GUSAU, Nigeria (AP) – Hundreds of Nigerian girls abducted last week from a boarding school in the northwest of the country have been released, the state governor said on Tuesday as the West African nation faces an onslaught of school kidnappings.
Girls 10 and older wearing light blue hijabs and bare feet packed in the conference room of the Zamfara State Government House. They appeared calm, chatting with each other as they sat in a long row when reporters photographed them they would get a medical checkup before returning to their parents.
279 girls were released after being abducted from Jangbeb city government girls junior secondary school on Friday, said Belo Matawale, a government official in Jamfara. The government said last week that 317 had been abducted. It was not clear if there was a mistake in the high number or if some of the girls were missing.
“Alhamdulillah! (Praise be to God!) My heart rejoices in announcing the release of the abducted students, ”Matawal said in a post on Twitter early Tuesday morning. “I order our good daughter-in-law Nigerians to have fun with us because now our daughters are safe.”
Officials said there were “bandits” behind the kidnappings, referring to groups of armed men who work in the Zamfara state and kidnap for money or force their members to be released from prison.
A resident told the Associated Press at the time of the attack that gunmen also attacked a nearby military base and outpost, prohibiting soldiers from going to school.
One girl gave the night of their abduction to AP.
“Suddenly we started firing while we were sleeping at night. They were shooting relentlessly. We got out of our beds and people said we should run, that he was a thief. Officers ended the interview before the girl mentioned her name.
He said the attackers eventually found him and some classmates and held guns to his head.
“I was really scared to get shot,” he said, adding that they asked the staff quarters and the principal for directions. “We said we don’t know who she is.”
Nigeria has seen a number of such attacks and abductions in recent years, most notably in 2014, when jihadist rebels from Bono Haram abducted 276 girls from a secondary school in Chibok, Borno State. More than 100 of those girls are still missing.
Boko Haram opposes Western education and its fighters often target schools. But most of the attacks in the North West are carried out by armed criminal groups with no such ideology.
In the wake of the international aggression, the police and army are trying to save the girls from being abducted. Officials did not say whether a ransom had been paid for his release.
“We have been in discussions with the kidnappers since Friday and an agreement was reached on Monday,” the governor said, adding that they would ensure extra security in all schools in the state.
President Muhammadu Buhari expressed “great joy” over the emancipation of the young women.
“I join the families and people of Zamfara State in welcoming and celebrating the liberation of these traumatic women students,” she said in a statement. “Detention is a painful experience not only for the victims, but also for their families and all of us.”
The president told the bandits to be more vigilant to prevent such attacks – but warned that paying money to free the victims would only lead to more attacks.
Ernest Areck of the University of Abuja agreed that ransom was allowing criminal groups to buy more weapons and increase their power.
And the Nigerian state seems increasingly weak to respond, he said.
“It’s an exciting adventure in a country where a lot of young people are poor, unemployed and hungry,” he said. “The state, which must confront these criminals, always empowers them by obeying their orders. It should be the other way around, i.e., criminals should be afraid of the state, but, in this case, it is the state that will be afraid of criminals. “
He added, “If the state can’t crush them, it means something is wrong in the state of Nigeria.”
On Saturday, 24 students, six staff and eight relatives were released after being abducted on February 17 from Government Science College Kagara in Niger State. In December, more than 300 schoolboys from Kankara Secondary School in northwestern Nigeria were picked up and later released. The government has said no ransom was paid for the students’ release.
Olukoya reported from Lagos, Nigeria. A.P. in Decker. Author Carly Petesh, Senegal contributed