Talks ongoing to free Nigeria school kidnap victims

Gunmen in military uniforms raided the Government Science College in Kagara, Niger state early on Wednesday, killing one student and taking others away.

Empty classroom of the Government Science College where gunmen kidnapped dozens of students and staff members, in Kagara, Rafi Local Government Niger State, Nigeria, on 18 February 2021. Picture: Kola Sulaimon/AFP

KANO, Nigeria - Nigeria is working to secure the release of more than 40 people abducted from a school, including by sending an imam into a forest to meet with the kidnappers, a local official told AFP on Friday.

Gunmen in military uniforms raided the Government Science College in Kagara, Niger state early on Wednesday, killing one student and taking others away.

Kidnappers captured 42 people, including 27 schoolboys, three teachers and other relatives of school staff, officials said, in the country's latest mass abduction.

Northwest and central Nigeria have seen a surge in attacks by heavily-armed criminal gangs locally known as "bandits" who raid villages, killing and abducting residents after looting and torching homes.

"Talks are ongoing (with the kidnappers) and multiple strategies are in place," Niger state information commissioner Muhammad Sani Idris said on Friday.

Local authorities allowed a Muslim cleric, Ahmad Gumi, to meet members of the gang as part of their efforts to secure a release.

"Gumi went as a preacher, since many of these bandits claim to be Muslim and he even brought Islamic books for them," Idris said.

"Some of them (bandits) are starting to reason and express remorse," said Idris.

No ransom request had been made and none would be paid, he added.

President Muhammadu Buhari ordered security forces to free the kidnap victims and the army and police say they are tracking the gang.

Niger State Governor Abubakar Sani Bello met with the cleric after he held talks with the bandits.

"We want to bring them back by all means. We are doing our all possible best," Governor Bello told reporters.

"We are doing whatever it takes. A lot has been done, so I think we are reaching the final stage."

The latest mass abduction came two months after 300 students were kidnapped from a school in Kankara in nearby Katsina, Buhari's home state, while the president was visiting the region.

The boys were released after negotiations with government officials, but the incident triggered outrage and memories of the jihadist kidnappings of Nigerian schoolgirls in Dapchi and Chibok that shocked the world.

Kidnappings are just one of the security challenge facing Buhari's government in Nigeria, where militants are waging a jihadist insurgency in the northeast and ethnic tensions are simmering in some southern regions.

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