Katsina State Governor, Aminu Bello Masari, says 344 schoolboys who were abducted from their school in Kankara, northwestern Nigeria nearly a week ago have been freed prompting joy and relief for families that had been praying for the boys’ safe return.
Katsina state Governor Aminu Bello Masari said in a televised interview with state channel NTA that 344 boys held in the Rugu Forest in neighbouring Zamfara state had been freed.
“We had already established indirect contact to try to make sure that we secure the release of the children unharmed,” he said. “We thank God that they took our advice and not a single shot was fired.”
A security aide to the governor told the AFP news agency that 344 students were rescued and are in Zamfara undergoing checks. “We are grateful to God they have been released,” Ibrahim Katsina said.
The governor added that the boys were on their way back to Katsina state and would be medically examined and reunited with their families on Friday.
“I am so happy,” retired health worker Shuaibu Kankara, whose 13-year-old son Annas Shuaibu was among the kidnapped boys, told the Reuters news agency.
“We are so grateful to the governor of Katsina and all those who worked hard to secure their release,” said Kankara, adding that his only concern was to be reunited with his son.
The students were kidnapped last Friday from the Government Science Secondary School in Kankara.
In an audio recording, a man identifying himself as the leader of Boko Haram claimed on Tuesday that the armed group was responsible for the abduction.
The kidnapping has gripped Nigeria and raised growing concerns and anger about insecurity and violence in the country’s north.
President Muhammadu Buhari welcomed the students’ release and asked for patience while his administration dealt with security issues.
Our administration is fully aware of the responsibility we have to protect the lives and property of all Nigerians,” Buhari tweeted. “I ask Nigerians to be patient and fair to us as we deal with the challenges of security, the economy, and corruption. We will not relent.”
Earlier on Thursday, dozens of protesters marched through the streets in the city of Katsina under the banner #BringBackOurBoys.
That hashtag has been trending on Twitter in recent days, harkening back to a campaign launched to bring home more than 200 girls abducted by Boko Haram in 2014 in the northeastern town of Chibok.
The march in Katsina was in response to a call from the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), a civil society body that focuses on the welfare of northern Nigerians. Some of the demonstrators chanted “Save northern Nigeria”.
“Northern Nigeria has been abandoned at the mercy of vicious insurgents, bandits, kidnappers, armed robbers, rapists and an assortment of hardened criminals,” a member of CNG, Balarabe Ruffin, said earlier on Thursday.