KATSINA, Nigeria (AP) — Bleary, barefoot, apparently numbed by a week of captivity, more than 300 Nigerian schoolboys, freed after being kidnapped in an attack on their school, were welcomed by the governor of Katsina state Friday.
Reunions that are more celebratory and emotional likely will come when the boys are finally reunited with their families, after being examined for any injuries.
The relatively quick release of the more than 330 boys took place after a prompt response by the government, which appears to have learned from earlier mass school abductions, especially of the Chibok schoolgirls, that did not have such a happy result.
The students’ nightmare began on the night of Dec. 11 when they were seized by men armed with AK-47 rifles from the all-boys Government Science Secondary School in Kankara village in Katsina state in northwestern Nigeria. They were marched through a forest and forced to lie in the dirt amid gun battles between their captors and the troops pursuing them.
Nigeria’s Boko Haram jihadist rebels claimed responsibility for the abduction, saying they attacked the school because they believe Western education is un-Islamic.
As the boys’ parents anxiously awaited any news, many in Nigeria and around the world were bracing for a long, drawn-out hostage situation. Many feared the boys would be forced to become child soldiers for Boko Haram.
But the kidnapping reached an unexpectedly satisfactory climax when Katsina Governor Aminu Bella Masari announced the release of 344 boys late Thursday night.
“I think we can say … we have recovered most of the boys, if not all of them,” he said.
Masari told The Associated Press that no ransom was paid to secure the boys’ freedom. It’s not known if other concessions were made.
Masari said the government will work with the police to increase security at the Kankara school and other schools. Only one policeman was working at the school when it was attacked, according to the students.
The schoolboys’ abduction was a chilling reminder of Boko Haram’s previous attacks on schools, especially the April 2014 mass kidnapping by Boko Haram of more than 270 schoolgirls from a government boarding school in Chibok in northeastern Borno State. About 100 of those girls are still missing.
“The difference, we know in this case, is that the government moved faster,” said Bulama Bukarti, an analyst on sub-Saharan Africa at the Tony Blair Institute.