What About The Six Epe Students? By Wale Fatade

As I write this, it’s now 32 days that six students of Lagos State Model College, Igbonla, Epe, were kidnapped and possibly most of us have forgotten about them. Buffeted with political issues across the length and breadth of our country, one may pardon citizens for seemingly forgetting about these six students. It is understandable too why the kidnapping is not trending on the social media and while most newsrooms seem to be in a conspiracy of silence to make us forget that for over a month, six young boys have been in kidnappers’ den waiting for Nigeria to rescue them. Four are in SS1 while two are in SS2.

They did not commit a crime beyond seeking to acquire formal education so as to position themselves better for the future. As a father with a son in secondary school, one could relate with the emotions of parents who must be at their wits end in seeking to rescue their children. No, I take that back. I could only relate with having children in boarding house and palpitations in the heart for their safety while waiting anxiously for their safe return every holiday period, but not with kidnapping as mine have not been kidnapped. They’ve not only raised N10 million out of the N40 million the kidnappers demanded, but also protested at the Lagos State governor’s office to draw attention to their plight, yet the kids are not back. Last October, four students and two staff members were also kidnapped from
the school.

It is apparent that the kidnappers are not interested in these kids or their parents alone; they must be targeting the school owners, Lagos State government. Quite instructive too that the state government has said that it does not negotiate with kidnappers and would thereby not pay a ransom to secure their freedom, good reasoning too especially since that is the state policy. Buoyed with a stellar cabinet, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode will do well to read more about kidnapping gangs operation in Colombia beautifully documented by Nobel Laureate, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in News of a Kidnapping, a book about the 1990 kidnapping of 10 Colombians by Pablo Escobar, head of the Medellin drug cartel. A pertinent question for our security agents to is: How come only schools in the riverine areas are attacked at will? How effective is the policing of our waterways?

It is also instructive that our governor chose the precincts of Aso Rock to speak on the kidnap and not in Lagos State. Granted that his government had invested heavily in improving the security of our state with most of the efforts visible, it is, however, painful that apart from an assistant inspector general of police who spoke while visiting the governor some weeks ago, there has only been the occasional one-liner from his commissioners on efforts at rescuing these children in response to journalists’ questions. Perhaps, this was what he alluded to by saying, “We cannot be putting all the efforts that we are making on the pages of newspapers. That will jeopardise our efforts to recover those children.” Regular briefing sessions with parents of the kidnapped students will also help and psychological or counselling sessions with experts too will do no harm as they have resorted to prayers alone in the face of helplessness to get their children back.

For those of us who understand the current dynamics of accessing qualitative secondary school education at affordable cost, we know that only middle-class parents will take their children to Lagos State Model Colleges. These schools have to see their best days and are now shadows of their former selves. A nephew of mine was withdrawn last year from the one at Kankon, Badagry after a session due to rundown facilities and the mother was apoplectic with rage on the father’s insistence of taking the boy there. Now, the same school at Badagry had received a threat letter too from kidnappers that they will attack it. It might be under the radar, either deliberately or accidentally, but kidnapping is real and it has sadly come to stay with us.

Over the weekend, I spoke with a father whose children’s school, also in Lagos State, was attacked last year and some students kidnapped, on efforts by the school in securing its walls. He told me of new patrol vehicles bought for surveillance, a new security company has also been retained to complement efforts of Oodua Peoples Congress members from the community and regular policemen, all to keep the kids safe. Naturally, the costs would be passed on to the parents in increased school fees. This is where we are today even as some journalists seek to glamorize kidnapping via their spurious reportage of the activities of Chukwudi Onuamadike, alias Evans, to the extent we are now being told that policemen are under ‘pressure’ to release him.

My heart goes out to the parents of these six kids whose lives must have been turned upside down, thankfully enough our governor said he feels “terribly inadequate” because of the inability to get them back quickly. May you be reunited with your children soonest.

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