Students, teachers and family members released after gunmen stormed college in Kagara two weeks ago
Last modified on Sun 28 Feb 2021 00.24 GMT
Dozens of schoolchildren, teachers and their relatives have been freed after they were abducted by gunmen in central Nigeria 10 days ago, in one of a rising number of mass kidnaps and attacks that have beset the country.
Their release comes a day after 317 schoolgirls were abducted by gunmen in Zamfara, north-west Nigeria on Friday, sparking widespread dismay and some schools in the region to shut.
Kidnappings for ransom and deadly attacks by armed groups known locally as bandits have soared across north and central Nigeria in recent years, with mass abductions endemic, and schools increasingly targeted.
Last week, 27 students, three staff and 12 members of their families were abducted by heavily armed gunmen dressed in military uniforms. The assailants overran the all-boys Government Science College (GSC) in Kagara Town, Niger state, killing at least one student.
“The abducted students, staff and relatives of Government Science College Kagara have regained their freedom and have been received by the Niger state government,” Abubakar Sani Bello, the Niger state governor, said in a tweet.
The government gave no details on how the children were released yet it is common for ransom to be paid to release abducted victims.
The families were reuniting with their children and relatives while in Zamfara hundreds of families remain in despair at the latest kidnapping targeting schoolgirls.
On Friday Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, who has faced prolonged criticism for the state of insecurity in northern Nigeria, condemned the kidnappings.
“Our primary objective is to get all the school hostages safe, alive and unharmed,” Buhari said. “State governments must review their policy of rewarding bandits with money and vehicles.
“States and local governments must also play their part by being proactive in improving security in and around schools,” he added, criticising local government officials.
The recent attacks have raised concern about rising violence by bandits and affiliations with jihadist groups still waging an 11-year insurgency in north-east Nigeria.
Several groups of heavily armed bandits have launched marauding attacks from forest havens which span across north-west Nigeria into neighbouring Niger, terrorising vulnerable rural communities left helpless by a dearth of security.
Killings, sexual violence and mass kidnappings for ransom have risen sharply, including on schools. The attacks have heightened fear for the welfare of students, and that already low levels of school enrolment in the region may suffer further. According to local reports, there was only a single security guard at the school in Zamfara, when gunmen attacked on Friday.
The rise in kidnaps is fuelled in part by substantial government payoffs in exchange for the children, officials have told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. The Nigerian government regularly denies such payouts.
Despite several air raids and army operations, the bandit groups have continued to attack relentlessly and with ease. Several hundreds of people have been killed over the last year. In some areas, the militants rove freely and are known to local residents and officials.
Many of the assailants are ethnic Fulanis, evolving in part from a land conflict between largely Fulani pastoralists and farmers of varying ethnicities across Nigeria.
Other groups are made up of a range of ethnicities. The challenge of criminal elements attacking from forest regions has in recent years exploded into a devastating security crisis.
In December, bandits abducted 344 schoolboys from the town of Kankara in north-west Katsina state. They were freed after six days but the government denied a ransom had been paid.
The gunmen were linked to Boko Haram, heightening fears of links forming between the armed groups.