Controversial Islamic cleric, Ahmad Gumi, has explained his role and that of former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, in the recent release of the 27 students of Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, Kaduna State.
The students were freed by their abductors on Wednesday after spending over seven weeks in captivity.
They were among 37 abducted from the school on March 11, but some were rescued earlier.
The bandits demanded N500 million as ransom for their release but the state government had insisted it will not pay a dime to bandits or negotiate with them.
It remains unclear if the state government changed its stance to secure their release.
The state government was also silent on ransom payment in its confirmation statement issued by Samuel Aruwan, the commissioner for internal security.
But a newspaper, Daily Nigerian, reported that there was a prisoner exchange with the bandits by the government.
It said, as part of the deal brokered by Messrs Obasanjo and Gumi, a bandit was released from prison in exchange for the students.
The family of the students also paid ransom to the kidnappers, the newspaper reported, quoting a security source involved in the negotiations.
A Kaduna-based Islamic scholar, Ahmad Gumi,
But on Thursday, while receiving the parents of the freed students on an appreciation visit, Mr Gumi explained the role of the former president in the pact.
“The role myself and former President Olusegun Obasanjo played in the release of the 27 Afaka students is the role of mediators because the fight is not between us and them (bandits) but between the bandits and the government,” Punch newspaper quoted him to have said.
“What we understand is that these people are trying to attack the government by attacking the government institutions and take innocent children.
“Having understood that we came to the conclusion that this is not a hopeless situation and that we can really go in and negotiate for the release of these children, which we did after so many ups and downs.
“But in the long run, a conclusion was reached and these children are out. So, we are happy that, all of them are out and none was killed.”
However, efforts to get Mr Obasanjo’s reaction proved abortive as his spokesperson, Kehinde Akinyemi, who had promised get back to PREMIUM TIMES on the report Thursday afternoon, did not respond to subsequent calls from our correspondent up till evening time.
The freed students are different from the 16 students of Greenfield University, Kaduna, who have yet to be released with their abductors threatening mass killing if a ransom is not paid.
Over 48 hours after the expiration of the ultimatum, the state government is yet to respond to the threats of the abductors.
But Mr Gumi said talk was ongoing with the abductors of the 16 students.
“The talk with the Greenfield University students’ abductors is also going on. You know they threatened to kill all of them after a particular deadline but after talking to them, they are now lowering their bar.
“So, we are thankful they have stopped killing. And we are still negotiating with them. I hope this Afaka case will also encourage to know that there is hope in negotiation and release the children,” Punch newspaper reported.