INSIDE STORY: How police ignored alert on bandits’ presence — a day before Kagara school attack
For 11 hours, armed bandits moved freely towards Kagara community in Rafi local government area of Niger state before invading Government Science College (GSC), where they abducted 42 people — mostly children.
During a visit to the community, TheCable gathered that the bandits first arrived at Kwari village at about 2pm on Tuesday, waiting and planning how to pounce on the schoolchildren.
Numbering more than 50, they were said to have parked their motorcycles in the bush before proceeding to the school on foot around midnight.
In interviews with more than a dozen residents, including parents of the abducted students and staff of the school, TheCable learnt that the police were alerted about the development but they failed to respond, choosing instead to secure a police station located in the centre of the town — less than three kilometres from the school.
Wasiu Abiodun, spokesperson of the state police command, did not immediately respond to an enquiry on the issue.
‘WE THOUGHT THEY WERE SOLDIERS’
One of the hostels raided during the invasion
At the school, TheCable’s reporter spoke with three students who managed to escape before they could be taken away by the bandits. One of the students identified as Usman Mustapha recalled how the gunmen entered his hostel at about 1am, wearing military uniforms.
Mustapha, an SS3 student, said: ”On that day, while in the hostel, we saw people approaching with torchlights. So, we moved closer to them and they told us they are our staff and principal, and that we should come to them.
Usman Mustapha was lucky to escape into the bush
“We were wondering why the principal came that night. Moreover, they were wearing soldiers’ jackets. Suddenly, we saw their guns.
”They told us we should be in a queue and started beating and punching us. While they held us, majority of them went back to the hostel, saying that the students are not many and they want to take all the students. When they were going back to the hostel, I ran into the bush with four others.”
The 17-year-old added that he walked for hours in the bush and eventually returned home at about 7am — an experience shared by Ilisa Mohammed, another student who said he scaled the school’s fence during the attack.
Ilisa Mohammed escaped after he scaled the school fence
Referring to the bandits as “thieves”, Ilisa said the students ran helter-skelter after it dawned on them that the camouflage-wearing men had a sinister agenda.
”The thieves said we should gather and they took us out. That was when I ran and jumped the fence and continued running. From my hostel, about 30 people escaped,” he said.
ONE SECURITY GUARD VERSUS 50 BANDITS
Mohammed Lawan, the school’s security guard, said they had warning signs before the attack
A staff of the school who identified himself as Ibrahim told TheCable that the bandits emerged from the bush behind the staff quarters, after which they beat up some of the staff and their families before dividing themselves into groups and proceeded to the hostels.
According to the staff, three of the five accommodation halls in the school were invaded by the bandits. Some surrounded the buildings while others went inside.
The only security guard who was on night duty was tied up while one student was shot dead during an escape attempt. Mohammed Lawan, the school’s second guard, only learnt of the invasion when he arrived for work in the morning.
He told TheCable that the school had been alerting authorities of security threats but ”they have not done anything”.
”We usually hear of their (bandits) presence in nearby bushes. There have been threats around here for a long time, for about four years. We have been writing but no response,” he said.
In the hours leading to the attack, members of the local vigilante group had sighted the bandits but they were outnumbered, so they waited to defend the town whenever they would strike.
Some of the vigilante
A local vigilante leader, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution, told TheCable that “we never knew they will be going to the school so our attention was focused on the main town”.
He said the police informed them that they could not leave the station when they were alerted about the development.
“That very day, when those people were here, there was a sign. We saw them the day before and began to monitor,” he said.
“They were first seen on the hills where they camped, by then they had parked their bikes somewhere in this bush. So this area was blocked.
“You know, that school (GSC Kagara) is outside the town, no security there and it is attached to the bush. So, we were all monitoring here that night. We didn’t even know the time they migrated to the other side. Nobody knew they were going to GSC.
“Then, there was no assistance from the police. We don’t know why, whether it was because the MOPOL was not very many. You know they took some of them away from the town. The ones on ground were securing the station and they could not leave.”
Abubakar Bello, Niger governor, would later confirm that the number of security operatives in the state prior to the attack was grossly inadequate, saying some local government areas “have only about 70 policemen”.
