Sani Kaoje, 66, is the father of Farida Kaoje, 16, one of the pupils abducted by terrorists from the Federal Government College, Birnin Yauri, Kebbi Statein 2021. In this exclusive interview with PREMIUM TIMES, the retired civil servant turned farmer said Dogo Gide, the leader of the terrorist gang who abducted the school girls, has married them off.
On 17 June 2021 terrorists invaded the school and abducted over 90 pupils and teachers of the school. Immediately after the attack, the military announced the rescue of five students and two teachers.
Two days after the attack, three pupils and a teacher were rescued by the military. Two students also escaped from the terrorists’ camp.
In October, the Kebbi State government said it secured the release of 30 students through dialogue with the terrorists. The government said it was making effort to release the rest of the girls. In January, the terrorists freed 30 more pupils following further mediation with the government.
In this interview, Mr Kaoje tells our reporter why the leader of the terrorist gang behind the abduction married off the remaining 11 girls.
PT: What is your relationship with Farida, one of the abducted FGC Birnin Yauri students?
Mr Kaoje: Farida is one of my children. She is now 16 years (she was 15 when she was abducted). She was in JSS three. I’ve 19 children alive including her. Farida is the 15th of my children. I’ve three wives.
PT: How did the news of the abduction of your daughter reach you?
Mr Kaoje: I was having my breakfast in the morning when Farida’s mother ran into my room shouting. She said she heard that FGC Birnin Yauri has been attacked and pupils abducted. I rushed to the school and met other parents there. At first, the school management and security people denied us entry but they later let us in after confirming we had children in the school.
An hour after the abduction, Farida called me with her friend’s phone. She told me that “Baba, we’ve been abducted and they said they’re taking us to a forest in Zamfara state.” I calmed her down. I told her that God would save them from all evil. That was the end of our conversation at the time.
PT: Some people said there was an alert that the pupils would be abducted. You also said one of your children alerted you. Did you seek explanations from the school authority?
Mr Kaoje: Even Dogo Gide himself told me that he wrote to the school twice before he attacked it. They were just not serious about it. But he said he alerted them. The school, I was told, said the letters were written by some students. I don’t actually know how they handled it since I was not a party to it.
But this school is obviously vulnerable to attack. These bandits follow behind the school’s walls to perpetrate violence on other communities. The signs were there. The authority should have known that the school would soon be attacked.
PT: I learnt that some of the pupils were saved by security agents while others were returned after payment of ransom or other agreements with the state government. Why was your own child not released?
Mr Kaoje: I don’t understand the way this government does things. I thought when they were doing the rescue operations, they would emphasise saving girls first because of their vulnerability. They should have negotiated and got the girls first but they didn’t.
PT: Did the government tell you why your daughter was not among those released?
Mr Kaoje: No. What I know is anyone that you’ve seen now was rescued by the government. The governor (Kebbi state) did his best immediately after the abduction. He tried his best and the first set was brought back and he did it the second time. We waited to hope that they would rescue our child but we heard nothing. No one is telling us anything anymore. Even when we tried to reach them, they would tell us that the governor has gone to Abuja. Sometimes when we call them they won’t answer their phones.
I don’t know if some others were invited or were allowed to go see them (government), especially the Secretary to the State Government but I don’t know if there was anything like that. But as for me, I’ve not met anyone of them.
PT: So, how did you know that your daughter was married off?
Mr Kaoje: He is the one (Mr Dogo) who said it to me directly through the phone. Dogo Gide knows Yauri very well because he once lived here and he told me that he married Farida himself though he was not very direct about it. But he used some techniques to tell me that he has married off the 10 girls to others but as for Farida, she is being taken care of by him. He didn’t say it straight but he said “even if I die, they are people that can inherit Farida from my house”. He was just telling me that he had married her off.
I can’t count the number of times I spoke with him since the abduction. He kept threatening that he would marry the remaining eleven girls if the state government refused to pay him. He called me several times with the same threat. He called other parents too. He pretended that he was sympathetic to us but he kept our children, innocent girls, with him. If he has such sympathy as he keeps saying, he should release our children back to us.
The government didn’t do well too because this issue should have been over by now. If it were to be the children of the privileged, they must have saved them by now. The governor needs to listen to us directly and not through some people. I’m serious. I’m in pain. Everyone in my house is in pain because Farida is like a light in the house. I know several parents who have fallen ill because of this issue. We’re talking of children, all teenage girls. Innocent children for that matter.
You can’t imagine the situation we’re in. Farida’s mother has been sick. There was a day she fall down and had to be taken to the hospital. Some parents have lost their lives. Others are now battling high blood pressure and other related illnesses.
I know one of the parents, Mr John, he can’t even count money now because he is depressed. His business has crumbled. He is my friend and this abduction has taken a toll on him. His daughter, Rebecca, is Farida’s friend and she is also there. We go to bed and wake up in misery thinking of the unknown. I can’t even concentrate on my business (farming). We can’t now concentrate on our family members because we’re always thinking of how to get the children out. My fish farming has been the worse hit because I can’t concentrate. On the other farms, I didn’t even bother to know whether we’re working on it this year because the tension is too much.
Nobody is taken us seriously. This is a Federal Government school but what did the education minister do or even say? They have just left us to our fate as if nothing has happened and our children are still with us.
PT: Was there anytime that Dogo Gide asked you, people, to pay ransom for your children?
Mr Kaoje: No. In fact, we pleaded with him to allow us to negotiate the ransom but he said he would not collect our money and insisted that he would only collect the government’s money. The first time he told me that if the government failed to give him N100 million, he would marry off the girls, I pleaded with him to let parents and relatives negotiate with him but he refused. Whenever he called, I would plead with him to let us pay but he always refuses.
Once, he reduced the ransom to N50 million and some motorcycles, but he still said the intermediaries with the government didn’t respond to them hence they decided to marry off our children. As I told you earlier, we speak with him a lot and he said he has reduced the ransom to N50m and 30 motorcycles but they still refused to give the bandits so they could release our daughters for us. I’ve nothing to say because this democracy has failed us. What would the government now say to us since they can’t protect our daughters?
PT: Did he tell you why he kidnapped your children?
Mr Kaoje: He said he has a problem with the government and that the government is not responsible, and he would only collect ransom from them. If you have a problem with the government, why abduct innocent children? He should be disturbing government people and not the poor. The pupils he abducted were all innocent.
PT: Did you speak with her while she was in captivity? Did she confirm that they had been married off?
Mr Kaoje: Yes. And it breaks my heart to even remember her voice. We spoke with her a lot. And I cry every day he (Mr Gide) called and let us speak with her. In one of such calls, she said “Baba, there is a problem because some of my friends have been married off”. After that, Dogo Gide himself confirmed to us that they had been married off since the government has refused to pay them.
PT: What other efforts are you now making…
Mr Kaoje: (cuts in) What efforts? We’ve just resorted to praying for Allah to intervene. It’s no longer in our control because they said since the government has refused to pay them they would marry them off for good. But we want our children back home and we’ll continue to pray because it’s the only way out.