Abuja â€” President Goodluck Jonathan last night ordered security forces to immediately step up their search for 15 children kidnapped in Abia State. The gunmen had hijacked a school bus carrying some children to school on Monday morning.
The president has also described Governor Bukola Saraki and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar’s comments on zoning as statements based on false foundation.
Jonathan condemned the “utterly callous and cruel kidnapping” of 15 nursery and primary school pupils. A statement by presidential spokeman, Mr. Ima Niboro said the president had ordered the inspector-general of police and the heads of other security agencies “to take all necessary steps to rescue the abducted children and return them safely to their parents”.
The incident occurred near Aba. Kidnapping has been rampant in the South-East region for years. Recently some senior journalists were also kidnapped on their way to Lagos. In the current case, the abductors are asking for a ransom of N20 million.
The police have said they don’t know the whereabouts of the children, and they won’t confirm their nationalities and identities. Geofrey Ogbonna, the state’s police spokesman, told journalists that four gunmen boarded a bus headed to Apayi International School in Aba and took the children away. The bus driver and the school teacher who were on board are in police custody and helping law enforcement efforts.
Jonathan has urged the children’s parents and relatives “to remain calm” and assured them that the government “will do everything possible to apprehend the kidnappers and bring an end to these ugly incidents as soon as possible.”
Security watchers said kidnappings and rape in Abia State are common and have become more frequent in recent years. They include vehicle hijackings and even people being snatched off the street. The motive is usually money. It is now common in the state for some people to travel with security, if they can afford it. As foreign oil workers improved their personal security, the kidnappers have increasingly targeted Nigerians.
Okechukwu Nwanguma, head of the Network on Police Reform in Nigeria, a rights group, called the hijacking “very disturbing.”
According to him, “It also shows that this problem of insecurity, and especially kidnapping, is beyond the police and the government.Drastic measures need to be taken to smoke out crime and its perpetrators.”
Police said recently that more than 300 suspected kidnappers had been arrested since February.
Meanwhile, the national chairman of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, has reacted angrily to the reported kidnap of 15 school pupils by unknown gunmen describing it as callous and unacceptable.
Nwodo, through a statement by his media aide, Mr. Ike Abonyi, described the action of the hijackers of the children most of them in nursery and primary level, as wicked and challenged relevant security agencies to fish them out and save the children, their families and the nation the trauma.
The national chairman said that such wicked action by anybody at a time the nation is in celebration mood and many foreign dignitaries already in the country for our golden jubilee is not only callous but distracting.
He said that the issue of kidnapping in the South-East especially Abia, has become a huge embarrassment to the nation and should be condemned by all reasonable persons.
Gunmen had on Monday hijacked a school bus conveying 15 pupils of Abayi International School and taken them to an unknown hideout.
The last high profile kidnap in the same area involved three Lagos- based journalists returning to Lagos after attending a conference of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State capital.
Jonathan also said that the repeatedly shrill cries of Alhaji Abubakar and Governor Saraki against his candidacy are premised on false foundation.
In a statement in Abuja, Mr. Sully Abu, director of media and publicity of the Jonathan Campaign Organisation declared: “It is preposterous to admit in one breath that the President has the constitutional right to contest and in another declare him unqualified on the basis of his geopolitical zone of origin. In any case, the PDP has long settled this issue when it affirmed the president’s right to contest.
“One would have expected that all those shouting themselves hoarse on this issue would, as loyal party members, respect the decision of the party.”
Mr. Abu further stated that it was clear to Nigerians that all those against President Jonathan’s candidacy were scared of a free and fair contest. He said instead of seeking to broaden the democratic space, they were out to confer an unfair advantage on themselves. “If they are as politically powerful as they claim,” he said, “why are they afraid of open competition, an opportunity provided by the PDP primaries?”
He advised them not to attempt re-writing the Nigerian constitution through the back door.
Meanwhile, the president has approved the release of N1 billion and N750 million as Federal Government’s grants to Sokoto and Kebbi states respectively, as part of government’s assistance to alleviate the sufferings of victims of the flood disaster that ravaged the two states.
The grants are to be expended on reconstruction of damaged roads, culverts and bridges; scour inspection and survey of piers and abutments of the severely eroded bridge across the Sokoto River; after-flood protection study of the affected areas.
The president urged the Sokoto and Kebbi governments to ensure judicious use of the grants to alleviate the plight of the flood victims.