The 279 girls who were abducted last Friday from a boarding school in northwest Nigeria (26) have been released, according to the country’s authorities. According to victims’ reports, several of them were beaten and threatened with gunfire.
Initially, the Nigerian government reported that 317 students from Jangebe boarding school in Zamfara state were taken away by the kidnappers. Later, however, it was discovered that part of the girls had managed to escape the criminals. Now they are all safe, Zamfara Governor Bello Matawalle said.
“Most of us suffered injuries to our feet and we were unable to continue walking,” student Umma Abukabar told Reuters news agency. “So that they [os sequestradores] they said they would shoot anyone who didn’t keep walking. “
Schools in northern Nigeria have become the target of mass kidnappings by armed criminal groups who demand ransom payments to fund their activities. Last Friday’s attack was the second hijacking in just over a week in the northwest of the country and the fourth since December.
According to Governor Matawalle, “repentant thugs” worked in partnership with the authorities to secure the release of the students, as part of a Nigerian government amnesty program.
There were tears during the reunion between parents and daughters in Gusau, the capital of Zamfara. Most of the girls appeared to be unharmed, but some were referred to hospitals for medical treatment. In an auditorium in the capital, they received hijabs (a type of Islamic veil), sang the Nigerian national anthem, and spoke to reporters.
“They transported the sick who couldn’t move. We were walking on rocks and thorns, ”said Farida Lawali, 15. “They started hitting us with guns so that we could move. at a time. “
Lawal Abdullahi, the father of seven girls who had been kidnapped, said the attack on the school would not prevent him from continuing to encourage the education of his daughters.
“[O sequestro] It is a ploy to prevent our daughters from receiving a Western education, in which we have waited a long time, “he said.” We must not give in to blackmail. I advise the government to take immediate precautions to prevent further kidnappings.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said the news of the release of the girls had brought “overwhelming joy” and denied that the government paid any money to the kidnappers.
“Ransoms will continue to flourish thanks to kidnappings,” the president said, calling on the police and the military to bring the kidnappers to justice.
Nigeria is the scene of the action of several radical groups, such as Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, which leaves the situation in the country unstable.
Initially, school kidnappings were carried out by these groups, but the tactic has now also been adopted by other activists working in the northwest who do not have a clear agenda.
The groups are the targets of allegations of sexual violence, attacks, kidnappings and thefts against rural towns and villages in Nigeria and neighboring Niger.
In recent months, mass kidnappings for ransom targeting students have become more frequent and the lack of security has left many people in rural areas and schools at risk.
Last week, unidentified gunmen kidnapped 42 people, including 27 students, and killed a student in an overnight attack on a boarding school in north-central Niger state. The hostages were released on Saturday (27).
In December, dozens of gunmen abducted 344 students from the town of Kankara, in northwestern Katsina state. They were released six days later, but the government denied that the ransom had been paid.
The kidnappings also bring back memories of 2014, when more than 270 students were taken by Boko Haram to a high school in the northeast of the city of Chibok. The case has gained worldwide attention and at least 100 girls are still missing. It is not known exactly how many are alive.
But the 2014 case shows some differences from the most recent kidnappings. The criminals who carried out the attacks in recent months are acting for money and not for ideological reasons, despite some of them having links to jihadist movements.
Some groups have hundreds of members, others only a few dozen, but their ranks are gaining more and more people in a region where more than 80% of the inhabitants live in extreme poverty.