LAGOS, Nigeria – Kidnappers released 15 school children Friday that they abducted from a bus on their way to school near Nigeria's oil-rich and restive southern delta, a brazen attack highlighting the growing insecurity in the West African nation, a police spokesman said.
Federal police spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwu told The Associated Press that authorities recovered the children early Friday morning, four days after gunmen seized them from a bus traveling in Nigeria's Abia state. Ojukwu said the nursery and primary school students were in good condition and soon would be reunited with their parents.
Abia state police spokesman Geoffrey Ogbonna said a joint military and police taskforce "rescued" the children and no ransom was paid, though officers made no arrests when they recovered the students. Typically, most kidnap victims are released in a week or two after their families pay whatever ransom they can scrape together.
Authorities said the gunmen stopped the school bus Monday morning as it headed toward the Abayi International School. The gunmen seized all the mobile telephones from the students, the bus driver and a teacher onboard before taking the children away, officials said. The kidnappers apparently demanded more than $130,000 to release the children, but later lowered the ransom amount.
Abia state, in Nigeria's southeast, sits near the Niger Delta, a maze of mangroves and creeks where foreign oil firms draw crude in Africa's most populous nation. The region has long been plagued by violence from militants upset about the region's unceasing poverty and from opportunistic criminal gangs targeting foreigners for kidnappings.
Now, with oil firms keeping their workers hidden behind razor wire and under paramilitary protection, gangs have increasingly targeted middle-class Nigerian families. Middle-class children, as well as priests, politicians and doctors have been abducted by criminal gangs.
While kidnappings routinely fill the front pages of Nigeria's newspapers, it took Monday's kidnapping to spark new condemnations and fear in the nation. President Goodluck Jonathan, who previously suggested sending the military into states overrun by kidnappings, personally promised to rescue the school children.
Last week, pirates operating off the Nigeria's coast kidnapped three French oil workers and a Thai national. The workers have yet to be released.