The governor of the northwest Nigerian state of Kaduna says nearly 40 students kidnapped last week are “safe”, adding his government will not “negotiate with the bandits” for their release.
In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera, Nasir el-Rufai said on Tuesday surveillance operations conducted by Nigeria’s armed forces indicated the 39 students abducted were in good health.
“We are now involved in a waiting game,” he added, without elaborating.
Attackers stormed the Federal College of Forestry Mechanization in Afaka on Thursday in the Igabi area of Kaduna, abducting a mix of boys and girls.
In a separate incident on Monday, three teachers were abducted in Kaduna by attackers who stormed Rema Primary School, in the Birnin Gwari Local Government Area, in the latest kidnapping in northern Nigeria since December.
“The bandits have been targeting educational institutions and schools, abducting students in particular because it makes headlines,” el-Rufai told Al Jazeera.
“Headlines constitute the oxygen of the terrorists, and these bandits are terrorists.”
El-Rufai said the kidnappings have a significant effect on educational development not only in Kaduna state but across the region.
“Northern Nigeria is among the most backward in terms of education. In this state we have invested heavily in education in the last few years,” he said, adding significant improvements had been made “but all that is at risk right now”.
‘We do not pay ransom’
The governor said officials evaluated the situation and did not see “any reason why the government will pay money to bandits”.
“It’s a principle stand, we do not pay ransom, we will not negotiate with criminals, we will not negotiate with bandits,” el-Rufai said.
“The fact that you are carrying an AK-47 does not give you the platform to negotiate because if we do that then we’ll have to negotiate with every criminal in Nigeria, and grant him or her amnesty.”
The kidnappers were told “not a penny” will be given by the government, el-Rufai added.
“They are waiting, hoping that something will come. We are involved in a waiting game, we’ll have to wait and see how things play out.”
Wave of attacks
According to a report by local intelligence firm SB Morgen, at least $18m was paid in ransom to kidnappers between June 2011 to March 2020.
Abduction of educators and students began with the armed group Boko Haram – which in 2014 abducted 270 girls in the Chibok area in northeast Nigeria. Since then, other groups have conducted similar attacks, demanding large sums of money.
The kidnappings of students, however, is just one of Nigeria’s many security challenges.
Alongside the threat of Boko Haram, which has left tens of thousands dead and diplaced millions, the country has seen frequent clashes between farmers and semi-nomadic herders.
Elsewhere, government security officers have continuously clashed with a southeastern group campaigning for secession, while the Gulf of Guinea coast that includes Nigeria has been described by the International Maritime Bureau as one of the most dangerous in the world for piracy.
“Nigeria’s security personnel are overstretched, underfunded and underequipped,” said Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris, reporting from Kaduna.
“There have been casualties of war over time and these have not neem replaced,” he added.
Nnamdi Obasi, the Nigeria senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, told Al Jazeera that since 2016, the military has taken on “too many internal security operations, many of which could have been better managed through good governance at state and local levels, supported by a robust and effective police force”.
He added: “The military … [has been] dissipating energy in too many directions, and [has] yet to achieve decisive results against the insurgents in the northeast and various armed groups in the northwest.”