Hope was initially raised on Fridday on freedom for 27 abducted students and 15 others at Government Science College, Kagara, Niger State, but later dashed, with the bandits insisting on N500 million (about $1.3m) ransom before releasing the abductees and other people kidnaped in a state-owned bus earlier in the week.
The bandits attacked the school on Wednesday, killing one of the students in the process.
The Secretary to the Government of Niger State (SSG), Ahmed Ibrahim Matane, who is in the team negotiating with the bandits, said the bandits are also demanding for the release of their men being held by security agencies.
Security agents, who have been able to identify where the abductees are being kept, and Governor Abubakar Sani Bello had mounted pressure on the bandits for most of Friday, but they refused to yield.
Kaduna-based cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi joined the drive to free the abductees on Thursday when he, in company with some government officials, met the bandits in the forest, but could not secure their freedom because of the ransom issue.
Governor Bello insisted that he would not pay ransom to bandits, and that the abductees must be freed unconditionally.
He said his stand was informed by the realisation that ransoms collected were being used to purchase more arms and ammunitions which they in turn use to terrorise the people.
The governor said he was ready to resettle the bandits and help them live normal lives once they laid down their arms.
Governor Bello addressed the press in Minna Friday afternoon, and confirmed that the abductees had not been released but said, “They could be released in a matter of hours or days.
“At the moment, there is no additional information apart from the one we have at hand. Our priority is to make sure we bring back the students safe, things are speculated or rumoured, but we cannot work with these at situations like this,” he said.
The governor noted that the state was using kinetic and non-kinetic measures to bring back the children to safety and assured parents and families of the victims to be hopeful as everything possible was being done.
Meanwhile, it has now been confirmed that the kidnapped Kagara students and others, as well as those abducted from the NSTA bus are being held hostage at the Dutsen-Magaji forest in the Rafi Local Government Area of the state.
The forest was the venue of the meeting Sheikh Gumi and some government officials held on Thursday with the heavily armed bandits, led by someone identified as Dogo Gide.
Gumi reminded the bandits that Islam was against taking the lives of innocent people, appealing to them to embrace peace by laying down their arms.
He said that he would continue to discuss with the state government to explore whatever assistance and support the government would give to them with a view to achieving the set objectives.
Some of the commanders, in their separate remarks, applauded the state government for the peace process.
The highlight of the occasion was the distribution of Islamic Books to the Bandits by Sheikh Ahmed Gumi so as to teach them the doctrine of Islam.
The Niger State SSG, who was in the Gumi team, also addressed the bandits and their commanders in Dutsen Magaji forest, urging them to embrace peace dialogue being initiated by the government.
He said the peace dialogue would bring an end to the security challenges faced by the state.
Matane further appealed to the bandit commanders to support the government’s effort in securing the release of all the abducted people in the state.
He said that religious leaders and other stakeholders would be included in the engagement of bandits, kidnappers, and cattle rustlers in peace moves initiated by the government.
Later, Governor Bello confirmed that he had discussions with Sheikh Gumi after the cleric met with the bandits, adding that he asked him to put all his suggestions and recommendations in a memo and send back to him when he arrived Kaduna.
The meeting between the duo on Friday was brief and Gunmi was said to have told the governor the outcome of his dialogue with the leader of the bandits whose name has now been given as Dogo Gide.
In a brief chat with newsmen after the meeting with the Governor, Gumi confirmed that negotiation was still ongoing with the bandits, adding that government should grant all the bandits amnesty as done for the Niger Delta militants.
The cleric, who had claimed that bandits learnt kidnapping from Niger Delta militants, said anyone who goes ahead with criminal activities after amnesty has been granted should be dealt with.
“The outcome of the meeting was very positive because you have a warring faction saying that they have complaints and grievances which are very simple. There is hope that we can resolve this,” Gumi said.
Meanwhile, the Zamfara bandits’ leader, Dogo Gide, who controls the southern part of the Zamfara forest, has assured that the kidnapped teachers and students of Government Science College Kagara in Niger State would soon be released.
Dogo Gide made the promise when he met with the officials of the Niger State Government under the intervention of Sheikh Gumi in Dutsin Magaji of Kotonkoro forest, in Zamfara State.
Gide said although the abductees are not in his camp, he would negotiate with his fellow bandits to hasten their release.
“The abducted persons, whether they were kidnapped by bandits in Zamfara State or any other neighbouring states of Niger, Kebbi and Kaduna will be released soon,” he said.
He explained that Fulanis had been left with no option than to carry arms and also engage in banditry because of the pressure they face from all angles.
He specifically mentioned the persistent attacks and killings of the Fulani by vigilante groups and Yansakai followed by the bombardments of their camps by the military.
Gide, however, assured that with the intervention of Sheikh Gumi they would ensure the release of the abducted persons.
He also promised to accept the peace process being preached by Sheikh Gumi provided that the governors were really serious on the issue.
Despite heavy security presence in Rafi LGA of Niger State, the bandits struck again Friday afternoon, launching separate attacks in Madaka community, during which one person was killed.
A local vigilante member said several persons were abducted during the attacks.
The community is in the same LGA as Kagara where 42 people, mostly children, were taken hostage by bandits who attacked Government Science College (GSC) on Wednesday.
It is also where the bandits were said to have first camped before proceeding to the school. The fresh attack took place at about 2 pm when the bandits waylaid villagers going for a marriage ceremony along Madak-Kagara road.
The bandits ambushed another set of people returning from Madaka market.
Yunusa Acha, a resident, said one of the escapees informed them of the development.
He said: “The villagers went to Madaka market and on their way back, those bandits attacked them along the road and kidnapped them. Nobody knows the actual figure.
“Then, there was another attack like one hour after, against some people carrying their bride to a marriage ceremony along that same route. They were in a bus and the bandits took all of them. We heard that one person was killed.”