Nearly 300 school girls who were kidnapped from a boarding school in Nigeria’s north-western state of Zamfara on Friday have been released, according to local officials.
On Tuesday, Zamfara’s Governor Bello Matawalle told Al Jazeera that the girls have been safely released to local authorities, and that the government followed a peace-led process in order to bring them home. Matawalle also confirmed that no ransom was paid in the negotiations to release the girls.
“Today, we have received the children who were under captivity since Friday. I initiated a peace accord which yielded a positive result. No ransom was paid to anyone. I insisted that we were not going to give anything to any of them,” the governor told Al Jazeera.
On Friday it was reported that over 100 gunmen raided the Government Girls Secondary School in the remote Jangebe village and abducted a number of school girls.
While local police initially reported that 317 girls were kidnapped last week, the governor clarified that the number of girls who were taken was 279, all of whom have now been safely returned.
Spokesperson for the state of Zamfara, Sulaiman Tanau Anka, explained that some of the missing girls had run to hide in bushes at the time of the incident, hence the initial confusion over the number of missing girls.
Matawalle said that the girls have been taken for medical examinations following their release on Tuesday morning.
Nigerian President Muhamadu Buhari took to Twitter to respond to the news that the school girls had safely returned. He wrote: “This news brings overwhelming joy. I am pleased that their ordeal has come to a happy end without any incident.”
State officials stated that the girls’ release was a result of a government-led peace process. Zamfara’s police commissioner Abutu Yaro told reporters on Tuesday morning: “The Zamfara peace accord remains the backbone of the success we have recorded so far. These children were recovered through dialogue.”
While the commissioner said that more details on the kidnapping would be released later, one of the girls detailed her experience of Friday’s kidnapping and explained that the abductors came for them at night.
“We were sleeping at night when suddenly we started hearing gun shots. They were shooting endlessly. We got out of our beds and people said we should run, that they are thieves,” she said.
“Everybody fled and there were just two of us left in the room. The other girl is from my town. I told her ‘get up!’ so we can run away, she said ‘I swear to God, I will not leave the bed’. At that stage they were pointing guns at our heads. I was really afraid of being shot,” she continued.
School kidnappings have become a significant problem in the West African country in recent years. Last year, over 300 school boys were kidnapped for ransom and were later freed a week after the incident. Meanwhile in February this year dozens of school children were abducted in Kagara Town and although the children have since been freed, the incident resulted in the death of at least one student.
In 2018, 100 girls from the town of Dapchi were also kidnapped by terrorist group Boko Haram, and four years earlier in 2014 the group abducted over 270 girls from a school in Northeastern Nigeria, which sparked the international #BringBackOurGirls movement.
Following the kidnapping of the boys in 2020, the Nigerian government faced national criticism regarding the country’s lack of security for its school children. President Buhari took to Twitter with his response and said: “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.”