School children held for ransom

Gunmen have seized 15 children who
were on their way to their international school in the south-eastern Nigerian
state of Abia, say police.

“The abductors have contacted
[the owner of the private school] and asked for $130,000,” police
spokesman Geoffrey Ogbonna said.

He said he believed the children
came from wealthy Nigerian families.

The kidnap happened on the fringes
of the oil-rich Niger Delta.

In recent years, gunmen in the
Niger Delta have been kidnapping prominent Nigerians, and their relatives,
rather than foreign oil workers, whose security has been improved.

There has been a sharp rise in
hostage-taking in Abia, but this is believed to be the first time so many
children have been seized in a single group.

The children were on their way to
the Abayi International School in the state’s commercial capital, Aba, when a
vehicle blocked the path of their school bus, Mr Ogbonna said.

He said the children – who attend
nursery and primary school – were with a driver and teacher but were taken away
by a group of armed men, whose identity is unknown.

“We are making efforts to
locate where they are held so as to free them,” Mr Ogbonna said.

Kidnappings in Nigeria’s south-east
are carried out by criminal gangs seeking ransom, but also by armed groups
demanding a fairer distribution of oil revenue in a country flowing with oil
but where most people live on less than $1 a day.

Nigeria’s parliament is considering
a bill which would impose the death penalty on convicted kidnappers in a bid to
deter would-be hostage-takers.

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