Fifteen kidnapped kids regain freedom, abductors on the run
T A Orji
IT was real Independence celebration for the governor, government and people of Abia State yesterday as they marked the day in a special way. The release of the 15 pupils of Abayi International School, who were kidnapped last Monday while being conveyed to school in a bus, coincided with the occasion.
All the unhurt but frail-looking children, whose ages range from three to 13, were handed over to the governor, Dr. Theodore Orji by the Commander of the state Joint Task Force (JTF), Brig. Gen. Johnson Ochoga at about 10.40 a.m. at the Government House.
The kids were said to have been abandoned about midnight in Ngwainyiekwe village in Ugwunagbo Local Council Area with one Mr. Tobechi Nkoku who was kidnapped two days before that Monday and held hostage inspite of the fact that a N1 million ransom was allegedly paid on his behalf. Their abductors had run away following heavy military operation involving combing of nooks and crannies of the state to dislodge criminal camps as well as arrest them.
Some of their parents and guardians including the school manager, Mrs. Uche Ikonne and her husband, Prof. Chidi Ikonne were around to receive them when they were conveyed to the Government House in a military bus with the inscription 'JTF Operation Restore Hope.'
The state Police Commissioner, Jonathan Johnson, State Security Services (SSS) Director and National Civil Defence and Security and Corps (NCDSC) were also around when the JTF Commander handed them over to the governor saying: “Before you sir are the 15 very young children abducted last Monday by heartless persons who subjected them to hardship. There is no doubt they need immediate medical attention but they are intact.”
In the presence of his wife, Odochi, deputy Governor, Acho Nwakanma and his wife Joyce, and many top government officials, Orji thanked God for making the day possible and specifically thanked President Goodluck Jonathan, the army, police security agencies and all who showed concern over what happened.
“My day was made today. How would I have stood in the stadium to celebrate the independence anniversary while our children were being held captivite. My wife had shelved the independence party she arranged for children in the state and we had prayed God to empower the security agencies to rescue these children. We can now celebrate joyfully. Yesterday, we visited the camp and the criminals ran away. Those doing these are not human beings, neither could they be married or have children.”
According to the governor, kidnapping has come to an end in Abia State with Federal Government intervened. “After today, only a fool will continue with kidnapping in Abia State. We shall sustain support for the army/JTF to sustain the programme.
We are offering them Asa High School for use as camp/barracks if they want it. We have bought them more vehicles; we are happy the army has returned to Ohafia Barracks, we now feel military presence. We are taking back these released children and sending them immediately for medical treatment.”
To the children, the governor said the government and the people were sorry. “It is a lesson for you because some of you will become presidents, governors, and the like. Hence, you should resolve to fight criminality when you grow up,” he said.
The governor had on the previous day revoked the two weeks amnesty he declared for repentant kidnappers/criminals in the state whom he directed to surrender their arms, victims and thereafter themselves and report to designated camps for rehabilitation, warning that if any case of kidnapping and robbery occurred in the state within the two weeks, the amnesty would be revoked for full military operation to follow.
The school manager and some parents and guardians of the kids thanked God for their return of especially as they were without physical injuries. They condemned the action but did not say if any ransom was paid.
Prof. Ikonne, the proprietor, said the school was 16 years old. According to him, it runs nursery, primary and full secondary courses said that the incident would not deter them from continuing with the school and that 40 per cent of the pupils were on scholarship.