Updated March 24th, 2024 at 18:24 IST

Nigeria: Nearly 300 School Children Freed After Weeks of Captivity

At least 1,400 students have been kidnapped from Nigerian schools since 2014.

Parents waiting for news of the kidnapped children in Nigeria. | Image:AP
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Abuja: Nearly 300 Nigerian schoolchildren were released more than two weeks after they were seized in the northwestern state of Kaduna and marched into the forests, officials said Sunday. At least 1,400 students have been kidnapped from Nigerian schools since 2014, when Boko Haram militants kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls from Borno state's Chibok village.

In recent years, abductions have been concentrated in the country's northwestern and central regions, where dozens of armed groups often target villagers and travelers for ransom.

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At least 17 other schoolchildren in northern Sokoto state were also rescued two weeks after they were taken hostage, according to a statement issued Saturday by the Sokoto state government. The statement suggested that the rescue operation, like that of the Kaduna students, was coordinated by the office of Nigeria's national security adviser.

Kaduna state governor Uba Sani did not give details of the release of the 287 students abducted from their school in the remote town of Kuriga on March 7. At least 100 of them are aged 12 or younger.

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In a statement, he thanked Nigerian President Bola Tinubu for “particularly ensuring that the abducted school children are released unharmed.” Tinubu had vowed to rescue the children “without paying a dime” as ransom. But ransoms are commonly paid for kidnappings, often arranged by families, and it is rare for officials in Nigeria to admit to the payments.

No group has claimed responsibility for the Kaduna kidnapping, which locals have blamed on bandit groups known for mass killings and kidnappings for ransom in the conflict-battered northern region, most of them former herders in conflict with settled communities.

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At least two people with extensive knowledge of the security crisis in Nigeria's northwest told The Associated Press that the identity of the abductors is known.

Murtala Ahmed Rufa'i, a professor of peace and conflict studies at Usmanu Danfodiyo University, and Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, a cleric who has negotiated with the bandits, said they are hiding in the region's vast and ungoverned forests.

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Arrests are rare in Nigeria's mass kidnappings, as victims are usually released only after desperate families pay ransoms or through deals with government and security officials.

The Kaduna governor thanked Nigerian security forces and officials for the release of the students. “I spent sleepless nights with the national security adviser, Nuhu Ribadu ... fine-tuning strategies and coordinating the operations of the security agencies, which eventually resulted in this successful outcome,” he said.

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Published March 24th, 2024 at 18:24 IST