Hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls abducted last week from a boarding school in the northwestern Zamfara state have been released, the state’s governor said Tuesday.
Zamfara state governor Bello Matawalle announced that 279 girls were freed as he tweeted that it “gladdens my heart to announce the release of the abducted students”.
Gunmen abducted the girls from their boarding school in the town of Jangebe, Zamfara state, on Friday, in the latest in a series of mass kidnappings of students in the West African nation.
On Tuesday, dozens of the freed girls were seen gathered at a government building in Zamfara after they were taken there in a fleet of mini-buses.
Speaking to the BBC, one of the schoolgirls said that some of those kidnapped had found it difficult to continue walking when instructed to do so by the gunmen because of their injuries.
“They said they [would]shoot anybody who did not continue to walk,” she said. “We walked across a river and they hid us and let us sleep under shrubs in a forest.”
Another of the girls, aged 15, said that some of her classmates found it difficult “walking in the stones and thorns” and had to be carried.
“They started hitting us with guns so that we [would]move,” she told Reuters news agency, adding: “While they were beating them with guns, some of them were crying and moving at the same time.”
Some of the fathers who had arrived to see their daughters for the first time since their abduction told reporters they were “very happy” at the news of their release.
The group’s release was secured through negotiations between government officials and the abductors, authorities in Zamfara state told the BBC.
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari said he felt “overwhelming joy” at the news of the girls’ release. “[I am] pleased that their ordeal has come to a happy end without any incident,” he said.
Mr. Matawalle has denied paying for the girls to be released, but last week President Buhari admitted state governments had paid kidnappers “with money and vehicles” in the past and urged them to review the policy.
Local authorities said that an earlier figure provided by police of 317 for the number of girls kidnapped was not accurate.
One official told Reuters that the discrepancy was because of the fact that some girls had fled shortly after being abducted.
The 2014 kidnap of 276 schoolgirls in the north-eastern town of Chibok by Islamist militants Boko Haram brought global attention to the scourge of raids on schools in Nigeria, but a surge in recent attacks is suspected to be the work of criminal gangs.
The raid in Zamfara state was the region’s second kidnapping in recent weeks. Some 27 students were kidnapped from a boarding school in Kagara in the north-central state of Niger last month before they were released on 17 February.
No group has said they were behind the Zamfara kidnappings. (Source: BBC)