‘BANDITS ASKED IF I KNOW ANY CHILD OF A RICH MAN’
Aliyu Isa, a parent whose five children were kidnapped
Among those worst affected by the attack is Aliyu Isa who lives in the staff quarters. Five of his children and wife are among those abducted.
Looking sullen and dejected, Isa said he never imagined there would be a time when most of his family would spend nights with bandits in faraway forests. Standing in the company of one of his children, Isa said the bandits accosted him and his wife in their apartment, after which they were asked to lead them to the hostel.
“They asked me if I know any student of a rich man and I said I don’t,” he said.
GSC sign post
“At the hostel, they started waking students up, telling them ‘don’t run, don’t run’. So they packed some students while others ran.
“As they were bringing the students towards us, they were asking them to sit down. They started tying us in twos with our shirts.
“We followed them to the bush and as we were walking, God helped me and the other teacher and we were able to escape.”
He said it dawned on him that his wife was not able to escape moments after he had found somewhere to hide. When he got back to the school premises, he realised that he had an even bigger problem: five of his children were also abducted; one from the hostel and four from his house.
Asked whether anyone in the school alerted the security agencies during the attack, Isa said: “He (the security guard) called Lokos (where the police station is located)… they also communicated to the mobile police who now went to the police station. We didn’t see anybody here.
The police station located two kilometres from GSC Kagara
“They informed them (the police) around that 2 o’clock (but) we didn’t see anybody till after 5 am.”
Philip Saleh, another parent whose daughter and sister were kidnapped from the staff quarters, spoke of his interaction with one of the bandits.
“We were trying my sister’s number and after I called the first time, the person told me that he is in a meeting and I should wait. I waited for a minute, called him back but he did not pick,” he said.
“After some time, my son said I should give him the number. He called and when the phone rang, the man picked and told us that the owner of this phone has been taken by bandits and then cut the call.”
As he spoke to TheCable within the school premises, he was still hopeful that the call will be returned.
IN RAFI, BANDITS’ ATTACKS ARE “COMMON”
Philip Saleh said bandits told him over the phone that they had his sister
In interviews with five villagers in Rafi LGA, including a member of the family of the school principal, TheCable was told of how the council had been at the mercy of bandits in the months leading to the GSC Kagara invasion.
One of the residents who gave his name as Yunusa Ibrahim said the bandits ”used to attack almost every day”, adding that ”it is a common thing”.
”You can’t move from here to the other side (pointing to a nearby hill) without them attacking; it has been a constant attack since last two years,” he said.
“Between July and now, they have attacked this particular town four times. The Kagara school attack was the fourth one. And you can see the police station there – but how many officers are there?
One of the houses burgled by bandits during recent attacks in Kagara town
”So, it is not a new trend but it became very intense since last year. People have fled from this town. This very street you’re walking on now has been attacked twice. Bandits were everywhere; they burgled all these houses. They had to change these doors.”
As the state and the federal government intensify efforts to rescue the children, some villagers including Balarabe Musa Kagara, chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Rafi branch, worry that the heavy security presence will be short-lived before the communities return to their usual state.
”We have been complaining of insecurity in Kagara; we have been complaining and no response; only yesterday we knew that government is with us,” Kagara told TheCable.
”In this local government, there are some villages that the residents have not gone back to because of insecurity, mostly around Madaka side.
“There was a time when for more than three months, you cannot follow Madaka road. Schools in Madaka axis have been shut for over one year.”
Along major roads in Rafi, military trucks were seen on patrol while villagers lined the streets, all itching to hear the latest. There are a lot of unanswered questions, especially for the parents whose children were taken.
Until the news they anticipate arrives, some of the parents, like Isa, may never be able to sleep or even eat well, knowing that in faraway forests, their children are with people dangerous enough to end their lives. So, all they can do for now is to wait and hope.
”This thing that happened, it is destiny,” Isa said, struggling to hold back tears. ”God has destined it. We only pray that wherever they are, may God intervene and let them return in good health. We will continue to wait.”
Source: The Cable