Last week, it was the turn of students of the Kogi State government-owned Confluence University of Science and Technology (CUSTECH) to experience the menace of banditry after a similar episode in Kaduna State, recently. YEKINI JIMOH tells how it happened.

Osara, a sleepy town in Kogi Central senatorial district of Kogi State, hosts the Confluence University of Science and Technology (CUSTECH). It witnessed a sad day last Thursday when bandits invaded the institution and kidnapped some students.

It happened when some students were going to the class in the evening for tutorials ahead of their first semester examinations.

Security men in the institution engaged the bandits for more than 30 minutes before the bandits retracted into the bush having kidnapped some students.

According to the vice-chancellor of the institution, Professor Abdulrahaman Asipita Salawu, the attack happened at about 8:23 p.m.

He said some of the students who were gathered for tutorials ahead of their First Semester Examinations scheduled to commence on Monday, May 13, were abducted.

Professor Salawu said, “Alhaji Ahmed Usman Ododo, the Governor of Kogi State, the State Security Adviser, Jerry Omodara as well as the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Abdulrahaman Asipita Salawu together with the management staff swung into action immediately they got wind of the unpleasant news by deploying members of various security agencies on rescue mission.”

He added that the governor “has directed that CUSTECH will remain in session and that the students abducted will be returned unhurt.

“We want to allay the fears of the public and also assure parents and guardians of our dear students that must have been involved in the incident that no stone will be left unturned till we have them back safely into our fold at CUSTECH.”

The vice chancellor said that “parents who want their wards out of the campus can go ahead with such a decision” while assuring parents and guardians who want their children to remain on campus not to fret over their safety “as the situation is under control at the moment.”

Inside job?

The state governor visited the institution last Saturday with an assurance that the students will be rescued.

He allayed the fears of parents, guardians and students, urging them to be calm and promised that all the missing students will be returned without a scratch.

The governor added that “these criminals were only testing the waters and it is a fact that in next to no time they will be caught up in the web of their nefarious activities.”

He also stated that there must be collaborators who aided the criminals in gaining access to the institution.

He said, “It is our duty as a government to protect lives and property in all parts of the state. We are prepared to protect the students and that is why we allowed the students to stay on the campus.

“We installed CCTV cameras in all the classrooms and the entire perimeter of the university campus, yet on the day of the attack, our investigation so far revealed that all the cameras were switched off and this can only be attributed to sabotage by internal collaborators.

“Our security agencies are on their heels and investigation is ongoing. All our students shall return safely and the perpetrators shall be brought to book.”

Speaking further on the ongoing rescue efforts, Governor Ododo disclosed that there will be regular review of the operation as more facts emerge from the investigation.

He commended the security officers for their gallantry in minimising the impact of the attack by preventing the attackers from gaining access to the university hostels, stressing that nothing will be spared to bring back the students and prevent a repeat of such attack on the university and elsewhere in the state.

Rescuing begins

After the visit of the governor, security operatives went into action on Saturday night. They included the Directorate of State Services, vigilantes, the military and the police.

Incidentally, a number of the students were soon rescued including other people kidnapped by the bandits.

The Commissioner for Information and Communications, Kingsley Fanwo, in a statement said that the students were rescued hours after the Governor Ododo visited the institution.

According to the statement, “Local vigilante and security agents engaged the kidnappers in a fierce shootout and the kidnappers succumbed to superior firepower and escaped with gun wounds, leaving the kidnapped students who also ran in different directions to avoid being caught up in the fire exchange.

“Many of the students kidnapped and even other people in captivity have been rescued and taken to medical facilities for proper attention, while many others were also rescued in the early hours of today. Security agents are currently combing the forests to ensure all the kidnapped students are found and brought home safely

“In the sporadic gun battle to rescue our dear students, a local hunter and a DSS operative sustained injuries and they are currently receiving medical attention. We commend our local hunters and all the conventional security agents for their bravery and gallantry. Of special commendation is the DSS for acting on credible intelligence to coordinate a fearless confrontation on the outlaws. The security agencies have once again demonstrated why Kogi State will remain an uncomfortable place for bandits, kidnappers and other criminal elements.

