But a comprehensive probe of the abduction of the schoolboys by security and intelligence agencies was still ongoing at press time.
A top source, who spoke in confidence with our correspondent in Abuja, said the armed bandits invaded the school penultimate Friday on motorcycles.
The source said: “From our findings, when the bandits invaded the school, they began to shoot into the air. The schoolboys were scared but they warned them not to escape or risk being shot.
“The boys, whose age averaged about 12 years, became frightened and were directed to mass up in a place in the school compound from where their abductors started evacuating them into the bush.
“The bandits came with a number of motorcycles that could not evacuate all of them. All they did with the motorcycles was to pilot and guard them under heavy escort.
“Thereafter, they subjected them to trekking for about 10 hours to a border forest in Zamfara State. The bandits had a field day after overpowering the policemen on duty.
“In fact, along the line on Saturday morning, the bandits saw helicopters and some planes on a search and rescue mission. They then asked the boys to lie flat in the bush till dusk when they continued trekking until they reached their designated camp.”
The source said the boys were only allowed to “walk barefooted throughout the journey to the forest.”
“During a debriefing session, the boys said they were beaten, especially those who could not catch up with the trekking pace.
“They endured hunger and most of them urinated and defecated on the same spot. Most of them had bruises and sore feet while a few others’ feet were swollen.”
Responding to a question, the source added: “Rescue operation was late in coming because the school was far from the town. It was dark, the reinforcement was late in coming and those mobilised did not know the capacity of the bandits in order not to be overwhelmed.
“And the bandits displaced those in Kankara by initially attacking them before heading to the school.”
Investigation revealed that the air surveillance of the forest and heavy mobilization of soldiers in and around it “scared the bandits to concede to negotiation when it came in handy.”
The source added: “The bandits felt the siege of the military and the air surveillance and patrols. In fact, I think one or two aircraft were deployed in a stationary manner that it was easier to monitor every activity in the forest.
“It would have been easier to engage in aerial bombardment but the damage would be massive and the schoolboys would hardly survive it.
“While the siege was on, the government opted to negotiate with the bandits through the leaders of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), who knew the leaders of some of the bandit groups operating in the Zamfara axis.
“In fact, the National President of MACBAN, Alhaji Muhammadu Kirowa and his members assisted in facilitating talks between the government and the bandits.
“Negotiating with bandits in Zamfara State by the government and citizens is no longer a new thing. It is a daily pattern of life to guarantee peace.
“This was why both the governors of Zamfara and Katsina states were full of praises for Kirowa. All sides to the kidnapping have denied paying ransom.”
A comprehensive probe of the kidnapping of the 344 schoolboys by the military, intelligence and security agencies was in progress at press time.
Another source said: “We are carrying out an in-depth investigation in order to enhance security not only in the state but nationwide.
“There might also be more to the forest where the schoolboys were kept.”
Source: The Nation