The abducted Nigerian schoolboys reunited with their families

More than 8,000 Nigerian boys were reunited with their parents on Friday, a week after terrorists attacked their dormitories in the abduction of the largest school children in history.

Emotional scenes were witnessed at the Hajj camp in the city of Katsina as parents and their sons embraced in tears. The schoolboys, many of whom were stranded and exhausted after being released from six days in captivity, spent hours between local politicians and a press conference with President Mohammed Buhari before seeing their families immediately after dinner.

The governor of Katsina state, Aminu Belo Masari, said all 344 boys abducted were released after six days in captivity.

It was not immediately clear how those statements were linked to previous testimonies of some of his classmates who managed to escape and said that while going into the thick jungle they released more than 500 hostages in a major count conducted by the kidnappers.

Abduruf Isa, one of the boys defending the purple-white-colored school uniform at Government Science Secondary School in Kankara, said he was relieved to have finished his exams. “We suffered at the hands of our kidnappers, but they gave us food to eat,” the 16-year-old said Friday. “We ate raw local potatoes and drank water from the stream.”

The jihadist group Boko Haram, which translates as “Western education is banned,” has claimed responsibility for the abduction, saying on Tuesday it had arrested students for punishing them for “un-Islamic practices.” In a granular video released Thursday, hours before the boys were released, the hostages said some of their classmates had died during their captivity. Governor Shri Masari said on Friday that all the boys arrested were alive.

More than 300 schoolboys were received in Nigeria after they were released by kidnappers by government officials. The jihadist group Boko Haram claimed responsibility for his abduction a week ago. Photo: Afolabi Sotunde / Reuters

Abduruf said he is looking forward to moving on to studies again. “My dream is to become a scientist in the future,” he said. “I will continue my education.”

Nigerian officials, including Mr Buhari, were careful on Friday not to name the group behind the abduction of the boys or give details of how they were released.

In an interview with the state broadcaster NTA, Mr Buhari thanked the army, which he said had surrounded the boys without revealing their identities or explaining what happened next. His government has repeatedly said its military has technically defeated Boko Haram and its affiliates, although the group has overtaken dozens of military bases and carried out brutal attacks on civilians over the past year.

If Boko Haram were indeed responsible, analysts said, the kidnapping of the boys is a sign of a dangerous expansion under the leadership of its leader Abubakar Shekau in the northeastern state of Katsina in northeastern Nigeria, potentially forming a link to a local criminal network.

One of the abducted children covered his face on Friday after six days of trauma.


Cola Solomon / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

Some analysts have also questioned the statements of Nigerian officials that they do not pay ransom to free students taken from Kankara school.

The relatively quick release of the boys was a much-needed victory for Mr Buhri’s government, for whom the 2014 abduction was a shameful reminder of the abduction of 276 school teenagers from the city of Chibok. The attack sparked the global #BringBackOurGirls campaign, which drew world attention to the rise of Boko Haram terrorists.

Three years later, 103 girls were released for ransom, including, according to those involved, the transfer of five captured terrorists and about 7 3.7 million to 7 3 million. The government has refused to pay ransom for the Chibok girls.

After a medical examination and a change of clean clothes, the boys waited for hours at a state luncheon on Friday afternoon before meeting Mr. Buhari and Katsina Governor.

“The experience of your abduction will not stop you from continuing your education,” the president told the boys. “Please keep the experience behind you and move on.”

Outside, dozens of parents, who had traveled about 130 kilometers from Kankara to the state capital Katsina, were eager to welcome their children. “I was able to shake [my son’s] Hands before they and other divorced children go for a medical examination, ”said Hajia Mai Jida, whose 17-year-old son Buhari was among those released on Thursday.

But like other parents, Ms. Jida said she has no plans to send her son back to school. “The school is not safe and she has been left alone in the bushes,” he said. “I don’t want him kidnapped again.”

The abducted children were released after being left at home on Friday.


Cola Solomon / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

Improvement and amplification
Muhammadu Buhari is the President of Nigeria. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that his last name was Buhair in one last reference.

Write to Gabriel Steinhauser at [email protected]

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