Seventy-five children who were kidnapped from their school in Zamfara have been released after their abductors came under pressure from a military crackdown, a state official said on Monday. Gunmen took the students from the village of Kaya on 1 September, the latest in a spate of mass kidnappings from schools across the region. More than 1,100 children have been seized since December last year. Authorities say they were abducted by heavily armed gangs of bandits seeking ransoms. A spokesman for the Zamfara State governor said no ransom had been paid for the 75 children, who had been received by the governor at his headquarters. The spokesman sent reporters images of boys and girls in uniform, seated inside what looked like a meeting room. He did not say when they were freed. Zamfara has been one of the states worst-hit in the abduction crisis. On 3 September, authorities ordered a phone and internet blackout there while security forces cracked down on the gangs. Several Nigerian media outlets have reported that bandits in Zamfara had attacked a military base and killed 12 soldiers.

Five gunmen on Monday attacked the Comprehensive Secondary School, Nkume in Njaba Local Government Area of Imo State following the declaration of sit-at-home order by the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). The armed men invaded the school premises when some students were participating in the ongoing 2021 West African School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) and stopped the exercise. The students were preparing to sit for English when the gunmen forcefully infiltrated the school premises and dispersed them. Although no casualties were recorded during the attack, the attackers set ablaze some motorcycles belonging to some of the staff and students. IPOB had ordered that all Southeastern states observe sit-at-home every Monday in solidarity for its leader, Nnamdi Kanu who has been in the custody of the Department of State Services. Compliance was low in the Imo capital, Owerri, as residents went about their daily activities in defiance of the IPOB order.

Nigeria’s Health Minister, Dr Osagie Ehanire has said that the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus is the dominant strain in the country. Speaking at the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on COVID-19 briefing on Monday, the minister urged Nigerians to keep all protective measures. “The dreaded 3rd wave of COVID-19 may appear to be levelling out because there had been no catastrophic increases in infections and fatalities. But, it is not wise to assume that the threat is gone, especially as cases are fluctuating and have to be identified by genomic sequencing. The evidence so far is that the Delta strain is already the dominant one in Nigeria. We must keep our protective measures in place and increase testing to determine our situation. We also remain on alert at Points of Entry, including land and sea borders, to confront the importation of COVID-19. Several cases have indeed been identified by rapid diagnostic tests and taken care of accordingly,” he said. On vaccines, the Minister said that the government had secured nearly 40 million doses of J&J vaccines to be arriving at a rate that NPHCDA would set, to align with their utilization strategy. According to him, “all states have received doses of AstraZeneca, Moderna and J&J vaccines for the ongoing second phase of the vaccination exercise in all states, while the federal government has done due diligence to ensure vaccine quality and safety.” This comes as the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) directed foreign airlines to board passengers travelling to Nigeria who are unable to show evidence of payment for a repeat COVID-19 test. Musa Nuhu, NCAA director-general, in a letter to all airlines operating international flights, said the decision was taken due to challenges facing some travellers to Nigeria. According to him, travellers are now finding it difficult to fill their health and travel history into Nigeria International Travel Portal (NITP). As part of COVID-19 rules, passengers pay for a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, which they are expected to do after seven days of quarantine. Passengers had reported issues generating a QR code after payment of the compulsory fees has led to many travellers travelling to Nigeria being denied boarding by airlines. In a 11 September letter, the DG explained that the presidential steering committee on COVID-19 had been notified of the challenges facing travellers. According to Nuhu, such passengers would be required to make payment for the repeated day-7 COVID-19 test at their destination airport in Nigeria. Holders of diplomatic passports and children aged 10 years and below, who were unable to complete the NITP were also to be allowed to board their flights, the letter said, adding that their health declaration and travel history would be captured by the Port Health Services at the destination airport.

A deal is close that would allow Russian mercenaries into Mali, extending Russian influence over security affairs in West Africa and triggering opposition from former colonial power France, Reuters report citing seven unnamed diplomatic and security sources said. Paris has begun a diplomatic drive to prevent the military junta in Mali from enacting the deal, which would permit Russian private military contractors, the Wagner Group, to operate in the former French colony, the sources said. European source who tracks West Africa and a security source in the region said at least 1,000 mercenaries could be involved. Two other sources believed the number was lower but did not provide figures. Four sources said the Wagner Group would be paid about 6 billion CFA francs ($10.8 million) a month for its services. One security source working in the region said the mercenaries would train the Malian military and provide protection for senior officials. Reuters could not confirm independently how many mercenaries could be involved, how much they would be compensated, or establish the exact objective of any deal involving Russian mercenaries would be for Mali’s military junta. France’s diplomatic offensive, the diplomatic sources said, includes enlisting the help of partners including the United States to persuade Mali’s junta not to press ahead with the deal and sending senior diplomats to Moscow and Mali for talks. France is worried the arrival of Russian mercenaries would undermine its decade-old counter-terrorism operation against al Qaeda and Islamic State-linked insurgents in the Sahel region of West Africa at a time when it is seeking to draw down its 5,000-strong Barkhane mission to reshape it with more European partners, the diplomatic sources said. As relations with France have worsened, Mali’s military junta has increased contacts with Russia, including Defence Minister Sadio Camara visiting Moscow and overseeing tank exercises on 4 September. A senior Malian defence ministry source said the visit was in “the framework of cooperation and military assistance” and gave no further details. Russia’s defence ministry said deputy defence minister Alexander Fomin had met Camara during an international military forum and “discussed defence cooperation projects in detail as well as regional security matters related to West Africa.” No further details were released.