Who will rescue two teachers, a National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) member and a labourer kidnapped at Rundele High School in Agba -Ndele in Emohua Local Government Area of Rivers State? The abductors have reduced their ransom from N25 million to N6 million. But, their rescue and the reopening of the school, the only one in the community, remain uncertain, reports PRECIOUS DIKEWOHA.
It’s been 31 days since their abduction and there is no trace yet of them. Two teachers, a corps member and a labourer were kidnapped from Rundele High School in Agba Ndele Community in Emohua Local Government Area of Rivers State on October 12. The incident is still fresh in the memory of Mr. Sylvester Awute, a teacher, who escaped being taken away because of his injury.
The school was in session when the kidnappers came through a river linking the community to Abuah and Abonnema. The teachers, Christie Mbadigwe and Martha; Mr. Joseph Wofurum, the labourer, and Duru Obinna Chizitere, the Corps member, fondly called Azubuike, were abducted in a commando style. Azubuike’s service year ended two weeks ago.
Though Awute is still nursing the wounds he sustained in his attempt to escape, he is happy that he was not abducted along with the others.
“At the time they surrounded me with their arms, they told me not to run. I made an attempt to run through the window. When I got to the other side I met another person. The one that told me not to run became angry and hit me with his gun and I fell down. He told me to follow them. On getting to the water side where they had their speed boat ready, their leader saw how I was bleeding and became angry over how I was treated. He told them to search me and take away everything I had. So, they took away my phone, my money and asked me to go. And they took the other victims, entered the speed boat and left. I think the community needs to do something about insecurity if teachers are to continue teaching in that community.”
The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in Rivers State and the Ministry of Education have pleaded with the victims’ families to be patient for security agents to fish out the kidnappers.
The gunmen reduced the initial ransom from N25 million to N8 million; and then to N6 million last week. Members of the community say the victims cannot even afford N1 million. The school has been shut since the incident.
Chairman, Community Development Committee (CDC), Elder Ikechi Chimezie, said everything is being done to rescue the victims. He urged the government to assist the community to rescue the victims so that the school can be reopened.
He said if nothing is done to rescue the teachers, the community would stage a protest on the East-West Road in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital.
Chimezie is worried that the school, the only government presence in the community, has stopped classes. He added that teachers were relocating out of fear.
“That school is the only thing we have in this community and now that the school has been shut down. All the teachers are packing out of the community; the community cannot get anything good again. Imagine, since the incident took place, the school automatically closed down and the children are no longer going to school. And if the gunmen succeed in closing down this school permanently what would be the hope of our children? They will have to trek from this community to the next which is about three or four miles away. For children to go to school with that distance is not possible,” he said.
Chimezie said the ransom reduction to even N2 million would not make a difference because the community lacks the capacity to pay. The best option is to release the victims unconditionally, he said, adding: “We cannot afford the N8 million ransom, which the gunmen have insisted is the lowest they can negotiate or they close down the school permanently. But we are pleading with them that we cannot pay such amount. The two teachers receive meagre salaries. The poor labourer’s condition is the worst; so where do we get the money.
“The community has sent letters to Governor Nyesom Wike, Rivers Police Command, the Department of State Service (DSS) and the school board begging them to assist us but as I am talking to you none of them had replied us. So, we have decided to carry out a peaceful protest to create awareness over our plight. Though we got a signal that our delegation is going to brief us at the weekend on their discussion with the Ministry of Education, we will no longer sit on the fence and watch our school close down and children suffer because of the development; we must do something about our plight.”
Some corps members in the state lamented that the rate of abduction of corps members was becoming alarming. They demanded the unconditional release of their colleague.
One of them, Emmanuel Baba, an Accounting graduate, said: “I felt so sad when I heard about his (Azubuike’s) kidnap. We were doing counting and everybody was jubilating when the news broke. We are praying to God and calling on the kidnappers to release our colleague unconditionally.”
Another corps member, Ononogbo Chibuike, a Mathematics graduate, said: “The government should provide adequate security in all the Corpers’ Lodges. Sometimes, they post us to places where we cannot understand their security challenges. I want to beg the government to assist in the release of the kidnapped corps member.”
The Nigerian Democratic Awareness Forum (NIDAF), a non-governmental organisation, claimed that the NYSC has not done enough to get the corps member freed.
Its leader, Comrade Obiajunwo Paul, said: “We are not happy over the nonchalant attitude of the NYSC State Coordinator. They have done nothing to create awareness to the public on how the kidnapped corps member would regain his freedom. We will not take it for granted if NYSC fails to show serious concern.”
But, NYSC Public Relations Officer, Mrs. Violet Apolo, said NYSC could not be accused of not showing concern about something directly related to it.
Rivers State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) Mohammad Ahmad, a Deputy Superintendent (DSP), said the command was doing everything to rescue the victims.
Mr. Lucky Worluh, a former member of Rivers State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), is worried by the implications of the school’s continued closure.
He said: “The same community, Agba Ndele, has produced prominent personalities. The worst thing now is that if teaching and learning are not going on there then, there will be crisis. There will be a break down of law and order.
“An idle mind is the devil’s workshop. If the children don’t go to school they will look for another school whether formal or informal. They will learn how to steal which for them is part of school; even learning how to kidnap and rob. I have spoken before that this institution shouldn’t be brought down, we are putting more concentration on Boko Haram. What is happening in Rivers state today and in my community is worse than Boko Haram.
“The former administration in Rivers State did so well in building schools. Governor Rotimi Amaechi left office not longer than six months ago and now they are kidnapping teachers. Any society that kidnaps a teacher is a gone society. What is happening here in Rivers State is not happening anywhere in the world even in Iraq. Go and check all the bombings and killings going on; they did not touch teachers. It is a noble profession and teachers are noble people.
Worluh called for improved security, noting that insecurity had made teachers victims to kidnapping.
“Because of the oil and gas deposit in Rivers State, the Federal Government owes us a responsibility to provide security. This is not the first time kidnapping is taking place in that same community and nobody has come to our aid. I’ve not heard that there was the presence of the security agency in that community. Two nights ago, another teacher was kidnapped from her house, there was no presence of security agency trying to find out from the royal highness and support them,” he said.