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Children kidnapped by Nigeria gunmen

Fifteen children were kidnapped when Gunmen hijacked a school bus, taking primary and nursery age children to school, police said yesterday.

It happened on Monday morning in the west African country’s Abia state, on the edge of the oil-producing Niger Delta.

The children were being driven to the Abayi International School in the southern state's commercial capital, Umuahia.

"The 15 students were being conveyed to school by the driver and the teacher that normally accompanies them when they were abducted," said state police spokesman Geoffrey Ogbonna.

"The kidnappers are demanding a ransom from the proprietor of the school. This is the first time schoolchildren have been kidnapped in Abia state. It is quite unfortunate," he told Reuters news service.

Local press reported that the gunmen had demanded a ransom of 20 million naira (about £95,000), and that the children had been taken to a secret place.

The former British colony is one of the world's largest oil producers, but the industry has brought with it nasty side effects.

In the Niger delta, the kidnapping of foreign oil workers and ordinary Nigerians is pretty common. For years, the area has been dogged by militias demanding a bigger share from central government over the oil money.

Last year an amnesty was called in the delta, which has lowered the overall levels of violence that curbed the output of Africa's largest crude oil producer.

But last week, three French oil workers were abducted in a raid on an offshore drilling ship and the seizure of a large number of children is a worrying development from the criminal gangs that roam the region.

Also in nearby Rivers State a group of five women were abducted two weeks ago by a criminal gang also believed to have come from Abia, police said. The women are still thought to be being held captive.

Africa's most densely populated country is making ready for presidential and parliamentary elections early next year. In past years the run-up to polls has been marked by a rise in crime and security-related incidents.

In 2004, Niger Delta activists demanding a greater share of oil income for locals began a campaign of violence against the oil infrastructure, threatening Nigeria's most important economic lifeline.

Nigeria needs to attract foreign investment but they are often deterred by security concerns as well as by the country’s shaky infrastructure troubled by power cuts. 

Hayley attribution