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Ongoing talks to free Nigeria school kidnap victims




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

Children abducted by Boko Haram from the government government high school in Kankara, in the northwestern state of Katsina, Nigeria are seen returning after being released on December 18, 2020. Photo: AFP

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

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

The kidnappers captured 42 people, including 27 schoolboys, three teachers and other relatives of school staff, officials said, in the latest mass kidnapping in the country.

Northwest and central Nigeria have seen an increase in attacks by heavily armed criminal gangs known locally as “thugs” who attack villages, killing and abducting residents after looting and burning homes.

“Negotiations are ongoing (with the kidnappers) and numerous strategies are in place,” Niger State Information Commissioner Muhammad Sani Idris said on Friday.

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

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

“Some of them (thugs) have started to reason and express remorse,” Idris said.

No reward request was made and no one would be paid, he added.

President Muhammadu Buhari ordered security forces to release the abduction victims and the army and police say they are pursuing 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 everything possible,” Governor Bello told reporters.

“We are doing everything we need to do. A lot has been done, so I think we are reaching the final stage.”

The latest mass kidnapping came two months after 300 students were abducted from a school in Kankara in nearby Katsina, Bukhari’s hometown, while the president was visiting the region.

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

The kidnappings are just one of the security challenges facing the Bukhari government in Nigeria, where militants are waging a jihadist insurgency in the northeast and ethnic tensions are boiling in some southern regions.

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