It all seemed like an action movie. A group of gunmen stormed Lagos State Model College, Igbonla in Epe, shot in the air to cause commotion and abducted the vice principal, a teacher and four pupils.
The Lagos School was in a sombre mood yesterday after the kidnapping, which occurred around 8.am.
The school, which is about three decades old, is located at the swampy area of the riverine town.
Those kidnapped are: Vice Principal A.O Oyesola, English teacher Lukman Oyerinde and four pupils identified as Abu, Emmanuel Okonkwo, Jeremiah Ruth and Isaac Adebisi.
All the pupils are in JSS One. They are freshers.
The English teacher is the late Olaitan Oyerinde’s brother. Oyerinde was Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole’s aide, who was murdered in Benin City.
The gunmen, including one believed to be a woman, barged into the Junior School Assembly Hall while the children were praying. Two of them were said to be hooded.
They came in three speed boats, entering into the premises from the gate of the boys’ hostel shortly after the senior students had vacated their assembly hall.
Some students told our reporter that five of the six men had guns and one held a cutlass.
A student who recounted how it all happened said they scampered for safety as the gunmen ordered them to lie down.
He said: “It was around 8am. They came here, shooting in the air. They entered through the hole under the gate by the boys’ hostel. They were wearing different clothes. One wore blue and red clothes, another tied something on his head and two of them covered their faces.
“They just entered and said, ‘everyone lie down’. We started running. Many of us ran into the bush. People were just running in different directions. Then, they took some students away and some were following them.”
Apprehensive parents attempted to take away their wards. They were however stopped by the management and Deputy Governor Idiat Adebule, who assured them that security had been strengthened.
The State Government immediately deployed security personnel in the school. A search party both on air and on land was immediately launched to track down the kidnappers.
Scores of policemen led by Commissioner Fatai Owoseni, soldiers and local vigilantes joined the rescue battle.
A man, Oluwafemi Adebisi whose 10-year-old son was among those kidnapped said: “A family friend called this morning and told me that there was an incident at my son’s school. I just brought Isaac to school on Tuesday. He is in JSS1 and has only spent two nights in the school. He complained the day we were coming that this area is bushy and lonely.
“But I never knew anything like this would happen. My wife and I left immediately for the school and when we got here and we did not see my son, we met the Vice Principal and he said Isaac was around during the assembly but that after the invasion, he didn’t answer his name during the roll call.
“They looked around and didn’t see him. Some people said they saw the gunmen carrying three children and that others were following them. No one said they saw Isaac; he has not been found.
“I know my God is able. I leave everything to him and want him to take control.”
Another parent, Titus Adeeko, who was yet to see his 11-year-old daughter, Oluwatimileyin, said her guardian assured him she was safe.
Adeeko said so many parents wept after they were denied access to their children.
The deputy governor described the incident as “unfortunate”, adding that such had never been experienced since the establishment of the school 29 years ago.
“Governor Akinwunmi Ambode has directed the police, the Navy and other security agencies to rescue the children within the shortest possible time.
“This is an incursion and we shall fix it and deal with it appropriately. We are not happy about this incident. It is a great challenge to us as a government but this is why we are serving at this time. We want to implore the parents planning to take their children away to not panic. We have met with the affected patents and school management.”
Adebule was accompanied by top government functionaries. She pleaded with parents and families of the victims to cooperate with the government and security agencies in ensuring prompt rescue of the victims.
Deputy governor told a crowd of parents: “It is true that in the last 29 years that this school was established, we have never experienced such a thing like this, but now that it has happened and it is confronting us, we must come together to find a lasting solution to it. We, as government, parents, the school and security agencies, must remain
united to solve this problem.
“I know you are angry, I know you are worried and I know you are agitated, but we must look for solution. But I plead for the understanding of parents in this matter. I know how traumatic it could be, I know how emotional the issue we are discussing could be, but the best we can do is to handle it with care and with utmost wisdom that God can give us.
“It is God who secures; it is God who protects and even in other climes where you have everything, you still have this type of incursion once in a while, but what we should be talking about is how we can collectively solve this problem,” the Deputy Governor said.
She added that all security agencies, including the Police, Air Force, Navy, the Army and others had been fully mobilised to ensure the rescue of the victims.
Speaking to reporters at the premises, Owoseni confirmed that four children, a teacher and Principal were taken away.
He said the abductors kidnapped six children but two were found by policemen.
The police boss said helicopters had been deployed to survey the surrounding bushes, adding that detectives were combing the forests.
He said: “The suspects escaped through the Ogbere river. We have contacted the Ogun State Police Command; the Marine Unit of the force as well as naval personnel have circled the river. Two of the students have since been rescued by our men. We will soon rescue the other victims.”
The Oyerindes confirmed that Lukman was among those abducted, pleading with the kidnappers to release the victims unhurt.
“Yes, he was among those kidnapped. We do not have details yet but we are begging the kidnappers to release them. No contact has been made,” said a family source.
Senator Gbenga Ashafa, who represents Lagos East, in whose constituency the incident occurred, in a statement, urged the people “in my constituency in the Epe division to remain security conscious and to note that our communal security is our collective responsibility.”
He added that “everybody in the vicinity must cooperate with security agencies by reporting all suspicious persons and movements.”
He assured the people that Governor Akinwunmi Ambode would “stop at nothing to ensure the safe return of the victims of this heinous crime”
The House of Representatives urged Inspector General of Police Ibrahim Idris and the Police to ensure the prompt release of the principal and the students.
The lawmakers condemned “in its entirety the callous and grossly inhuman action of the abductors under whatever guise as it is against the tenet of seeking qualitative education.”
Hon. Olawale Raji (representing Épe Federal Constituency, Lagos), moving a “Motion of national Importance on urgent need to seek the release of adducted principal and students of Lagos State Model College in Igbonla, Epe, Lagos State”, told his colleagues.
“This unfortunate incident is a setback to the expansion of access to education and determination of parents to ensure their wards get basic education. Members passed the motion without debate.
It is the second time this year that pupils are being kidnapped from their school by gunmen. On February 29, three pupils of Babington Macaulay Junior School, Ikorodu were abducted. They were rescued on March 6.