Kidnappers of five pupils of Apostolic Faith Group of Schools, Emure Ekiti, and four staff members have demanded N100m ransom for the release of the nine victims who were taken away on Monday.

The principal of the secondary section of the school, Boje Olanireti, confirmed the ransom demand, in an interview with  The PUNCH on Tuesday.

The abduction epidemic has continued to defy the efforts of the security agencies as cases of kidnappings were being recorded in various parts of the country daily.

On Monday, gunmen killed two Ekiti monarchs-the Onimojo of Imojo, Oba Olatunde Olusola, and the Elesun of Esun Ekiti, Oba Babatunde Ogunsakin, while the Alara of Ara Ekiti, Oba Adebayo Fatoba, narrowly escaped.

The traditional rulers were returning from a function in Kogi State when their vehicles ran into the suspected kidnappers who were operating on the highway between Ipao and Oke Ako in the Ikole Local Government Area of Ekiti State.

The abduction of the schoolchildren and four staff members occurred when the school bus conveying 25 pupils home after school hours was waylaid by the gunmen in the Emure community in Ekiti State.

Shedding light on how the incident occurred, Olanireti explained that the abduction occurred about a five-minute drive from the school.

She said, “Immediately the school closed at 3pm, and by the time we gathered all the children, it was already 3:30pm. It was that time that they moved. So, the incident happened between 3:30pm and 4pm. The school is in a suburb of Emure village, so they were going back home in Eporo. The incident occurred just about a five-minute drive from the school to Eporo.

“When the gunmen attacked, the people around heard the gunshots and they came to Emure with motorcycles to inform the people in the school about what happened. We immediately reported to the police station at Emure.

“The students were over 25 on the bus when the incident happened. When the gunmen attacked them, they shot the tyre of the vehicle and asked the children to come out of the bus. They asked all of them to lie down. They picked five students and four staff members. They, after that, asked others to go.”

Olanireti added, “The five students comprise two from the secondary (school) and three from primary school while the four staff comprise two teachers, one driver and one bus assistant.

“When the parents heard about the incident, they came from Eporo and they have been making frantic efforts by reaching out to some security outfits, including the police and Amotekun.’’

“The security operatives have also been talking to the proprietor of the primary school and he has been giving them information. By the time they opened communication, they first called the husband of one of the teachers and demanded N10m for each kidnapped victim. But when they later called the headmaster, they demanded N100m for all of them.” the principal said.

A family source at Eporo Ekiti, who preferred anonymity, confirmed on Tuesday that the kidnappers had contacted the family of one of the children demanding  N100m on the victims.

The source said, “They called the family of one of the school children and they are requesting N10m per victim. What we gathered is that there are nine persons kidnapped – five schoolchildren, two teachers, one bus assistant, and a driver.

“The parents are at Eporo. The bus was taking them home after closing. It was in the process that the kidnappers struck. None of the families of the abductees can afford the ransom.’’

Meanwhile, the Aremo of Emure Kingdom, Chief Clement Akinola, has appealed to the state government to assist in the release of their children.

Akinola, who in the company of the Emure Local Government Chairman and state government officials visited the families of the kidnapped persons at Eporo Ekiti, said, “One can imagine the condition the children will be in, one can imagine the state of mind of the parents, the entire Emure community and the Eporo people. There is tension, very high tension.’’

The chief called for the establishment of military posts on the many borders between the Emure community and Ondo State to tame kidnappings and the activities of gunmen in the area.

He said, “Emure is a border town, we have a boundary with Ondo State at Owo through Eporo, we have a boundary with Ondo State through Supare Akoko, and we have some farm roads pliable by motorbikes to Ondo State at Uso.

“My appeal is that there should be military checkpoints between Emure and Owo and Eporo and as well around Supare. These will reduce the violent crimes in the areas.

The Chairman of the Joint Security Committee of Ise, Emure and Ikere, Tunji Falana, who corroborated Akinola, said, “The boundaries are too porous. We have been appealing to the government to establish police posts and army checkpoints at the borders.

