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After paying N65m kidnappers are still keeping our children’ – Agony of parents of abducted Bethel Baptist College pupils

Since the Chibok Girls kidnap in Borno State in 2014 by the dreaded Boko Haram insurgent group, it seems kidnapping of young people in schools has become the latest money-spinner among rogue groups. But how do parents deal with the emotion of raising and paying huge ransom money and yet not get their children back? Gboyega Alaka sought answers from visibly distraught and terrified parents.

Talk of a showdown in which the other man holds all the aces. That, exactly, is the predicament of parents of the 121 kidnapped Bethel Baptist College, Kaduna pupils.

Even after the parents, most of whom are average income earners, had struggled and contributed huge sums of money – a particular parent said N500,000 each – and pulled together a whopping N65million, which was allegedly delivered to the kidnappers, only 28 pupils were released, pushing parents of the majority yet-to-be-released pupils into further disillusion.

It is perhaps for this reason that most of the parents contacted by The Nation to speak on this unfortunate saga have practically opted out or become literally taciturn the moment issues of the kidnap were broached.

While some opted not to speak on the pretext that their children were still in captivity, others outrightly said they had been warned not to speak to the media by the Bethel Baptist College management. Not that anyone would blame them for their positions; the matter remains sensitive, and as one of them put it, “I would not want to put my child’s life in jeopardy. These men (kidnappers) are not human.”

Colleagues, schoolmates, helped me raise ransom money

However, a parent, Justina McCarthy (not real name), who spoke to The Nation, said: “Each parent was asked to pay N500,000 and we paid. But to our greatest dismay, only 28 of the 121 children were released. We gave them the money in bulk, why should our children be released in bits?”

Speaking with the tone of a visibly distraught mother, McCarthy, who pleaded anonymity, said her child is one of those who are still being withheld and that it has not been easy coping with the situation.

“Any time it rained, what comes to our mind is ‘We don’t know what these children are passing through right now. We are in the house and at least have the luxury of using blankets, but what do these kids have to cover themselves from the cold out there in the bush?’ Honestly, we’re calling on the president of this country to do something and come to the aid of these children fast, so that they can be released. They are all parents who know the joy and pain of having children and what it feels like to have their children out there in the cold amongst these people.

“Honestly, I haven’t been able to sleep in the last three weeks since this thing happened. I can’t even eat. Imagine the trauma the parents are passing through. It’s not funny at all. In fact you need to see me. Most of the clothes I could no longer wear, it is now that I am able to put them on.”

Asked if it was the kidnappers who asked the parents to contribute N500,000 each, McCarthy said, “We don’t know. The Baptist Conference communicated it to us. I think they were initially asking for N189million. We don’t know how much they arrived at, but we as parents, were asked to contribute N500,000 each. The pain for those of us whose children are still out there with the bandits is that we paid and only 28 were released. What happens to the rest? It will be one full month this weekend that the kids have been with them. They were taken away at exactly 2am on July 5.”

Worse, she said no parent has been able to speak with their children. “They only communicate with the school and the officials of the Baptist Conference.”

On whether the kidnappers have given any reason for not releasing the other children, McCarthy again said, “We don’t know. Honestly, I’m just coming back from the school now, but the management of the Baptist conference are just asking parents to be calm. How can one be calm under this kind of situation? There is no way anyone can be calm with their children out there in the bush.”

On how she raised the N500,000 ransom money she paid, McCarthy said that is another story entirely.

“I tell you, that is another story entirely. I was able to raise the money through contributions from my colleagues from University (name withheld), my association in my base; so many people teamed up and raised the money through their nose, so that I could achieve the target money and secure the release of this child; and now they decided to collect the money and still hold onto majority of them, including my daughter. Now how fair is that?”

All said and done, McCarthy only has words of appeal for the kidnappers: “They should temper justice with mercy. These children are innocent. Please, I beg them to release them to their parents.”

•Parents of the kidnapped pupils

As for the government, she said: “I cannot say I am disappointed in the government per se, but honestly, I want the government to sit these people down and ask what exactly their grouses are, so that they can at least be met or resolved and peace can be restored to Nigeria.”

Worthy of note all through this conversation was McCarthy’s constant appeal to conceal her identity or anything that will give her or her daughter’s identity away in this publication, saying, “The kidnappers have a lot of informants going around and the moment they zero down on any child, they may pick on that child and torment him/her.”

Trusting God

MacDonald (not real name) is another Bethel Baptist College parent, whose child is still in captivity.

He would neither confirm nor refute the fact that parents were made to contribute N500,000 but volunteered that “it has been very pathetic. We’ve been praying and trusting God that they would be released. It has been a horrible experience having your children out there.

Asked if he was actually able to raise the N500,000 as required by the school authority, MacDonald said, “I don’t think you’re correct there. Baptist Conference only asked us to support them. And of course I did what I could.”

At this point, he seemed to suddenly become aware he was talking too much and literally became taciturn, refusing to give any further details. And then he said, “I am very sorry, we’ve been forbidden to talk to the press until our children are back.”

Another parent, one of the lucky ones, who admitted that her child has been released and back with her, however, said she was not willing to make any comment on the matter; while another, who said he was just getting back home from the hospital with his just released child, said he would not be able to grant any interview at the moment, citing doctor’s advice. (The Nation)