As pupils of Lagos Junior Model College, Igbonla, Epe, were rounding off their assembly on Thursday, five gunmen and a woman invaded the school and abducted six persons.
PUNCH Metro learnt that the six victims were the Vice-Principal, Mr. A.O. Oyesola; the English Language/Civil Education teacher, Mr. Lukman Oyerinde; and four Junior Secondary School 1 pupils.
Two of the pupils were identified as 10-year-old Isaac Adebisi and one Okonkwo.
Our correspondent learnt that five of the abductors, including a woman, had guns, while the last gang member held a cutlass.
They were said to have ordered their victims out of the hall, throwing the morning assembly into disarray as they shot into the air.
The gunmen reportedly wore blue and red clothes, while two of them wore masks. They whisked away their victims through the waterways.
Our correspondent gathered that the school was thrown into confusion when parents stormed the premises to take their children away.
They were, however, prevented from doing so by security operatives.
When PUNCH Metro got to the school at about 3pm, policemen from the Rapid Response Squad, OP MESA soldiers, Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad, State Special Anti-Robbery Squad and the local vigilance group were on the premises.
A JSS 1 pupil, who identified himself only as Saheed, said the abductors came through the waterways and entered the school through a gate behind the boys’ hostel, close to the assembly hall.
He said, “We usually do our assembly in a hall. The senior school in the second hall had already dispersed. We were saying the closing prayer when we saw the gunmen. They wore red and blue vests. They shot into the air. Some of us ran inside the bush. The abductors were six persons. They began to shout ‘move, move, move’ as they led our vice-principal, teacher and the four pupils away.”
Our correspondent observed that the school had a low fence compound and was covered with thick bushes.
Speaking with PUNCH Metro, the father of Isaac, one of the abducted pupils, Mr. Oluwafemi Adebisi, said he was hopeful that his son would return home safely.
He said, “Tuesday was my first day in the school. I brought my son on that day when they resumed from the public holiday. The abductors came and disrupted the assembly. Their teachers called the attendance list after the abductors left and he was nowhere to be found. None of the pupils clearly saw him leaving with them because of the tension. The school authorities have met us and assured that they would find the children. I believe God that my son will be found because he is a promised child.”
Our correspondent learnt that the abductors had yet to contact any of the families of the victims.
When PUNCH Metro left the school at about 6pm, soldiers, policemen and the local vigilance group members were observed combing the surrounding bushes.
The Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni, said the police were working with other security agencies to rescue the victims.
Owoseni, who visited the school, said, “The police recorded a case of abduction in the school. The vice-principal, a teacher, and six pupils were taken away by gunmen who came in a speedboat.
“The police mobilised to the area and were able to rescue two of the pupils. The rescue mission is ongoing. The Marine Police, helicopters, the navy, and the Department of State Services are all involved in the operation.”
The Lagos State Deputy Governor, Dr Idiat Adebule, who was also at the school, said four pupils and two teachers were abducted, adding that the state government would coordinate the security agencies to locate the victims.
She said, “It is indeed an unfortunate incident in the 29 years history of the school. Governor Akinwunmi Ambode has directed the security agencies to do their best within the shortest time.
“I want the understanding of the affected parents; they must have faith in the rescue efforts of the agencies. Parents should also be patient and not take their children away. What we had was an incursion and we are dealing with it appropriately. We have all the details of the affected persons and we have spoken with their parents and relations.”
Implement death penalty for kidnappers – NUT
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Union of Teachers on Thursday called on the National Assembly to hasten the law prescribing death penalty for kidnappers.
The NUT National President, Mr. Michael Alogba-Olukoya, who spoke with one of our correspondents on the telephone on Thursday, expressed shock at the abduction.
He described the development as ‘a bad omen’ and called on the government to go hard on kidnappers.
He said, “It is a bad omen and the security operatives should swing into action. We believe in the ability of the Lagos State Governor, Akinwumi Ambode, to secure the release of the pupils, their teacher and the vice-principal.
“Let us prescribe the death penalty for kidnappers. If anyone attempts kidnapping, let the person be killed. We have to go a little bit harsh on them. Yesterday, it was Kaduna and today it is Lagos. Now that bunkering and robbery are no longer viable, criminals have resorted to kidnapping. The Nigerian government has to rise to the occasion.”
Also, the House of Representatives asked the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, to secure the release of the victims.
The member representing Epe Federal Constituency, Mr. Olawale Raji, sought the intervention of the House under matters of urgent public importance.
The House promptly passed a resolution asking the IGP to search for the victims.
The lawmakers called on the IG and “the Nigeria Police Force to intensify efforts to ensure the prompt release of the victims and the apprehension of the perpetrators.”
The motion received a unanimous approval by members at the Thursday session, which was presided over by the Speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara.
In addition to securing the release of the victims, the House asked the police to beef up security in Epe and the entire state.
“The House also urges the police and other security agencies to step up strict surveillance in Epe and all schools in the state to avoid a recurrence or any breach of the security in the future,” the resolution of the House added.
Experts blame abduction on poor security
The President of the Association of Industrial Security and Safety Operators of Nigeria, Dr Ona Ekhomu, blamed the abduction on the failure of the school management to carry out risk assessment of the riverine area and negligence of the police in tackling the increase in crime.
He said, “The incident is very unfortunate and my heart goes to the families of the victims. This is a mass abduction. The gunmen must have conducted a surveillance to know that the school is very porous. Schools need to have better risk and threat assessments to know when things are likely to go wrong. “There are some security measures that need to be done at the level of the school management. So, a mass abduction of this nature shows that the duty of care is not met. It was a frontal attack.
“The police at this time, with the hunger level in the country due to the ongoing recession, should have known that there would be increase in crime. At least, there should be a minimum of one or two policemen in each public school. And there should be a routine patrol in the neighbourhood. If this was in place, shootings from policemen would have made the abductors to exercise some restraints.
“This is only a beginning; we are likely to see more of this because they just showed a play cage because other bad guys are bound to copy this.”
A former Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, wondered why the Lagos State Model College, did not have security.
He lamented the inadequate number of policemen available to protect the civil populace, noting that most security personnel were attached to politicians to the detriment of the people.
When reminded that the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, had pledged to withdraw riot policemen that were attached to politicians and other prominent individuals, the retired police officer described it as “lip service.”
He said, “We don’t have adequate policemen to provide security for the ordinary people because the policemen have been attached to politicians and other individuals. The IG’s promise of withdrawing policemen from the politicians is just lip service; they (politicians) won’t allow him to do it.”