Government officials had been in talks with kidnappers after third school attack in less than three months
First published on Tue 2 Mar 2021 06.22 GMT
All 279 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped from their boarding school in the north-western state of Zamfara last week have been released and are on government premises, the governor of the state has said.
“It gladdens my heart to announce the release of the abducted students of GGSS Jangebe from captivity,” Bello Matawalle tweeted. “Our daughters are now safe.”
Hundreds of girls wearing hijabs were seen at the government premises, waiting to be reunited with their families.
Authorities initially said 317 girls were abducted in the raid by hundreds of gunmen on the Government Girls secondary school in the remote Jangebe village on Friday. But Matawalle said the total number of female students abducted was 279. “We thank Allah they are all now with us,” he said on Tuesday.
Government officials had been in talks with the kidnappers, known as bandits, after Nigeria’s third school attack in less than three months.
State officials in Zamfara, like in other states besieged by bandit violence, have previously signed controversial “peace agreements”, offering money and amnesties with some of the many bandit groups that have terrorised much of north and central Nigeria in recent years.
A source told Agence France-Presse “repentant bandits” had been contacted to reach out to their former comrades as part of efforts to free the students.
Heavily armed criminal gangs in north-west and central Nigeria have stepped up attacks in recent years, kidnapping for ransom, raping and pillaging, exploiting a lack of rural security.
The groups have staged attacks from the haven of a forest expanse stretching from north-west Nigeria into Niger. Attacks have continued despite several air force raids and army operations.
Last week, unidentified gunmen killed a student in an overnight attack on a boarding school in the north-central Nigerian state of Niger and kidnapped 42 people, including 27 students. The hostages are yet to be released.
In December, more than 300 boys were kidnapped from a school in Kankara, in President Muhammadu Buhari’s home state of Katsina, while he was visiting the region.
The boys were later released but the incident triggered outrage and memories of the kidnappings of 276 schoolgirls by jihadists in Chibok that shocked the world. Many of those girls are still missing.
In the most notorious kidnapping of recent years, Boko Haram militants abducted 276 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in Borno state in the north-east. The incident drew widespread global attention and, though many of the girls have since been found, rescued by the army, or freed in negotiations, 100 are still missing.
Islamic State’s west Africa branch kidnapped more than 100 schoolgirls from the town of Dapchi in north-east Nigeria, all but one of whom – the only Christian – were released. A ransom was paid, according to the United Nations.
Dozens of gunmen abducted 344 schoolboys from the town of Kankara in north-west Katsina state. They were freed after six days but the government denied a ransom had been paid.
Unidentified gunmen kidnapped 42 people including 27 students, and killed one pupil, in an overnight attack on a boarding school in Kagara in the north-central state of Niger. The hostages are yet to be released.
In the third kidnapping in three months, 317 schoolgirls were abducted from the town of Jangebe in north-west Zamfara state.
Boko Haram, which kidnapped the Chibok schoolgirls, claimed responsibility for the kidnaps in Kankara, heightening fears that associations were forming between the armed groups who largely kidnap for profit, and jihadists.
As insecurity has worsened in northern Nigeria, Buhari’s government has become increasingly vilified. Bandit attacks have surged even as an 11-year jihadist insurgency in north-east Nigeria continues, which has killed more than 30,000 people and spread into neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon.
Authorities have denied paying any ransom to secure the recent releases, although analysts say this is unlikely and security experts fear it will lead to an increase in kidnappings in these regions plagued by extreme poverty.
Kidnapping for ransom in Africa’s most populous country is a widespread problem, with businessmen, officials and ordinary citizens snatched from the streets by criminals seeking ransom money.
At least $11m (£8m) was paid to kidnappers between January 2016 and March 2020, according to SB Morgen, a Lagos-based geopolitical research consultancy.
Agence France-Presse contributed to this report