Gunmen who hijacked a school bus and kidnapped 15 children in Nigeria on Monday have been negotiating with the owner of the school as police stepped up efforts yesterday to free the students, authorities said.
“The kidnappers are relating with the proprietor of the school and we are hopeful for a good outcome,” Abia State police spokesman Geofrey Ogbonna said.
“We are intensifying our efforts to set free the 15 children,” he said.
He did not offer any details on the negotiations with the kidnappers or police efforts to track them down following the -hijacking in the oil-rich south.
The abductors have demanded a ransom of 20 million naira (US$128,900).
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday called the incident “utterly callous and cruel” and pledged government action to free the victims.
The gunmen ordered the school bus driver to stop on the outskirts of Aba city at gunpoint before taking the children of Abayi International School, which serves as both a nursery and elementary school.
All of the children were thought to be Nigerian, and from wealthy families.
The major oil-producing Niger Delta -region has seen scores of -kidnappings in recent years, often by criminal gangs seeking ransom payments, but also by militants demanding a fairer distribution of oil revenue.
Most kidnappings initially involved foreign oil workers, but more recently attackers have also targeted the children and relatives of wealthy Nigerians.
The majority of victims are freed unharmed, often after a ransom is paid.
Okechukwu Nwanguma, head of the Network on Police Reform in Nigeria rights group, called the hijacking “very disturbing.”
“It also shows that this problem of insecurity, and especially kidnapping, is beyond the police and the government,” he said. “Drastic measures need to be taken to smoke out crime and its perpetrators.”