Influential Islamic cleric, Sheikh Abubakar Gumi, said on Saturday that the kidnapped Kagara school children might be released today.
Bandits, donning a military uniform, had around 2 am on Wednesday invaded Government Science College, Kagara, Niger State and whisked away 27 pupils and 15 staff members after killing a Senior Secondary School 3 pupil.
The incident has created nationwide agitation and worries over the kidnapped pupils' safety and school staff members, who were whisked away into the bush by the bandits.
Gumi, who has been in talks with the bandits in the forest, told Sunday PUNCH that there was a possibility that the abductees might regain freedom today, given ongoing discussions between the government and the bandits.
The cleric, who recently held a parley with some bandits in Zamfara State forests and consequently called for amnesty for bandits, told one of our correspondents that the negotiation for the schoolchildren's release and members of staff was slowed down due to logistics.
According to Gumi, the negotiation does not involve the payment of ransom.
Speaking on the phone with one of our correspondents on Saturday, Gumi said, "What I hear from (our contact) is that they are still negotiating to release them (schoolchildren and staff members), and we will get them tomorrow (Sunday), hopefully.
"Up till now, they have not been able to identify the boys, who (did the kidnapping). You know they are splinter groups. So, when dealing with groups like that in a vast area, with no communication, no road, then it has to be slow. But the main actors are ready to negotiate and stop the kidnapping altogether."
Asked if the negotiation involved money, Gumi said, "No, no; it does not. If it involves money, it means the same criminality. They are saying these are our conditions and we will stop this thing. So, negotiation is ongoing and their demands are being looked into, which are very simple."
According to Gumi, the bandits are mainly asking the state to release their comrades in security agencies' custody.
He explained, "They have just four people in detention and they are asking for them. They also need assurance and that is why we are calling for amnesty for them. They have been fighting for a long time; it's been more than eight years.
"These people are fighting for their existence because when they go to town, they are lynched, when the police see them on the road, they arrest them; sometimes they are executed extrajudicially, so they took arms against the state. When you give them amnesty, all of them will drop their weapons."
But four days into the abduction, bandits have continued to run riot on communities in Kaduna and Katsina states.
Saharareporters gathered that many people were reportedly killed and several others abducted when bandits invaded the Gurmana community in the Shiroro Local Government Area of Niger State on Saturday.
The gunmen also unleashed terror on communities in the Kajuru Local Government Area of Kaduna, killing three and injuring one person while 14 persons in Katsina, including Galadiman Kunduru, a 91-year-old monarch, identified merely as Alhaji Ibrahim, were abducted in separate banditry attacks.
In Kajuru, one local was reportedly lynched by youths for allegedly collaborating with the bandits to wreak havoc on communities.