Editorial… IGBONLA SIX: The delay no longer defensible

July 16 Editorial…

Today marks the 53rd day that Peter Jonah, Isiaq Rahmon, Adebayo George, Judah Agbausi, Pelumi Philips and Farouq Yusuf, students of Lagos State Model College Igbonla have spent in the captivity of kidnappers, and exactly 51 days since the Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Joshak Habila, said the kidnapped students “would be rescued within few days”.

On the morning of May 24, 2017, heavily armed gunmen had stormed the Lagos State-owned Epe college and abducted six boys before making their way via boats through the Imeru/Ijiwaterway. In October of 2016, gunmen had in a similarly brazen manner, abducted six people including four students, a vice principal and a teacher. Their ordeal lasted about six days, ending only after ransom payment led to their release.

The first Igbonla college kidnapping had come less than six months after Timilehin Olusa, Tofunmi Popo Olaniyan and Deborah Akinayo, three female students of Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary School in Ikorodu were kidnapped following an invasion of their school by heavily armed gunmen at night. Their abduction lasted about one week before they regained freedom following a successful rescue operation by police;although it still remains unclear whether or not ransom was paid.

Following the kidnap of the Igbonla Six and the outcry that followed, the Lagos State Government authorized helicopter patrols and subsequently moved to construct watch towers and install surveillance cameras on the premises of the school. Security was also been beefed up within and around the school.

These initiatives by the Akinwunmi Ambode-led administration in Lagos State can best be described as feeble and reactionary.

While we acknowledge the long-known challenges of policing a state like Lagos, the fact that the college had been the subject of a similar attack only months before clearly marks this sad development as failure of intelligence. We place the blame of the current travails of the Igbonla school boys right at the door-steps of the Lagos State Government.

We dare say that the administration had by its reactive actions only amplified the depth of its dereliction. For to abandon society’s most vulnerable to the devilish whims of men of broken humanity, in the supposed fortress of knowledge and freedom, is to violate a cardinal principle not only of governance but of life.

We note, with disappointment, that it took the Lagos State Government days to publicly or privately establish communication with the overwhelmed parents of the innocent children despite its direct responsibility over the school. This lapse was simply a case of embarrassing disconnect.

To have waited till the parents, who accorded it enough time to find its reason, strategy and voice, bared their emotions in humiliating fashion in public after weeks of disregard and inaction, was not only indicative of a cold detachment, but pointed to the continued struggle for dignity by the common man in a country where even though nature and the law have conferred sacred rights upon him, he still has to beg to be treated with even the most basic standards of humanity from those so absorbed with power that they have become incapable of empathy.

We cannot afford any further delays in freeing our children of Igbonla. All the talk and more talk about strategy and effort can no longer cut it. We cannot in good conscience afford to experiment strategy with children. For the children it is simple – freedom!
Whatever it will take to bring these children out alive and unhurt must be done. It is the primary responsibility of government to guarantee the safety and wellbeing of lives, especially of society’s most vulnerable – children— more so when they are legally directly under its care like the Igbonla students.

Though there have been some calls from some individuals and groups and some level of advocacy on social media and elsewhere, the apparent lack of sustained ferocious advocacy for the way in which the case of these boys has been handled, leaves much to be desired. Civil society, media, opposition parties and others have appeared to not fully appreciate the enormity of the problem.

We must all realize the scale of the issue at hand; how that in peace time, a group of armed assailants could in daytime launch a repeat brazen attack on a public institution, abduct children, escape without much resistance, and boldly make outrageous demands and further threats while still holding the children for close to two months, in a state supposedly governed by law and order!

Government must learn from the various cases of kidnapping and develop a comprehensive proactive strategy that will ensure a coordinated approach to combating kidnapping and crime in general, featuring effective land, air and marine policing, intelligence gathering and community policing, with all core security outfits and other support groups cooperating towards the common objective of guaranteeing security for all and at all times.

The voices of all must be heard across the different sections of Nigeria. The case of the Igbonla Six is not Lagos affair; it is part of the Nigerian story. We have already failed these children; the least we can do is seek redemption through sustained struggle for their freedom, and ensure that the perpetrators of this heinous crime do not escape justice.

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