An envoy who delivered a ransom payment for the release of more than 100 Nigerian children abducted in May has himself been kidnapped, the headteacher of their Islamic school said Monday.
Northwest and central Nigeria are struggling with criminal gangs, known locally as bandits, who raid villages, killing and abducting residents after looting and burning homes.
The groups have recently stepped up attacks on schools, kidnapping students to extort ransom from parents.
On May 30, around 200 motorcycle-riding gunmen stormed Tegina town in central Niger state and abducted 136 pupils from an Islamic seminary.
Last month, 15 of the hostages escaped while their captors were asleep in a remote village in neighbouring Zamfara state where they were being held.
On July 20, parents and school officials sent a 60-year-old man, Kassim Tegina, to deliver 30 million naira ($73,000) to the kidnappers, but the bandits seized him after collecting the money.
"To our shock, the kidnappers took the money and seized the courier and refused to release the children," Abubakar Alhassan, the headteacher of Salihu Tanko Islamic school where the children were snatched, told AFP.
"They were angry that the ransom was too small. We don't understand what they want because that was the amount we agreed on after a series of phone negotiations," he said.
The kidnappers said "they were holding him along with the children until we pay more money," Alhassan said.
- 'We can't raise any more' -
He said the bandits had initially demanded 200 million naira ($487,000) but later reduced the amount to 30 million naira.
The ransom was said to have been raised by parents and through voluntary donations from concerned people and groups.
"We can't raise any more ransom money," Alhassan said. "We have resigned to fate."
The state government has repeatedly vowed not to pay ransom to kidnappers.
Around 1,000 schoolchildren and students have been kidnapped in Nigeria since December.
In the latest incident, 121 students of a school in northwestern Kaduna state were kidnapped early this month.
The kidnappers stormed Bethel Baptist High School on July 5, abducting students who were sleeping in their hostels.
School official Joseph Hayab told AFP on Monday four more students had been freed, bringing to 38 the number of hostages released.
"Four more students have returned. They returned yesterday. They escaped from their captors and roamed the bush," he said.
"Three fell into the hands of a good Samaritan who led them out of the forest and helped them get home," he said.
"The fourth student was not that lucky as he was seized by another person who insisted of being paid ransom to release him," he said.
- President under pressure -
Hayab said 130,000 naira ($316) and phone recharge cards were paid for boy's freedom.
He said 28 students freed by their captors on Saturday were reunited with their parents the following day.
Five escaped earlier and one was released on health grounds, he said.
Some money had been paid to the gang, he said, declining to say how much.
"In total, we now have 38 students who have returned."
Esther Joseph, mother of Precious, one of the freed students told AFP on Monday "In fact, I was very, very happy. When I heard she had been abducted I thought maybe she would not be back. I lost hope."
Joseph a widow, who said she did menial jobs to pay the school fees for her 14-year-old daughter, appealed to the government and security forces "to enter the bush" and rescue the remaining hostages.
It was unfortunate that children of the poor were being targeted by kidnappers while "children of government officials are schooling abroad", she said.
President Muhammadu Buhari who is under fire for growing insecurity in the country, has ordered the security forces to ensure the safe and early release of all kidnap victims.