- It’s like a dream –Parents
BY CHIOMA IGBOKWE, MUSA JIBRIL, CHRISTOPHER OJI, Lagos and BAMIGBOLA GBOLAGUNTE, Akure
But for the death of ‘America’, the dreaded militant leader and kidnap kingpin responsible for their abduction, the six school pupils of the Model College, Igbonla, Epe, Lagos State, reunited with their families yesterday, would still have been in their captors’ grip.
The prolonged nightmare and suspense over the fate of the six boys, snatched by gunmen, who came through the creek at the back of their school in the early hours of Thursday, May 25, ended yesterday as they were let off by ‘America’s comrades in arms, apparently destabilized by his sudden death in a shootout with the Navy and growing prospect of arrest by security agents already closing in on them.
Saturday Sun learnt that the others decided to free the children- Peter Jonah, Isiaq Rahmon, Adebayo George, Judah Agbausi, Pelumi Philips and Farouq Yusuf, shortly after their leader was killed during the gun battle with Naval officers in the creeks over a week ago.
‘America’, who had refused to release the children after a ransom of N31million was paid, evidently overreached himself, as he demanded more cash and issued fresh conditions for their freedom.
He had threatened to kidnap more persons if the Federal Government failed to grant him amnesty and release some of his colleagues arrested and locked up in prison.
To pass his message across, he was said to have dared to snatch a gunboat belonging to the Navy but was gunned down in process.
Although, there is no corpse to prove that the militant leader is truly dead, sources close to the militants confirmed to Saturday Sun that he is indeed dead.
It was gathered that as soon as news of his death hit the creeks, Promise, another militant who is said to be the one in charge of the safety of the children decided that it was time to send them home.
Although there were pressures amongst the militant leaders in Delta State to keep the children and ask for more money, Saturday Sun learnt that Promise decided to contact the Lagos State Government when he learnt that special forces deployed by the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, had traced and arrested members of his family. He promised handing the hostages over yesterday morning.
However, there was a bit of delay due to the inability of the kidnappers and security agencies to agree on a spot safe enough for the militants to drop the children and escape.
After some negotiations, it was agreed that the kids would be dropped in Ondo State. However around 10.50am Friday, the militants reportedly sent an alert that their boat was about to sink. They threatened that if a boat was not urgently sent to them, they would return with the children to Delta State where they had kept them.
Luckily, the Ondo State Government stepped in and the children were later picked from Aboto Creek in Ilaje Local Government area by men of the state Police Command and other security operatives as well as officials attached to the Office of the state’s Deputy Governor, Mr Agboola Ajayi.
An earlier plan for the kids to visit Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State was shelved on their way to Akure as they were moved down to Lagos.
It could not be ascertained if any arrests were made, but police officers were said to be combing Aboto Creek, its environs and other riverine towns in the state for the kidnappers.
The state’s Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Mr Femi Joseph, said the police from the Lagos Command led the joint operation, with the collaboration of the two state governments.
He thus referred inquiries to the Lagos State Command, which, he explained, was in a better position to give details on how the pupils were released.
Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni, confirmed their release, but would not give details on the circumstances that led to their release.
But, sources said a combined team of the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) and Anti-Kidnapping Unit of the command led by Owoseni were involved in the operation.
Excited father of one of the pupils identified as Pelumi Philips, thanked God Almighty for his safe return. Still anticipating their physical reunion, he said: “I am grateful to God Almighty, the Giver of life. I was told that they have been handed over to government and officials of Lagos State Government. I am waiting to see him first to be sure that it is not a dream. We were told that they are in Ondo State and that the police will contact us when they are able to bring them to Lagos.
“May God bless all the security agencies who stood by us all these horrifying days. We thank the Nigerian government for their intervention and we thank Nigerians for their prayers. I can’t wait to see my boy.”
Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Steve Ayorinde, in a statement, congratulated the parents of the students and all concerned stakeholders over the development.
Ayorinde said the students would undergo series of medical tests and trauma therapy before being reunited with their families.
“This is a welcome development and the state government has always believed that the students will be released unhurt. The news of their release is therefore a confirmation of that belief and we are glad that they will be reuniting with their families,” Ayorinde said.
He reiterated the government’s commitment to ensuring the safety of lives and property of residents in the state, adding that it had already beefed up security in schools to prevent a re-occurrence.
“It is on record that the Governor Akinwunmi Ambode-led administration has invested massively on equipment and welfare of security personnel so as to ensure that the state remains safe for residents and investors.
“This government has already taken giant steps to secure all our schools, especially those in the suburbs and riverine areas, and we are confident that the steps taken so far will go a long way in nipping a repeat of such in the bud,” Ayorinde said.
The Commissioner also quoted the governor as commending the efforts of security agencies who worked tirelessly to ensure the safe release and return of the students.
Throughout their 65 days in captivity, the whereabouts of the boys was unknown, even as government and the police continually assured that they were safe.
The N31 million paid ransom included an initial N10million from the parents supplemented by the Lagos State Government after the kidnappers threatened to kill the hostages if their demand for N100 million reduced from initial N400 million was not paid.
They had also earlier demanded an extra N1.5million for transportation before they would release the boys.
Security operatives had attributed the kidnap to ‘America’, the militant who took over leadership of the criminal gang once commanded by Ossy, a dreaded militant commander earlier killed in a botched operation. ‘America’ is reputed to be the mastermind of the January abduction of staff and students of the Turkish International College that yielded a N50-million ransom.
The abductors who were a step ahead of security operatives thwarted various rescue efforts. For instance, they relocated their hostages two days after their abduction, thereby rendering the sacking of their camp in the Lagos-Ogun creek by a joint team of Lagos State Police command, Marine Unit and the IGP Intelligent Team as an exercise in futility. They relocated to another camp outside Lagos and Ogun creeks within 11 days when members of the gang––Egelu Endurance alias Jubby, Stanley Yomi Irabomini alias Powei and Bentel Endurance––were arrested by operatives of the Inspector General of Police Investigation Response Team (IRT).