By CARLEY PETESCH and LEKAN OYEKANMI, Associated Press
KATSINA, Nigeria (AP) — More than 300 Nigerian schoolboys, freed after being kidnapped last week in an attack on their school, have arrived in the capital of Katsina state to celebrations of their release.
The boys were abducted on the night of Dec. 11 from the all-boys Government Science Secondary School in Kankara village in Katsina state in northwestern Nigeria.
The students arrived Friday in Katsina, the capital of the state, and met with Katsina Gov. Aminu Bello Masari.
Bleary-eyed and appearing stunned by their ordeal, the boys piled into chairs in a conference room, most still in their school uniforms, some wrapped in gray blankets. The oldest of the boys sat in the front row and were greeted by officials.
Masari had announced their release late Thursday, saying 344 boarding school students were turned over to security officials. Masari told The Associated Press that no ransom was not paid to secure the boys’ freedom.
“I think we can say … we have recovered most of the boys, if not all of them,” he said.
The boys from the secondary boarding school will get physical examinations in the state capital before being reunited with their families, the governor said.
Nigeria’s Boko Haram jihadist rebels claimed responsibility for the abduction. Leader Abubakar Shekau said they attacked the school because they believe Western education is un-Islamic.
More than 800 students were in attendance at the time of the attack. Hundreds escaped, but it was believed that more than 330 were taken.
The government had said it was negotiating with the school attackers, originally described as bandits. Experts say the attack was likely carried out by local gangs, who have staged increasingly deadly assaults in northwest Nigeria this year, who were collaborating with Boko Haram. Armed bandits, also known for kidnappings for ransom, have killed more than 1,100 people since the beginning of the year in the region, according to Amnesty International.
Friday’s abduction was a chilling reminder of Boko Haram’s previous attacks on schools. In February 2014, 59 boys were killed when the jihadists attacked the Federal Government College Buni Yadi in Yobe state.
In April 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped more than 270 schoolgirls from a government boarding school in Chibok in northeastern Borno state. About 100 of those girls are still missing.
In 2018, Boko Haram Islamic extremists brought back nearly all of the 110 girls they had kidnapped from a boarding school in Dapchi and warned: “Don’t ever put your daughters in school again.”
While President Muhammadu Buhari cited the release of the Dapchi schoolgirls as a success during a statement to the public late Thursday, he reiterated that there was still a lot of work to do.
Amid an outcry in the West African nation over insecurity in the north, Buhari noted his administration’s successful efforts to secure the release of previously abducted students. He added that the government “is acutely aware of its responsibility to protect the life and property of the Nigerians.”
“We have a lot of work to do, especially now that we have reopened the borders,” Buhari said, acknowledging that Nigeria’s northwest region “presents a problem” the administration “is determined to deal with.”
Petesch reported from Dakar, Senegal
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