A total of 136 students were abducted from an Islamic School in the north-central state of Niger of Sunday, which is lower that the estimate of 200 previously reported by the federal government. This was confirmed by a state official on Wednesday.
Since December, more than 700 children and students have been kidnapped by gunmen for ransom.
These mass kidnappings in northwest and central Nigeria are complicating challenges facing Buhari’s security forces, who are also battling a more than decade-long jihadist insurgency in the northeast of the country.
Nigeria’s president, in a statement issued late on Monday, said security agents were searching for around 200 students. On Wednesday, Niger state’s deputy governor, Ahmed Mohammed Ketso, told reporters the number of missing children had been established.
“We can now confirm that a total of 136 students were abducted,” Ketso said at a news conference in the state capital, Minna.
Criminal gangs have targeted schools in remote areas, where pupils live in dormitories with little security protection, before hauling their victims into nearby forests to negotiate ransoms.
President Muhammadu Buhari ordered security forces and intelligence agencies to step up efforts to rescue the children.
Buhari “condemned as unfortunate” the kidnapping of children, according to a statement from his spokesman Garba Shehu, and urged all those involved in the rescue operation to do their utmost in securing their immediate release.
Kesto said that security agencies were “doing their best but don’t have enough logistics,” adding that more help was needed to equip them to confront the criminals.
The attackers did release 11 of the pupils who were “too small and couldn’t walk” very far, the authorities previously said.
Niger’s deputy governor said the government did not pay ransoms, adding that security agencies were “being careful in the pursuit of bandits to avoid collateral damage.”
“We are trying to negotiate to see how we can bring them back safely”, Ketso said.
Relatives of the kidnapped schoolchildren appealed to the government to help free them.
“My appeal to the government is that they should try to protect our people first and our children first,” Sa’idu Umar, whose child was among those abducted, told AFP.
“We are hoping that they are going to try harder to bring back our children successfully.”