Kidnappers demand nearly £500k for release of 286 school hostages in Nigeria

Gunmen who kidnapped at least 286 students and staff from a school in Nigeria have demanded one billion naira – the equivalent of £486,000 – for their release, community leaders have said.

The children and adults were abducted last Thursday in Kuriga, a town in Nigeria's north-western Kaduna State.

At least 100 of the pupils are aged 12 or younger.

Jubril Aminu, a spokesperson for the families of the hostages, said the kidnappers threatened to kill the captives during a phone call on Tuesday.

"They gave an ultimatum to pay the ransom within 20 days, effective from the date of the kidnap," he said. "They said they will kill all the students and the staff if the ransom demand is not met."

Local councillor Idris Ibrahim said the kidnappers had called from an undisclosed number that authorities were trying to trace.

The ransom demand is the equivalent of more than £1,600 per hostage - which is more than the average income a person in Nigeria earns in a year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Rashidat Hamza is one of many parents left in despair after five of her six children, aged between seven and 18, were kidnapped.

"We don't know what to do, but we believe in God," she said on Saturday.

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Shehu Lawal, the father of a 13-year-old boy who is among those feared kidnapped, added: "Since this happened, my brain has been muddled.

"My child didn't even eat breakfast before leaving. His mother fainted [at the news]."

The Nigerian government has urged the country's security forces to secure the release of the hostages "as a matter of urgency" without paying any ransom, information minister Mohammed Idris said on Wednesday.

The raid on 7 March was initially thought to be Nigeria's first mass kidnapping since 2021, but it later emerged that 50 people, mostly women, had also been adducted by suspected insurgents in the remote Gamboru region on 6 March.

A third mass kidnapping then took place on Saturday when 15 children and one woman were taken from the Gidan Bakuso village in Sokoto state.

In 2014, Islamist militants kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls from Chibok in Borno State, sparking the Bring Back Our Girls campaign.

A decade later, officials estimate at least 1,4000 Nigerian students have been kidnapped in similar circumstances and some - including nearly 100 of the Chibok girls - remain missing.

Bola Tinubu won Nigeria's presidential race last year after campaigning on a promise to tighten security and stop kidnappings.