Gunmen who kidnapped 286 students and staff in Kaduna have demanded a sum of N1 billion for their release.

The schoolchildren, some older students and members of the school staff were abducted on March 7 in the town of Kuriga, in Nigeria’s northwestern Kaduna State, in the first mass kidnapping in the country since 2021.

According to Reuters, a community leader, Jubril Aminu, who acts as a spokesman for the families of the hostages, said he received a call on his phone from the kidnappers on Tuesday.

“They made a total of a 1 billion (naira) ransom demand for all the pupils, students and staff of the school,” Aminu said.

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

Idris Ibrahim, an elected official from the Kuriga Ward municipal council, also confirmed the ransom demand and the amount.

“Yes, the kidnappers called the community through Jubril Aminu’s number and made the demand,” he said.

“They called from a hidden number but the authorities are working on getting the number,” Ibrahim said 

He added that the security forces were taking “adequate measures” to secure the release of the students.

Samuel Aruwan, commissioner of internal security and home affairs in Kaduna State, did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the kidnappers’ demands.

Spokespeople for President Bola Tinubu and the army also did not respond to requests for comment.

The country’s information minister, Mohammed Idris, told reporters on Wednesday that Tinubu’s position on the kidnappings in Kuriga was that security forces should secure the hostages’ release without any payment to the kidnappers.

“The president has directed that security agencies must as a matter of urgency ensure that the children and all those who have been kidnapped are brought back to safety and also in the process ensure that not a dime is paid for ransom.”

Under Tinubu’s predecessor, legislation was introduced imposing jail time for anyone found paying a ransom to free a hostage as kidnappings in Nigeria became ever more frequent.