There were open displays of emotion on Friday as the parents of the pupils of the Lagos State Model College, Igbonla, Epe, who were abducted on May 25, 2017, reunited with their children following their release after 64 days in captivity.
The pupils – Peter Jonah, Isiaq Rahmon, Adebayo George, Judah Agbausi, Pelumi Philips and Farouq Yusuf – arrived at the Lagos State Deputy Governor’s office in Alausa, Ikeja from Ondo State around 9 pm.
But a security source informed Saharacable.com that the kidnappers collected N5m on Tuesday, adding that the fresh payment led to the release of the children.
According to the source, the fresh payment brought the total ransom paid to the kidnappers to N37m.
Twenty suspected kidnappers of the pupils were killed in gun duels with security operatives in the events leading to the release of the pupils on Friday.
It was learnt that one civilian volunteer (local vigilante), who fought on the side of the security agents, was also killed, while eight policemen and four other volunteers sustained injuries in the shoot-outs.
The police said one of the members of the kidnap gang, who collected ransom on behalf of the gang, was also arrested.
The Lagos State Deputy Governor, Dr. Idiat Adebule, who received the children in her office in Alausa, Ikeja on behalf of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, said the state government would use the holiday period to intensify security in public schools before the next term begins.
The pupils were expected to have arrived earlier but their arrival was delayed by heavy traffic on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.
The children were said to have been dropped at Aboto Creek in the Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State by some members of the gang at about 12 pm and moved to the office of the state’s deputy governor.
Adebule received the children in Lagos along with the Ondo State Governor, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu, and his deputy, Mr. Agboola Ajayi.
She said, “I will like to commend the police and other security agencies for ensuring that the children are back. We plan to have comprehensive medical check-up on the children and they will be debriefed in collaboration with other stakeholders.
“We are going back to the drawing board to ensure that all that needs to be done in terms of security before the resumption of schools is done.”
Akeredolu said combined efforts of the South-West governors and security agencies led to the release of the pupils, adding that the role played by the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbanjo, was incisive.
The Commissioner, Lagos State Police Command, Fatai Owoseni, said 20 members of the gang involved in the abduction of the pupils were killed in gun duels with security operatives.
He said two of them were ringleaders identified as Bright Adeniyi and Oniwe Iyelabo, aka America.
He said, “The response to the kidnap was swift as much as possible, which led to curtailing the gang within a specific location. Adeniyi led the abduction of the children. He met his Waterloo along with 16 others shortly after the abduction during a gun duel with security agents.
“America and two others were killed on July 18 when they attempted to invade a marine police post. The suspect that swindled the parents has been arrested.”
Owoseni was however silent on the ransom paid to the kidnappers, saying dwelling on it would glamorise kidnapping. Journalists were also prevented from talking to the pupils.
Some parents of the children, who spoke with our correspondent in Lagos, who could not hide their joy, said they were excited by the news of their children’s release after over two months in captivity.
Philips’ father, Dapo Adesegha, said, “It was unbelievable. I am very excited. Our sorrow is over. I have been receiving so many calls and congratulatory messages from people. We appreciate everybody that stood by us.”
Another parent, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said after hearing the news, he celebrated with two bottles of beer.
“I am someone who likes fun, but I had to refrain from having fun since the children were abducted. But after I heard the news, I went to a hotel near my house and had a good delicacy with two bottles of beer. I am extremely happy,” he said.
Isiaq’s father, Morufu Ramon, said, “I am the happiest person on earth right now. When I called the Lagos State Commissioner of Police to confirm the news, he said, ‘Congratulations, they have been released’. Our sorrow is over. I have spoken with my child on the telephone. He said he was fine. He said, ‘Congratulations daddy.’”
The source said, “Some parents took the N5m to Odi-Omi, Ogun State. When it was 8 pm, they came out from a bus and collected it. The parents were strictly warned to keep it a secret from the police.
“They asked them to tell the police authorities to keep off waterways or else they would not release the children. It was the money that led to the release. Together with the previous payments, they collected N37m.”
