The Federal Government yesterday deployed hundreds of soldiers to Aba in lawless Abia State to hunt down an armed gang holding 15 school children hostage, residents said. Roughly 400 soldiers in armoured vehicles sealed off the town of Aba where the kidnapped youngsters are believed to have been held since gunmen hijacked their bus on the way to school on Monday.
“They are everywhere and have taken over the streets. They have cordoned off the area. People are not allowed in or out of the town. Several shops, banks and schools remain shut,” one resident, who did not wish to be named, told Reuters.
This abduction of a large group of children, some of them as young as 3, has caused outrage as the nation prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary of independence from Britain today. Meanwhile, the management of Abayi International School Aba, Abia State, the kidnapped children’s school, said yesterday that the kidnappers have reduced the ransom money to N20 million from the initial N40 million they demanded.
Ogechi James, a management staff of the school, who revealed this Thursday in a briefing in Aba, noted that they have offered N100,000 which the kidnappers turned down. She affirmed that the school, like the other schools in the commercial city, has temporarily shut down while they await the release of the kidnapped pupils.
Some of the parents of the children who were present at the briefing urged the Federal Government to wade into the matter and free their children as the kidnappers are adamant. David Ezeribe, whose three children are involved, said his family had known no peace since the incident.
“I have not been myself; even my wife has not rested since Monday.” He said his children- Prince (6) who is in primary one, Testimony (4) and Grapevine (3), both in nursery one, left home with only a slice of bread they had before the school bus came to pick them. “I am most worried about Grapevine who had a malaria attack on Sunday and had received only one dose of treatment before the abduction”.
He pleaded with the kidnappers to let the children come back home. Ndudi Ihesieme, 35, whose two children were also among the kidnapped-Winner (4) and Macdonald (3), said his wife, who is nursing a four month old baby, has not slept and has been crying since the incident. However, Danni Ubani, president of Renaissance Youths of Ngwa Land has urged the kidnappers to release the abducted children uncondittionally, noting that the issue would have a devastating effect on Ngwa people and Nigeria in general, if anything untoward happens to the innocent children.
Ubani urged the kidnappers to embrace the amnesty programme of the state government to better their lives. President Goodluck Jonathan who faces an election early next year, condemned the kidnapping as “utterly callous and cruel” and said security forces would take “all necessary steps” to secure the children’s release.
Three French oil workers were kidnapped from a drilling supply ship last week, and police in nearby Rivers state say a group of five women were kidnapped two weeks ago by a gang believed to be from Abia State. There has been no word on the fate of either group, although in most instances in Nigeria, hostages are released unharmed after ransoms are paid.