More kidnapped students freed in Nigeria amid questions over ransom
Overjoyed parents welcomed home 90 young schoolchildren who had spent three months held by gunmen in northern Nigeria, though authorities confirmed Friday that one of the kidnapped children had died during the ordeal.
“The happiness can’t be quantified,” said Yahya Aliyu Babangida, 54, a teacher whose two children, ages 7 and 17, were among those released in Niger state.
Also Friday, Zamfara state police said that 15 other students taken this month also were freed, raising hopes across the country’s north that other child hostages could eventually be delivered.
Some of the abducted children in Niger state were just 4 years old, Babangida said. Several were undergoing medical treatment after their release late Thursday.
“They are exposed to this harsh weather, no food, mosquitos everywhere,” he said. “Some of them had never been outside the comfort of their homes.”
News of the children’s release was celebrated across Nigeria, where more than 1,000 students have been kidnapped from schools since December. Most kidnapped children are eventually freed, though about 200 remain missing. The abductions have stepped up pressure on the Nigerian government to do more to secure educational facilities in remote areas.
But questions remained Friday about how much ransom had been paid to secure the children’s release and whether such payments could encourage more abductions.
Muhammad Musa Kawule, 42, acknowledged paying intermediaries in hopes of securing his 6-year-old daughter’s freedom.
“I spent a lot of money, but today I’m happy,” he told the Associated Press on Friday. He did not specify how much he had paid or whether government officials had been involved.
Gunmen on motorcycles attacked the Salihu Tanko Islamic School in Tegina and abducted dozens of students in late May. Other preschoolers were left behind as they could not keep pace when the gunmen hurriedly moved the abducted children into the forest.
Authorities initially said that 136 students had been taken but revised that figure to 91, including the pupil who died in captivity.
Evacuation flights from Afghanistan have resumed with new urgency a day after a suicide bombing at Kabul’s airport killed more than 180 people.
Those freed Friday were brought to the Niger state capital, Minna, where they underwent medical checkups and met the governor. Video showed scores of children as young as kindergartners stepping off white minibuses, the little girls wearing long blue hijabs known as chadors.
Though Nigeria has seen scores of school abductions for ransom, the Niger state kidnappings left people especially aghast because the children were so young. The ramifications could be long-lasting as parents reconsider whether to send their children to school.
“This has affected the morale and confidence of the people and has even made parents think twice before they send their children to school,” Niger Gov. Abubakar Sani Bello said of the children’s abduction. “We will do whatever it takes to bring [the kidnappers] to justice.”
As the attacks have mounted across the north, there are also signs they are becoming more violent.
After one abduction at a university in Kaduna state this year, gunmen demanded hundreds of thousands of dollars in ransom. They killed five students to compel the kidnap victims’ parents to raise the money, and later released 14 others.
The 15 students released in Zamfara state were handed over 11 days after they had been abducted from the College of Agriculture and Animal Science in Nigeria’s troubled northwest.
It was not immediately clear how they were rescued, but the students are now being looked after by Zamfara state officials and will soon be reunited with their parents, authorities said.
Asadu reported from Lagos, Nigeria.
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