We worked tirelessly to secure release – Akeredolu
Ondo State Governor, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu, said his government and those of Lagos, Ogun and Delta made rigorous efforts to secure the release of the pupils.
In a statement issued by the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr. Segun Ajiboye, on Friday, the governor also commended the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, and security agencies for the efforts in securing the release of the pupils.
The statement read, “We are happy to note the release of the six kidnapped students of Igbonla Model School, Epe, Lagos State as a result of the determined and conscientious efforts of the Acting President, the governments of Lagos, Ondo, Ogun, Delta states and the security agencies, including the police, the Department of State Services and the military.
“In the last few days, the deputy governors of Ondo and Delta states have worked tirelessly to ensure that the students are released. The students will be handed over to the deputy governor of Lagos State for further actions.”
How schoolchildren were released – Source
The six pupils were reportedly released to a delegation of the Ondo State Government in Ajakpa Community in Ese Odo Local Government Area of the state.
It was learnt that they were released to the government delegation, led by Ajayi, the deputy governor, by the creek.
According to the source, the pupils might be taken to the Presidential Villa, Abuja to meet with the Acting President.
The source disclosed that the state government had been negotiating with the kidnappers for 10 days.
He said, “They (kidnappers) promised not to release the kids to any other state except the Ondo State. The state governor, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu, asked the deputy governor to secure their release, and they were released to the deputy governor at 1am today (Friday).
“Early Friday morning, the militants released the pupils to the deputy governor between Ajakpa and Igbonla creeks. The children said they were not maltreated by their abductors. “
Pupils will undergo medical tests, therapy before going home – Lagos
Meanwhile, a press statement by the Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Steve Ayorinde, on Friday congratulated the parents of the pupils and concerned stakeholders over the development, saying the pupils would undergo series of medical tests and trauma therapy before they are allowed to return to their families.
The statement said in part, “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.”
Also on Friday, the spokesperson for the Acting President, Laolu Akande, on his Twitter handle, said, “Congrats to Lagos State Governor on release of kidnapped boys. He worked very hard with FG agencies, Ondo, Delta governments & Nigerian Navy for the result (sic).”
MSSN rejoices, wants culprits arrested
The Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria has however called on security operatives to ensure the arrest and punishment of the kidnappers of the pupils.
The reaction of the group was contained in a statement by the Amir of MSSN in Lagos State, Dr. Saheed Ashafa, on Friday.
Ashafa commended security operatives for their efforts to secure the release of the pupils.
He said, “It is glorious to say that after 64 days of heightened pressure on the police and other security operatives to secure the release of the students earlier than now, there is a success story at the end.
“We should also commend the professionalism and maturity displayed by the police that brought this huge relief that climaxed the whole experience at the end of the day. Hopefully, the police will get the culprits arrested and punished.
“This is important so as to serve as a deterrent to other ill-minded individuals planning to engage in the condemnable act of kidnapping.”
Ashafa hails Osinbajo, Ambode, police
Meanwhile, the senator representing Lagos East Senatorial District, Gbenga Ashafa, commended the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, and the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, for keeping to their word that the children would return safely.
Ashafa, who described the rescue of the pupils as the best news of the week, thanked the efforts of the Inspector General of Police’ Intelligence Response Team for their “doggedness”.
A statement issued by the senator on Friday partly read, “More important is the steel will of the parents of the affected children, the collective prayers of well-meaning Lagosians and the solidarity of all Nigerians, which put paid to the fact that, indeed, our bonds are strongest when we are hard-pressed.
“In the strongest of terms, I condemn the activities of criminal elements in our society. I urge the security agencies not to relent in the never-ending war against kidnapping and other crimes.
“Our children and families deserve to live in a safe environment. To the families of members of our security forces who have paid the ultimate price, Nigeria and posterity will forever remember those who have stayed the course in preserving the unity and sovereignty of this nation.”
He also called on the people of the state to report any suspicious individuals, groups and their activities to the law enforcement agencies.
“The task of keeping our society safe is more effective when it is a joint effort between the citizens and the security agencies,” he added.