Porous boundaries

“This is not the first time kidnappers would kidnap there. The place is porous. But in this kidnap case, the Kabiyesi, the Elemure of Emure Ekiti, Oba Emmanuel Adebayo, a former commissioner of police, is working round the clock to ensure the release of the abductees.

Falana advised that in the meantime, “Bush combing should be at regular intervals, not more than two weeks interval. When the kidnappers realize the forests are free, they return especially during dry seasons like this when there is North-South migration.

“They destroy our farms at Ise Ekiti and Emure Ekiti here and nobody can control them. We commend the police because they are making arrests and taking them for prosecution.”

Suspects arrested

Meanwhile, the police in Ekiti State said on Tuesday that they had arrested five suspected kidnappers just as the command launched a manhunt for the kidnappers in collaboration with the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Amotekun, Odua Peoples Congress, and hunters.

The Police Public Relations Officer, Sunday Abutu, disclosed in a statement that the suspects were arrested during a joint operation with other security agencies.

He said, “The suspects were arrested by a combined team of policemen, civil defence corps, Amotekun Corps Odua Peoples Congress, and local hunters on Tuesday during a bush combing operation through Oke-Osun, Ikere/Igbo-Okah to the thick forest around Iju/Ikere boundary.

“During the operation, five suspected kidnappers namely- Usman Jelili, Mohammed Bande, Abubakar Aliu, Isah Abdulahi, and Suleman Abdulahi were arrested.’’

“During interrogation, the suspects claimed to be herdsmen, but it was later discovered that none of them had cattle and no cattle was found with them in the forest where they were arrested.

“The following items were found with them in the forest – two motorcycles, one cutlass, one jack knife/dagger, and four phones,” the PPRO stated.

In response to the killing of two monarchs by suspected kidnappers on Monday, Ekiti State communities wore sober looks on Tuesday when the Ekiti State Governor, Mr Biodun Oyebanji, paid condolence visits to the palaces of the two communities and the people of the two towns.

The indigenes of the two communities, who spoke on the deaths of their monarchs, described the incident as a great loss to the two communities.

At the palace of Elesun, they cut the trees to signify the passage of the monarch while red flags were flown on masts as people sat in groups singing dirges over the Elesun’s transition.

Oyebanji, who said Ekiti State had been very peaceful, lamented the attack and unexpected killings, which he described as “unfortunate and an affront to the peaceful nature of the state”.

The governor, who spoke at the Palace of the Elesun and a small hall at Imojo where the building of the palace was ongoing, said that the incident was a sacrilege to the traditional institution in the state.

He said it was a good development that President Bola Tinubu, who was on the phone with him for about an hour on Monday to commiserate with the Ekiti people had given directives to security agencies to fish out the perpetrators of the dastardly act and bring them to book.

Oyebanji said, “I have absolute confidence in the security agencies to fish out the people involved in this crime against the traditional institution in Ekiti. The government will continue to step up efforts at the security of the people because that is why we are here in government.

“My message to all the criminals is that Ekiti State is going to be too hot for them, we are going to get hot at them, and for those that are involved in this act, this sacrilege, they will be fished out.”

He described security as a joint task of both residents and the government, urging residents to continue assisting the security operatives by giving timely information to the security men within their environment.

The Second-in-Command to the Onimojo, the Elejira of Imojo, Chief Ayodele Dada, described the killing of the monarch as painful, saying the late traditional ruler initiated several developmental projects in the community.

Dada, who lamented frequent kidnapping activities in the area in the last few months, called on the government to double its efforts in providing security for the people of the state.

The traditional chief said, “We will sorely miss the late Kabiyesi. But in his memory, we appeal to the state government to complete the Imojo palace project which he began so that we can name it after him to immortalize him.”

The governor promised to assist the bereaved family and assist the Imojo community with the construction of the ongoing palace in the community.

