IT was mixed feelings on Tuesday as the 279 schoolgirls abducted from Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe, Zamfara State, recounted their ordeals at the hands of their kidnappers after their release.
One of those stories that made emotion to flow was a revelation by one of the girls, Hunainatu Abubakar, who said one of the abducted students saw her father who was kidnapped over three months ago but he cautioned them against showing any relationship with him to avoid being killed.
Speaking to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) at the Government House, Gusau, shortly after regaining freedom, Hunainatu said: “They ridiculed us, called us many bad names, threatened to kill us and then later, they asked us to pray for them to be good citizens and that we should teach them English so that they could speak. “They also threatened to rape us but their leader warned them against that They always added sand to our foods and only allowed us to dig for water with our fingers at a drying pond.”
She added that although they were taken at night through the back of their school, she could trace the location and can still remember the faces of their abductors if she saw any of them.
Another victim, Hafsat Anka, said the captives threatened to kill, fry and eat them if they misbehaved. She said they trekked a long distance from the school, had a stopover for some hours before they reached their destination and were laid in trenches littered with human feaces.
“There was no clean water or good food, and we felt we had already spent years even though it was our first day and the bandits kept firing into the air to scare us.
“They were very young boys with one elder they called Kasalle or Yaya who gave them instructions, and he was the one that stopped them from touching any of us,” Hafsat stated.
Most of the girls were seen with wounds and swollen legs as they said they were asked to leave their shoes on the day they were kidnapped. One of the girls who simply gave her name as Rabiatu said they trekked for several hours after they were released before they finally reached where the buses to convey them to Government House were stationed. Sobbing, she said: “since we were kidnapped, I ate once a day and drank water only two times.”
Also, one Hauwa said when they reached the kidnappers’ den, they met some people who had been abducted more than three months ago still in custody.
“We were sometimes forced to lie down in a narrow hole and remove our white hijab when figher jets were on a surveillance mission in the forest.
“We ate rice with sand as salt. They said we should either eat or leave the food. Whenever they brought the rice, they would also put sand in our present and called it the salt.”
Hunainatu also spoke of the treatment meted to them, as she recalled that they slept in the open while in captivity, only to go into hiding along with the criminals when they heard the sounds of helicopters on search and rescue mission. They expressed joy for their release, though both Hunainatu and Hafsat ruled out attending boarding school again.
For Hafsat, though she was happy for being rescued, she pointed out that she would continue her studies as a day student. Hunainatu said she would return to Kaduna and continue at a day school to fulfil her dream of becoming a lawyer. Parents and guardians of the released female students expressed gratitude to governments, well-wishers and religious leaders who prayed for their rescue.
A father described the four days spent without hearing anything from his daughter as horrible. “She is my only daughter. I could die if she was detained for many days. She is my happiness. Alhamdullillahi,” he said.
The girls were made to undergo medical check-up at the Government House clinic. Speaking while receiving the girls, Governor Bello Matawalle said repentant bandits in the state-assisted security agencies in the operation that led to the rescue of schoolgirls.
The governor, who received the girls at about 5:00 a.m. on Tuesday, said the 279 girls were returned safely without paying any ransom. “This is the result of our peace effort and putting to shame all those saying there is no security in this country.
“We had been in discussion since Friday with the abductors and reached agreement on Monday by 4:00 p.m. that the girls were released.
“We are happy that all 279 have safely returned. They will undergo medical checks and given balanced diets to recuperate before they are handed back to their respective families.
“I want to appeal to parents not to remove their children from school as a result of this, we will ensure additional security in all the schools,” the governor said.
Expressing ‘overwhelming joy’ over the release of the schoolgirls, President Muhammadu Buhari, in a statement issued by Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President (Media and Publicity), in Abuja, celebrated the release of the traumatised female students.
President Buhari said he was excited that their ordeal came to a happy end without any incident, adding that “being held in captivity is an agonising experience, not only for the victims, but also their families and all of us.”
The president, however, called for greater vigilance by the people so that human intelligence could be obtained early enough to nip the bandits’ plans in the bud. “Ransom payments will continue to prosper kidnapping,” he warned while urging the police and the military to go after the kidnappers and bring them to justice.