•Freed abducted passengers of the Niger State Transport Service during their reunion with their family members in Minna…on Monday.Photos: Niger State Government

Friday Olokor, Samson Folarin, Raphael Ede, Denis Naku, James Abraham, Adeyinka Ayinla and Olufemi Olaniyi

There were strong indications on Monday that a disagreement among bandits in Niger State was delaying the release of 27 students and 15 workers of Government Science College, Kagara, who were abducted on Wednesday.

A top government source, who confided in The PUNCH, said the bandits, who carried out the abduction, had not agreed with the warlord government negotiated with.

There was controversy over the release of the abductees on Sunday. Earlier in the day, officials of the Niger State and  security sources said the abductees had been released and were on their way to Minna, the state capital.

But later, the state Governor, Sani Bello, said the abductees were  still in captivity.

The government source, who spoke to one of our correspondents, stated, “There is a division among the bandits. Those who carried out the abduction are being persuaded to release the abductees.”

Also a prominent Islamic cleric, Sheik Ahmad Gumi, who was involved in the negotiation for the release of the abductees, explained the delay in releasing them.

Gumi, in an interview The PUNCH on Monday,  said  the bandits holding 42 pupils and 15 workers of the GSC Kagara were still being persuaded to release them.

While saying he could not tell when the victims would be released, Gumi said he was convinced they would be freed soon.

Gumi noted that talks were ongoing among the various factions of the bandits.

He said, “I am sure they will be released. I am very sure of that. But we cannot say the particular day. We have lost contact with those people since we left there. But we hope that they will be convinced since they want peace and they are aspiring for it. I believe it will work out.

“They are negotiating among themselves – the good and the bad. They are trying to convince them, and I believe they will do it.”

Meanwhile, the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the pan –Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere and the Middle Belt Forum on Monday berated  Gumi, who on Sunday suggested that the amnesty he proposed for bandits should be extended to killer herdsmen in the South.

The groups, in separate interviews with The PUNCH, described the cleric’s proposal as outrageous, unfortunate and truly inconceivable.

Recall that Gumi, in an interview with one of our correspondents on Sunday, called for a blanket amnesty for everybody with guns, including bandits in the South.

But the National Publicity Secretary of PANDEF, Ken Robinson, said such a comment from an Islamic cleric was unfortunate and outrageous.

Robinson added, “He is doing that in a country where at times wrong is considered right, and right looks wrong. PANDEF would want to say that nobody in his right frame of mind should be making these outrageous comments they have been making, calling for amnesty for bandits, criminals who, for no justifiable reason, have been destroying livelihoods, killing people, kidnapping innocent Nigerians and then making it a conduit to be collecting taxpayers’ money from the government.

“It is absurd. In a sane clime, people like Gumi should be in prison for encouraging banditry and criminality.

“But unfortunately, we find ourselves in a country where like I said earlier wrong looks right and right looks wrong,” the PANDEF spokesman stated.

Also,  the spokesman for Afenifere,  Yinka Odumakin,  in an interview with The PUN CH, said, “ It takes an enemy of Nigeria to be advocating amnesty for  bandits and criminals at this point. We are sorting ourselves out as civilized Nigerians and bandits at this point.”

The Igbo apex socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, described Gumi’s comment  as provocative and unbelievable.

The National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze, Chief Alex Ogbonnia, who spoke to one of our correspondents on the telephone, said that it was even inconceivable for such a suggestion to come from a patriot.

He said “I have not seen a country like this. It is unbelievable and truly inconceivable for a patriot to even come up with such a suggestion.”

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