Freed Nigerian schoolchildren head home after kidnapping

Over 130 Nigerian schoolchildren freed following a mass kidnapping earlier this month returned to their home state on Monday before preparing to reunite with their families.

An AFP journalist saw the pupils streaming off buses in bright new clothes as they arrived at the government house in Kaduna ahead of a meeting with the leader of the northwestern state.

A day earlier, the army had shared photos of the children covered in dust after they were released from captivity.

At a press conference, the army and the authorities in Kaduna said the children would soon meet their families, but did not give details about the conditions they had faced in captivity.

For the most part they looked healthy, but some had bandages tied around their feet.

Of the 137 children officials said had returned, six are now in hospital being treated for injuries received while they were being held for ransom by armed criminals known in Nigeria as bandits.

An adult abducted with the children died in captivity, the authorities said.

Teachers and residents previously said around 280 pupils were kidnapped in Kuriga when the gunmen stormed the school on motorbikes on March 7.

But the army said on Sunday that 137 had been released, and this number represented “all the captives”.

Discrepancies between the number of people kidnapped and released are common in Nigeria due to unclear early reports and the return of those who go missing while fleeing attacks.

But it was still not certain why there was such a large difference between the figures this time.

Bandit gangs routinely attack communities, loot villages and carry out mass kidnappings for ransom in northwest and north-central Nigeria.

They often march abducted victims long distances into the bush.

Troops had been searching forests for the pupils and relatives said the kidnappers demanded a large ransom — but President Bola Ahmed Tinubu insisted he had ordered security forces not to pay up.

Tinubu has faced growing pressure after promising to tackle Nigeria’s many security challenges when he came to power last year.

Nigerian risk consultancy SBM Intelligence said it had recorded 4,777 people abducted since Tinubu took office in May.

The mass kidnapping in Kaduna state and another in Borno state came almost 10 years after Boko Haram militants triggered a huge international outcry in 2014 by abducting more than 250 schoolgirls from Chibok in the northeast.


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