Another 32 students of Bethel Baptist School in Kaduna State have regained freedom from bandits after spending 52 days in captivity, with 31 others still held hostage.
With the latest release, 90 students have regained their freedom so far.
The Vice President, Christian Association of Nigeria (19 Northern States and Abuja) and chairman of CAN in Kaduna State, Rev. Joseph Hayab, confirmed the development in an interview with one of our correspondents, adding that they had been reunited with their parents.
He said, “This (Friday) evening, 32 of the students were released. We expected more of that figure. We had been on it since yesterday (Thursday). They have been reunited with their parents and they are taking them straight to the hospital for treatment. No time to waste.”
Hayab had earlier told a journalist on Friday that the negotiator was working hard to ensure that the kidnappers released more students than they did last week.
He said, “The challenge is that the bandits do not release the children because their parents paid any amount. After all, we have one negotiator and when any amount is given to bandits, they release the number of children they deem fit. All the students released so far are junior students who are weak and vulnerable. None of the senior school students kidnapped has been released.
“CAN Kaduna State is simply crying out to spirited Nigerians to come to our rescue in whatever way to help get our children back home. The trauma parents of these children are going through is not good for their physical and mental health. The worst is how the children are faring in this rainy season. Those who were released came back home very sick and weak, suggesting that those not back maybe in a more severe situation.”
The parents had paid a fresh N24m ransom after the initial N50m collected by the bandits.
It was learnt that each student’s parents were asked to contribute an additional N300,000 to raise the fresh ransom after contributing N500,000 each for the first ransom.
Our correspondents gathered that sympathisers assisted with donations as some parents could not contribute.
A total of 121 students were abducted from their hostels by bandits on July 5 but some of them later escaped.
The kidnappers who initially demanded N100m ransom reduced it to N60m after a series of negotiations. The police also claimed to have rescued two students in the Rijanna area along the Kaduna-Abuja highway.
A few days later, parents reportedly contributed money to buy foodstuffs for the abductors who demanded 30 bags of rice, 20 bags of beans and 10 kegs of palm oil.
After allegedly collecting N50m ransom, the bandits released 28 students on July 25 and promised to release the remaining 90 in batches. They also jerked up the ransom to N80m.
Last Saturday night, another 15 students were released and reunited with their parents amid mixed feelings of joy and sadness.
Reliable sources said last week that the kidnappers had vowed to collect interest for extra days spent by the remaining students and insisted on N80m ransom.
The development reportedly made the parents contribute another N300,000 each to pay an additional N24m ransom.
A source privy to the negotiation told one of our correspondents earlier on Friday that the kidnappers promised to release another 21 students on Thursday but parents appealed to them to free all the captives.
The source said, “Parents mobilised themselves and raised fresh N24m. They have lost confidence in the kidnappers but remain hopeful that the students will soon be released as promised by the bandits.
“They promised to release another batch of 21 students on Thursday (yesterday) but parents pleaded with them to release all the students as we have exhausted all our funds.
“They had gathered at the school since Thursday awaiting the arrival of the students. We are not sure of the number of students to be released but we are praying for the remaining students to be released.”
Another source confided in a journalist that the bandits wanted to release another batch of students who had fallen ill.
The source, who also confirmed the fresh ransom payment, said it was raised from parents’ contributions and donations by well-wishers.
He stated, “Not all the parents could raise the money demanded by the bandits. They contributed N500,000 to pay the first ransom then another N300,000 for the second ransom. There were also donations by well-wishers and sympathisers. The school has not made any donation except that it has been coordinating the activities.”
Another source close to the school said the Kaduna Baptist Conference had long resolved not to negotiate with the bandits, but noted that the church management was exploring other avenues to ensure the release of the students.
The source said, “They have been working behind the scenes to ensure the safe release of the students. The money the parents have been paying is purely from them but the church and the school management have no hand in it. They have distanced themselves from any ransom payment.”
Zamfara gov receives freed students at Government House amidst heavy security
Meanwhile, the rescued students and teachers of College of Agriculture and Animal Science Bakura in Zamfara State kidnapped by bandits a week ago were on Friday received at the Government House by Governor Bello Mattawalle, amidst heavy security.
The students and teachers were released on Thursday and would be brought to Government House on Friday.
Receiving the victims, Matawalle said they were rescued through the help of some repentant bandits.
He commended the police and other security agencies for the efforts leading to the unconditional release of the abducted students and staff.
The governor said his administration had taken drastic measures to curtail the activities of criminal elements in the state.
He, therefore, directed all the security agencies to ensure full compliance with the new measures.