A man rests on a pole beside the signage of the Federal College of Forestry Mechanization where gunmen abducted students, in Kaduna, Nigeria March 12, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
Abuja, Nigeria CNN  — 

At least 30 students are missing after gunmen attacked a college in Kaduna state northwest Nigeria Thursday night, according to authorities.

The students were abducted from the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Mando, Kaduna.

It is the third mass kidnapping from an academic institution in northern Nigeria this year.

In a statement, Samuel Aruwan, Commissioner for Kaduna State Ministry of Internal Security and Home Affairs, said 180 students were rescued by soldiers, who “engaged the armed bandits.”

“The troops successfully rescued 180 citizens; 42 female students, eight staff and 130 male students … about 30 students, a mix of males and females, are yet to be accounted for,” the statement read.

However, some of the students told a different story. Ezra Jona, 25, told CNN the kidnappers had left the site long before the soldiers arrived.

“The bandits were already gone when the soldiers came to rescue us. They evacuated us to their barracks. I was very confused and afraid,” Jona said.

Daniel Atep 24, recalls jumping over a fence to get away from the kidnappers.

“We kept running as we heard the sound of gunshots and hid in the forest,” he told CNN.

“Later when the bandits had left, we saw soldiers searching around the bush and we came out. There were around 11 of us, so they took us to the school and to their barracks after.”

Zainab Umar, 24, told CNN one of her coursemates is among the missing students.

“They first attacked the boys’ hostel… then they told one of them to lead them to our hostel. When they got there, they told him to lie down and put a gun to his head and shouted that everyone should come out.”

Umar recalls that some of the female students pleaded with the attackers to allow them to put on clothes. Some were allowed to, but others taken away undressed, she said.

Umar said she escaped capture by hiding under the bed as there was a power blackout.

“They didn’t see us because NEPA (local power provider) had taken the light. They came back a few minutes later and said, ‘we are soldiers, come out.’ Some of the girls went out and they took them away.”

“They were already gone before the real soldiers came,” she added.

CNN has been unable to reach Aruwan to comment on the students’ version of events.

The co-education Federal College of Forestry and Mechanisation is a higher education institution located in Afaka, a forest community close to Nigeria Defence Academy military barracks.

Students are aged between 19 and 25 on average and specialize in agricultural studies.

This abduction is the latest in a string of similar kidnapping cases. More than 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped from a school in Zamfara State, also in northwest Nigeria, earlier this month.

At least 42 people were abducted from a state-run school last month in Kagara, Niger State and later released, and more than 300 schoolboys were taken and later freed in December.

Kidnapping for ransom is rife in parts of Nigeria and has become a major security challenge. State governors regularly pay ransoms to secure the safety of victims but rarely admit to doing so.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari recently told state governors to review “their policy of rewarding bandits with money and vehicles,” saying the policy “could backfire with potentially disastrous consequences.” Buhari also urged governors to work hard to secure their schools.