Dozens of young children held captive by gunmen for three months in northern Nigeria awaited reunions with their family members on Friday after being liberated and taken to the state capital.
Girls as young as five draped in long hijab and boys dressed in new dresses got off a white minibus and passed photographers in Minna, the capital of Niger. Their arrival came hours after the news of their release came from the school principal.
The children were served meals and greeted by Niger Governor Abubakar Sani Bello. It was not immediately known how many students had been released; authorities said earlier that 136 had been taken along with several teachers.
However, local media have reported that as many as six children may have died in captivity due to the harsh conditions. Gunmen on motorcycles had attacked Salihu Tanko Islamic School in Niger State in late May. Other preschool children remained because they could not keep up when armed people hurriedly moved the abducted people into the forest.
Principal Abubakar Garba Alhassan did not provide details about their release, but parents of the students have in recent weeks fought to raise the ransom demanded by their kidnappers. More than 1,000 students have been forcibly taken from their schools in a series of school shifts this year, according to figures from the Associated Press (AP) of figures previously confirmed by police.
Although most of the kidnappers have been released, there are still 200 of their abductors left. The Nigerian government has not been able to stop the flow of abductions for redemption. As a result, many schools have been forced to close due to the risk of kidnapping. Following a kidnapping at a university in Kaduna State earlier this year, gunmen demanded hundreds of thousands of dollars in ransom. They killed five other students to force the students’ parents to collect the money and later released 14 others.