ABUJA, Nigeria: Hundreds of schoolboys who were kidnapped in north-western Nigeria nearly a week ago have been released, a local official said late on Thursday, prompting joy and relief for families that had been praying for the boys’ safe return.
Katsina state Governor Aminu Bello Masari said in a televised interview with state channel NTA that 344 boys held in the Rugu Forest in neighbouring Zamfara state had been freed.
“I think we have recovered most of the boys,” he said.
Earlier, a presidential aide said the schoolboys had been freed, but it was unclear how many were released amid continuing uncertainty about how many were abducted from their all-boys school last Friday in Kankara, a town in Katsina state. Masari said Nigeria security forces had cordoned off the area where the boys were being held and had been ordered not to fire their weapons.
“We had already established indirect contact to try to make sure that we secure the release of the children unharmed,” he said. “We thank God that they took our advice and not a single shot was fired.”
A security aide to the governor said 344 students were rescued and are in Zamfara undergoing checks. “We are grateful to God they have been released,” Ibrahim Katsina said.
The governor added that the boys were on their way back to Katsina state and would be medically examined and reunited with their families on Friday.
I welcome the release of the kidnapped students of Government Science Secondary School, Kankara. This is a huge relief to the entire country & international community. The entire country is grateful to Governor Masari, the Intelligence Agencies, the Military and the Police Force.
— Muhammadu Buhari (@MBuhari) December 17, 2020
“I am so happy,” retired health worker Shuaibu Kankara, whose 13-year-old son Annas Shuaibu was among the kidnapped boys.
“We are so grateful to the governor of Katsina and all those who worked hard to secure their release,” said Kankara, adding that his only concern was to be reunited with his son.
The students were kidnapped last Friday from the Government Science Secondary School in Kankara.
In an audio recording, a man identifying himself as the leader of Boko Haram claimed on Tuesday that the armed group was responsible for the abduction.
The kidnapping has gripped Nigeria and raised growing concerns and anger about insecurity and violence in the country’s north.
President Muhammadu Buhari welcomed the students’ release and asked for patience while his administration dealt with security issues.
Protesters have marched in north-western Nigeria under a banner reading #BringBackOurBoys as pressure has mounted on the government to improve security in the region and secure the release of more than 300 kidnapped schoolboys.
In the city of Katsina on Thursday, dozens of people marched through the streets in response to a call from the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), a civil society body that focuses on the welfare of northern Nigerians. Some chanted “Save northern Nigeria”.
A video circulating on social media on Thursday purportedly showed Boko Haram members with some of the boys.
Featuring Boko Haram’s emblem, the video showed a group of boys in wooded begging security forces to let them leave.
Usamu Aminu, one of the Nigerian schoolboys who was abducted and escaped spoke about his ordeal to journalists.
It was late Friday night when the 17-year-old heard gunshots at the Government Science Secondary School, at first thinking they had come from the nearby town.
As soon as he and the other students realised there was a raid on the school, they scrambled out of their dormitory and scaled the school’s fence in the pandemonium.
“After we scaled the fence, we were hearing voices that we should come back,” he told The Associated Press news agency.
The boys returned “thinking they were police officers. Unknown to us it was the bandits. They then gathered us at a spot. That was when we realised they were bandits, wearing military uniform,” he said.
They walked through the night in the bush. During their hike, Aminu said they met young boys in their teens, armed with guns. He said some were younger than him.
Exhausted from the trek as he suffers from sickle cell anaemia, Aminu held onto the shoulders of two friends “as the bandits continued to flog people from the back so that they can move faster”.
After dark, the boy decided to recite passages from the Quran for protection. It was then that he managed to slip away unnoticed into the night and hide in a mosque.
A local resident eventually found him coughing and offered him a change of clothes so that he could leave his school uniform behind, he said. He returned home at about 11:00 pm on Sunday.