Negotiations are under way between Nigerian officials and the armed gang that kidnapped 42 people, including 27 children from a boarding school in the Kagara district of Niger state, on Wednesday.
Heavily armed men in military uniforms raided the Government Science College in Kagara, killing one student and spiriting others into a nearby forest.
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On Friday, government representatives were in contact “with people holding these students”, Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris, reporting from Abuja, said.
“Any military action could result in unnecessary deaths so the government took a position to first try to see how a peaceful negotiation can bring these children out to safety,” he said, adding that the security forces have pinpointed the kidnappers’ location.
“The state government said it has made contact with these people through the leaders of the communities who they believe know them.”
On Thursday, the Nigeria Police Force said in a statement that a massive search and rescue mission was being carried out along with the military in which helicopters, counterintelligence unit forces and intelligence agents had been deployed.
Niger State government officials have said they believe the attack was carried out by “bandits” – the term used in Nigeria to describe armed gangs who attack communities and kidnap for ransom. A spate of attacks has been carried out by such groups in the last year.
On Wednesday, Defence Minister Bashir Salihi Magashi told reporters: “We shouldn’t be cowards. I don’t know why people are running away from minor, minor, minor things like that. They should stand. Let these people know that even the villagers have the competence and capability to defend themselves.”
‘You are on your own!’
Magashi’s comments attracted widespread criticism.
“People cannot defend themselves with bare hands while confronted with bandits who are increasingly acquiring more sophisticated weapons,” said Isa Sanusi, a spokesperson for Amnesty International.
He said Nigerian authorities had a duty to protect lives and property and should not resort to “blaming the people”.
Kayode Ogundamisi, a commentator on Nigerian affairs, tweeted: “Simply put, he’s saying YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN!”
The latest mass abduction came just two months after 300 students were kidnapped from a school in Kankara in nearby Katsina, President Muhammadu Buhari’s home state, while the president was visiting the region.
The boys were later released after negotiations with government officials, but the incident triggered outrage and memories of the kidnappings of Nigerian schoolgirls by armed fighters in Dapchi and Chibok that shocked the world.
Out of at least 276 girls who were kidnapped by the Boko Haram group from Chibok, at least 100 are still unaccounted for.