A criminal gang has kidnapped nearly 40 children working on a farm in northwest Nigeria and demanded ransom for their release, police and a local official said on Wednesday.
Dozens of gunmen on motorcycles stormed a farm outside Mairuwa village in Faskari district of Katsina State on Sunday and rounded up 39 children who were harvesting crops for a fee, the police and the official said.
Katsina is one of several states in northwest and central Nigeria that are terrorised by criminal gangs locally known as called bandits, who raid villages, killing and abducting residents as well as looting and burning homes.
Hostages are usually released after ransom payment to the gangs, who reputedly hole up in the vast Rugu forest straddling Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna and Niger states.
“Bandits invaded a farm in Mairuwa and took away underaged labourers working on the farm,” said Gambo Isah, Katsina police spokesman.
“Our personnel have mobilized to the area with the mission to rescue the hostages and apprehend the criminals,” Isah said, without providing further details.
A Faskari local government official said the bandits rode into the farm on motorbikes as scores of labourers were working.
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“The adult workers who could run much faster managed to escape but 39 children who could not outrun the bandits were caught,” said the official, who asked not to identified for personal safety.
Thirty-three of the hostages, boys and girls, were from Mairuwa village and the other six were from nearby villages, he said.
He said the bandits used the telephone of one of the hostages to make a ransom demand.
The farm manager had previously struck a deal with the bandits, who demanded protection money to let the harvest go ahead and were given a down payment, the official said.
“It is obvious the bandits were angry that work began on the farm without being settled the balance,” the source said.
Faskari, which lies on the border with Zamfara state, faces recurrent threats of kidnapping by bandits crossing into the area from their forest camps, said the official.
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President Muhammadu Buhari has been under pressure to tackle security challenges before he leaves office next year after two four-year terms, the maximum permitted under the constitution.
Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria is grappling with bandit gangs in the northwestern and central regions, jihadist violence in the northeast and separatist agitation in the southeast.