On Thursday, security forces rescued nearly 350 schoolboys who were abducted and brought into a large forest in northwestern Nigeria, the governor of the state of Katsina said, bringing relief to many families.
It was not immediately clear if they had found all the missing boys.
Governor Aminu Bello Masari said in a television interview with state channel NTA, “I think we have recovered most of the boys.”
A video began circulating online hours earlier, reportedly showing Islamist rebels from Boko Haram with some of the people. Reuters was unable to check the authenticity of the video immediately, or the boys, or who released it.
The abduction gripped a nation still incensed by widespread insecurity, and evoked memories of the abduction of more than 270 schoolgirls by Boko Haram in the northeastern city of Chibok in 2014.
Gunmen raided the Government Science Secondary School in Katsina on motorcycles last Friday night and marched the boys into Rugu forest, in the largest such incident in recent years in the lawless area.
In the neighbouring Zamfara province, Masari said a total of 344 boys kept in the forest had been released. He did not specify how many were missing or how they had been released.
He said security forces cordoned off the area where the boys were held and orders were given not to fire.
“We thank God that they have taken our advice and have not fired a single shot,” he said.
Shuaibu Kankara, a retired health worker whose 13-year-old son, Annas Shuaibu, was among the abducted boys, was unable to contain his excitement at their release.
Masari said the boys were on their way back to Katsina and will be medically checked on Friday (today) and reunited with their families.
I’m so pleased here,’ he said. “We are so grateful to the Governor of Katsina and to all the people who have been working hard to secure their release.”
His only worry now, he said, was the reconciliation with his son.
President Muhammadu Buhari accepted the release of the students and demanded restraint while his administration resolved safety concerns.
“We have a lot of work to do,” he said in a statement, adding, “We’re going to handle all of that.”
For Buhari, who comes from Katsina and has said consistently that Boko Haram was “technically defeated,” the abduction was uncomfortable.
Boko Haram had assumed responsibility in an unverified audio recording for the abduction.
The video featuring the logo of Boko Haram shows a group of boys in the woods begging, ‘Help us, help us.’
The father of one of the missing boys, whose first name was Umar, said that his son, Shamsu Ibrahim, was one of the boys heard talking in the video.
Please send back all the soldiers who have come here to support us. There’s nothing they can do to help,” says the kid.
Boko Haram has a tradition of converting prisoners into terrorists. If its arguments are valid, its presence in northwestern Nigeria represents a territorial extension in its operations. Yet he should have bought the boys from the local criminal groups he was establishing ties with.
Earlier on Thursday, under a banner reading #BringBackOurBoys, demonstrators marched in the state capital, also named Katsina, as pressure mounted on the government to strengthen stability.
“Balarabe Ruffin of the Coalition of Northern Groups, which focuses on the welfare of Northern Nigerians, said, “Northern Nigeria was left at the hands of vicious rebels, pirates, kidnappers, armed robbers, rapists and an array of hardened criminals.
Armed gangs who loot and abduct for ransom, generally referred to as’ robbers’, carry out attacks on communities across the northwest, making it impossible for residents in some states, such as copper, to plant, move or exploit rich mineral reserves.
According to the rights organisation Amnesty International, those groups killed more than 1,100 people in the first half of 2020 alone.
Boko Haram and its offshoot rebel faction, the Islamic State Province of West Africa, have carried out a decade-long insurgency in the northeast, believed to have displaced over 2 million civilians and killed over 30,000. Based on their extreme view of Islamic sharia law, they seek to establish states.
In 2015, Buhari, a retired military dictator, was elected mainly because of his promise to crush the insurgency. Boko Haram rose in power and controlled territories about the size of Belgium under its predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan.