Niger State was in the news for the wrong reason last week. Although the state appears to be a part of the horn of banditry in the North, things have been relatively quiet for a while.
Until last week. In two separate incidents, passengers on board the Niger State Transport Authority bus commuting from Rijau to Minna were attacked and kidnapped. The bandits struck again at the Government Science College, Kagara, kidnapping scores of students.
Both incidents have riveted local and global attention and created a frenzy in government circles in Minna.
The passengers were returning from a wedding and were close to Yakila, about 60km from the state capital, when the bandits struck. Three minutes later, the convoy of the Ibrahim Balarabe, chief of staff to Governor Abubakar Sani Bello, passed, raising suspicions that he was the real target.
A source told me on Monday that word may have filtered to the attackers that Balarabe and a number of other politicians were in Kagara for the ongoing membership registration drive of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). When the bandits missed their "high-value targets", they descended on the passengers and students as "bargaining chips".
Two days after the attack on the passenger bus, during which 40 persons were seized, the bandits attacked Government Science College, Kagara and abducted 27 students, three teaching staff, two non-teaching staff members, and eight other persons living within the school premises.
The school was not fenced, making access relatively easy. There were reports that the bandits demanded N500million ransom but the governor said as a matter of policy, the state does not pay ransom, but would grant amnesty to repentant bandits.
Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, has since been invited to broker the release of the hostages. The flip-flop in the announcement about their status has kept the public on edge.
Benjamin Bawa Habila, a father of one of the abducted students, Benjamin, said he had "left the matter to God."
He said, "What can I do? What can I say? It is the will of God..What has happened will not discourage me from sending my children to school, because that is where their future lies."
A number of other parents have besieged the state capital to confirm if their children have indeed been released.
Three of the parents, Yusuf Isah, Agustine Azeh, and Moses Gabriel, said that they traveled to Minna with the hope to see whether their children were released.
They had still not seen them at the time of this report. A state government official to the press on Sunday night that the students had been released.
On Monday morning, however, the story changed: an official who refused to be named said while the passengers had been released, the bandits reneged on an earlier agreement to release the students at the last minute.
At the time of this report, neither the passengers nor the students had been seen publicly.