Oyebanji also said efforts were in top gear to rescue the abductees describing the kidnap of the schoolchildren as callous and unacceptable.

 

Nothing would be spared in the efforts to rescue them, he vowed.

A statement by the Special Adviser to Ekiti State Governor on Media, Yinka Oyebode, confirmed that 10 persons were abducted.

He said, “Security agencies are already on the trail of the abductors with a mandate to bring the pupils back safely. Security is being stepped up across the state to flush out criminal elements from their hideouts”.

Also, President Bola Tinubu, on Tuesday, condemned the killing of the two obas even as he assured that the perpetrators would not go unpunished.

“President Tinubu condemns this mindless and brutal bloodletting, and pledges that the perpetrators will not escape justice,” a statement signed by Tinubu’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, read.

The statement was titled, ‘President Tinubu condemns killing of traditional rulers in Ekiti, directs immediate rescue of kidnapped pupils.’

Tinubu, who grieved over the demise of the two monarchs, also directed the immediate rescue of pupils and teachers kidnapped around the Eporo-Ekiti area of the State.

Tinubu orders arrest

Reacting to the incident, the President assured Nigerians that the nation’s security architecture was being robustly fortified for better and expected outcomes as the security of life and property remained the primary responsibility of his government.

Worried by the worsening abduction epidemic, the Senate on Tuesday summoned the service chiefs over the spate of insecurity across the country.

The Senate also noted that it would meet with President Tinubu for a briefing on the security crisis confronting the nation.

Those invited include the Chief of Army Staff, Taoreed Lagbaja; the Chief of Air Staff, Hassan Abubakar; the Director-General of the Department of State Services, Yusuf Bichi, and the Inspector-General of Police, Kayode Egbetokun.

The Senate observed a minute silence for all the deceased.

Still, on the security challenge, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tajudeen Abbas, has advocated the adoption of new strategies to address the widespread insecurity ravaging the country.

Abbas gave the charge on Tuesday at the resumption of plenary from the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Lamenting the worsening security challenges which in the past few weeks led to the death of scores of Nigerians in Plateau, Kaduna, and other parts of the country, Abbas noted that if not adequately addressed, the situation could degenerate to threaten the stability of the nation.

“The time has come to think out of the box and adopt new and contemporary strategies that better respond to the complexities of our current challenges, ‘’ he suggested.

The Speaker, who represents Zaria Federal Constituency, also tasked President Tinubu to demand “Greater performance and accountability from our service chiefs and all security and enforcement agencies.’’

He added, ‘’I implore the President not to shy away from making the tough decisions. If necessary, we must not hesitate to enact changes within our security apparatus, for the cost of inaction is far too great to bear.”

“The recent move by the President to track and review the annual performance of Federal Ministries, Departments, and Agencies is indeed commendable and should be supported by all Nigerians.’’

Fayemi reacts

The immediate-past governor of Ekiti State, Dr Kayode Fayemi, also condemned the monarchs’ killing, describing it as “senseless.”

Fayemi, in a statement he signed, urged security agencies “to take decisive actions against these marauders,” saying, “We need an all-of-society approach to solving this national problem.”

“It is with profound sadness and deep sorrow that I condemn the senseless killings of Oba David Ogunsakin, the Elesun of Esun Ekiti, and Oba Olatunde Olusola, the Olumajo of Imole Ekiti, which occurred yesterday, Monday, January 29, 2024.

“I express my deepest condolences to the government and people of Ekiti State over this unfortunate incident. My heart aches for the families, friends, and communities affected by this appalling act of violence, as such acts of violence have no place in our society,” the ex-governor said.

“The country has witnessed an upsurge in the activity of kidnappers since the start of the New Year and Ekiti State which has been relatively peaceful also appears to be experiencing an increase in this heinous criminality.

