The last time Linda Peter spoke to her daughter, she was relieved that the teenager was alive after the brief phone call, but disturbed that she could not pay a ransom.
Peter’s 18-year-old daughter Jennifer was among 39 students kidnapped on March 11 by gunmen from a forest school in the northwestern Nigerian state of Kaduna. The kidnappers, who called on the teenager’s phone, threatened to kill the male prisoners and force the women to marry, but did not provide the ransom amount requested.
“The government is doing nothing to help these children,” said Peter, a widow and mother of five who sells vegetables but has not worked since her daughter was kidnapped. “We have nothing,” she said.
The governor of Kaduna, Nasir El-Rufai, has repeatedly stated that his state government will not negotiate with “bandits”, as the criminal gangs are known to plunder, or pay ransom.
Ransom kidnapping has become an industry in troubled northern Nigerian states, with over 700 people kidnapped from educational institutions since December. President Muhammadu Buhari told state governments in February that “rewarding” such crimes with money and vehicles could cause “a disastrous boomerang”.
Peter, who faced the prospect of losing their daughter, said the government had to do more to free the students.
“I’m angry with her,” she tearfully told the Kaduna government at a meeting of relatives whose relatives were arrested in the same raid.
The Kaduna State Security Commissioner responded to the comments, referring Reuters to an April 16 statement.
“The governor will continue to work hard until banditry is curbed without succumbing to emotional blackmail and gradual politicization of the unfortunate situation,” it said.
Much of the fear Peter and other concerned parents felt at the Wednesday meeting stems from the murder of five college students among around 17 people kidnapped from Greenfield University in another state on April 21.
Catherine Saleh, whose 29-year-old son Stephen Shuani was taken from forest school, said she too had received calls from the kidnappers asking for an initial 500 million naira ($ 1.31 million) – an unattainable sum for the 100,000 teacher Naira per month salary – before that is reduced to 50 million.
“We can’t collect the money,” she said. “If I had the money, I wouldn’t send my child to this school.”
The men who pretended to be the kidnappers asked her to call government officials to request that they negotiate with them, but she knows no one to contact.
“These children are between life and death. You can shoot them anytime,” Saleh said.
On the same day as the meeting, Dorathy Yohanna, one of the dead Greenfield students, was buried.
Her father, Yohanna Meck, said he hoped state officials would learn from the tragedy.
“The government should be proactive, not just keep silent,” he told reporters after the funeral. “You should be proactive in helping the situation because it’s getting out of hand.”
($ 1 = 380.55 naira)
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