“They have rescued six more students, bringing the number of kidnapped students rescued to 20. Our data shows that there are four students yet to be found.

“The fierce gun battle between security agents and the kidnappers forced the kidnappers to succumb to superior firepower and abandon the kidnapped students. Some of the kidnappers escaped with severe injuries.

“Nine students had been rescued first while five others were found the following morning. The families of the six students just rescued have confirmed that the students have arrived home.

“The Governor of Kogi State, Ahmed Usman Ododo has expressed deep appreciation to the Joint Forces that carried out the operations, urging them to continue the search until the last student is found.

“We wish to assure the public that the security architecture around our schools has been recalibrated for efficiency and early warning alarm to prevent future occurrence.”

FG’s response

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) has promised to improve security by building the capacity of relevant stakeholders to ensure safety in schools across the country.

The Commander, National Safe School Response Coordination Centre (NSSRCC), NSCDC NHQ, Abuja, Commandant Hammed Abodunrin, made the promise during his visit to CUSTECH, on Monday.

Speaking to newsmen, Abodunrin said he was in the school on behalf of the Commandant General (CG) NSCDC, in solidarity with the management and university community.

“NSSRCC as a national centre that coordinates response to issues like this. We owe it a duty to visit the place for on-the-spot assessment after receiving the briefing from the commandant, NSCDC Kogi Command.

“The Federal Government has resolved that there will be no stone left unturned when it comes to the issue of safety and security in our schools.

“Safe school initiative is a global project and not peculiar to Nigeria. But our own situation in Nigeria is peculiar and we are taking it very seriously.

“So, we will assist in building the capacities of the CUSTECH’s management and staff, university security agents as well as the students especially those in final year,” he said.

Abodunrin emphasised that the establishment of the NSSRCC at the NSCDC Headquarters is in demonstration of government’s resolve to address the challenges of school attacks and its consequences that have thrown a large number of children in Nigeria out of school.

The NSSRCC commander stressed the need to be proactive and be conscious of the environment, saying, “Nigerians have always been taken the issue of security for granted.

“That is why the criminals are taking advantage of our not being security-conscious; everybody must be vigilant.

“It is high time we began to build the capacity of everybody including members of university community on personal security and vigilance, so that people will be able to know what to do on time.

“But I want to assure you that with the collaboration of the relevant stakeholders in safe school initiative, we will build the capacity of everybody in the institution.”

He stressed the need for community engagement in curbing security in the schools and the society at large, saying, “when you see something you must identify what you see and say it.

“People should be security-conscious and give timely information to security agencies for prompt intervention because everybody is affected.

“I am happy that the students have been rescued, and that is our joy. Although it happened but we are on top of the situation.”

In his response, the vice chancellor commended the NSSRCC commander for the visit, noting that 14 students had been rescued.

He explained that the security agencies including the Army, DSS, Police and NSCDC as well as the Hunters and Vigilantes had been working together which had resulted in rescuing the kidnapped students.

“So far, we have rescued 14 students, but now we cannot say if there remains any.

“The security operatives, hunters and vigilantes are still combing the forest to see if there are some remaining.

“We will do our own part as individuals and as institution in intelligence gathering. We promise that this kind of incidence will not happen again in our institution,” Salawu said.

Meanwhile, the Executive Secretary of Kogi State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Muktar Atimah, in a statement personally signed by him, said the assurance given by government to parents, the university management and the public serves as morale booster, reinforcing confidence in the government’s capacity to intervene at critical moments.

“The quick response of Kogi State government boosted the morale of conventional security agents, local vigilante men and hunters that engaged the kidnappers in the forest where the victims were kept.

“The state, known to have shared boundaries with 10 states, has never experienced this ugly act in the past eight years. The current administration has practically demonstrated that the security architecture policy, championed by former governor Yahaya Bello which the current governor is consolidating upon, maintains zero tolerance for criminals and criminalities in the state.”

The SEMA boss urged all the concerned citizens to be law abiding and assist the government with useful and prompt information on suspicious movements in their communities that could lead to criminal activities.