“Whilst urging the security agencies to take decisive actions against these marauders, it is clear that we need an all-of-society approach to solving this national problem. I stand in solidarity with the government and people of Ekiti State in the efforts to rid the state of this menace even as I urge all our people to be more vigilant,” Fayemi said.

He called for a swift and thorough investigation of “this heinous crime,” urging the security agencies to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice.

“Such acts of violence cannot be tolerated, and every effort must be made to hold the perpetrators accountable for their actions,” the former governor said.

“As we mourn the untimely passing of Kabiyesi Elesun and Olumojo, we must work together to foster a culture of peace, tolerance, and respect for human life. Let us come together as a people to support one another and reaffirm our commitment to promoting peace, unity, and justice in Ekiti State and beyond.

“On behalf of my wife, Bisi, and the rest of our family, we pray for strength and solace for the families of the victims, and may the Lord grant them the fortitude to bear this irreparable loss. Amen,” Fayemi said.

Ibadan chiefs

Meanwhile, Ibadan traditional Chieftaincy title-holders, otherwise known as Mogajis, on Tuesday, threatened to block all the escape routes in all the cities, towns, and villages, including the forests and bushes considered ungovernable spaces.

A statement by the President of Mogajis of Ibadanland, Mogaji Asimiyu Ariori, and Coordinator of the Ibadan Compound Peace Initiative, Mogaji Nurudeen Akinade, said the resurgence of kidnapping and other criminal activities in Nigeria, especially in the South-West zone, called for serious concern.

The Mogajis further stressed that Ibadan, as the gateway to other South-West states, would not fold its arms and allow the menace to continue.

NUT chair

Reacting to the students’ kidnap, the Chairman of the Lagos State Chapter of the Nigeria Union of Teachers, Akintoye Hassan, blamed the incident on the activities of the Boko Haram sect whom he said were waging a war on education.

The NUT chairman, in an interview with The PUNCH, said, “Some years back, the issue of kidnapping was predominantly a Northern states issue but a few years back, insecurity challenge became predominant in Ondo State. The most popular case was the attack on a church in Owo by gunmen who killed several innocent people. Up till today, we are yet to apprehend the culprit.

“Insecurity is leaving Ondo and it has crept to Ekiti and very soon it will penetrate everywhere in the Southwest. Already there are cases of kidnapping along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.

“The issue of insecurity as it affects education is that some group of people, some years back, declared education as forbidden which is the meaning of Haram, and many schools, because of the activities of this sect, were closed for years and the lives of students and teachers were threatened. Now, it is penetrating down to the SouthWest where education is our major bedrock.”

The NUT Chair expressed concerns that if the issue of kidnapping is not addressed headlong, it may lead Nigeria into a state of anarchy where people would resort to defending themselves.

“It is a serious challenge to the present leadership of this country. if it has not reached the peak for them, I think it has reached the pick to an average Nigerian and if something critical is not done, we are moving gradually towards a state of anarchy where people will resort to defending themselves. at that point, nobody will be assured of safety including those in the position of authority.

“It is an ugly development. Poor citizens who are already struggling in the face of economic hardship will now contend with criminals in the payment of ransom and the experience of people who have found themselves in similar situations has shown that everybody for himself, God for all,” Hassan disclosed.

Ogun Traditional Rulers Council

In a related development, the Akarigbo of Remoland and Chairman, Ogun State Council of Traditional Rulers, Oba Adewale Babatunde Ajayi on Monday expressed sadness over the reported killing of the two monarchs in Ekiti State.

Reacting to the incident on Tuesday, the Spokesman for Akarigbo palace and Baamofin of Remoland, Otunba Bayo Onafuwa, Oba Ajayi said “This news is sad.

“On behalf of all the Obas in Ogun state, HRM Akarigbo wishes to commiserate with the families of the departed. It is, however, a sad commentary on the state of insecurity in the country.

“Kabiyesi urges the government to do its best by protecting the lives of its citizens. It is now apparent that the issue of state security ought to be revisited as a matter of urgency”.