The Zamfara State Governor, Bello Matawalle, and a community in Katsina State have made counterclaims about the release of 26 girls from a Zamfara forest by armed bandits who kept them in custody for 23 days.
Mr Matawalle had at the weekend issued a statement claiming he secured the release of the girls from their abductors without paying any ransom, as part of the dialogue process with the armed militants tormenting Zamfara and other north-west states.
Hundreds of people have been kidnapped, mainly for ransom, by bandits in Zamfara and neighbouring states in the past few years.
Mr Matawalle, since assuming office last year, has embarked on dialogue with the bandits, in efforts to convince them to give up their arms and accept the government’s amnesty offer.
The governor had said the release of the 26 girls was an outcome of his ongoing dialogue with the bandits.
However, on Monday, residents of Dan-Aji community in Faskari Local Government Area disputed claims by the governor insisting that money was paid as ransom before the girls were set free.
PREMIUM TIMES cannot independently verify any of the claims but this is not the first time the Zamfara governor is announcing the release of abducted persons through the non-payment of ransom. Unlike in the previous cases, however, the community members said they did pay ransom to the bandits and also narrated how the ransom was paid.
Findings indicate that the victims were kidnapped on October 13 and freed on November 6 after spending 23 days in captivity.
The community leader of Dan-Aji community, Lawal Dogara, told reporters at a press conference that the parents of the victims championed the release of their wards and not the governor.
Mr Dogara said the victims’ parents contributed N6.6 million which the community handed over to two representatives who delivered the money to the abductors.
“The Zamfara governor was never a party involved in the process; it was purely efforts of the parents and the community leaders that secured the victims’ release.
“The ransom was delivered to the kidnappers by two representatives – Alhaji Abdulakarim Dan Aji and Liman Babangida. They trekked for about three hours to locate the bandits in their hideout bordering Zamfara State”, the community leader said
He also spoke on how the girls were kidnapped, saying “the bandits stormed the community on October 13 at about 5 a.m., killing 15 persons, burnt houses and went away with the 26 girls.”
I secured their release, governor insists
In a statement, on Tuesday, Mr Matawalle’s spokesperson, Zailani Bappa, insisted that the governor was responsible for the release of the abducted girls.
Reacting to criticism on the rescue, Mr Bappa said those “spreading false and fabricated information on the laudable efforts” were “misguided individuals”.
The statement alleged that some unnamed enemies of peace in the state were unhappy that Mr Matawalle could record that success in ensuring release of the indigent girls, thus the move to discredit the initiative.
“These misguided persons have since instigated false information that the girls were not rescued by the peace process initiated by Governor Matawalle administration but by ransom paid by the families of the released girls.
“However, the fact remains that the rescued girls were not released on ransom as the genuine families of the girls have since denied the false story.”
Mr Bappa said Mr Matawalle “has never taken any step in the last one year and five months to score any cheap political goal but simply doing his assigned job which he swore to do.
“Indeed, any iota of dishonesty in his intent or approach would have woefully failed and put the state in jeorpardy as it happened to those leaders preceding him.”
The spokesperson said the governor is satisfied “that God has always vindicated him from such machinations and will continue to do so as his only aim so far is to discharge his onerous task of securing lives and property of all Zamfarans and not to deceive them”.