Gunmen have released girls who were kidnapped from a boarding school in the northwest Nigerian state of Zamfara, the governor said in a tweet on Tuesday.
An armed gang abducted 279 girls from the Government Girls Science Secondary (GGSS) School in the town of Jangebe in northwestern Nigeria at around 1am local time on Friday.
“Alhamdulillah! It gladdens my heart to announce the release of the abducted students of GGSS Jangebe from captivity”, Zamfara State Governor Bello Matawalle said on Twitter.
“This follows the scaling of several hurdles laid against our efforts. I enjoin all well-meaning Nigerians to rejoice with us as our daughters are now safe,” he said.
The governor’s tweets did not state the number of girls that had been released. The messages included images of girls and small buses.
An AFP reporter saw hundreds of girls wearing hijabs, gathered at the government premises.
Authorities initially said 317 girls were abducted in Friday’s raid by hundreds of gunmen. But Matawalle said the “total number of female students abducted” was 279.
Kidnapping for ransom
Government officials had been in talks with the kidnappers – known as bandits – following Nigeria’s third school attack in less than three months.
A source said “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 northwest and central Nigeria have stepped up attacks in recent years, kidnapping for ransom, raping and pillaging.
The Nigerian military deployed to the area in 2016 and a peace deal with bandits was signed in 2019 but attacks have continued.
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.
The gangs are largely driven by financial motives and have no known ideological leanings.
But there are concerns they are being infiltrated by armed Islamists.
The jihadists’ decade-old conflict 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 that this will lead to an increase in kidnappings in these regions plagued by extreme poverty.
Kidnapping for ransom in Africa’s most populous country is already a widespread national problem, with businessmen, officials and ordinary citizens snatched from the streets by criminals hunting for ransom money.
At least $11 million was paid to kidnappers between January 2016 and March 2020, according to SB Morgen, a Lagos-based geopolitical research consultancy.