Kidnapped Kankara schoolboys rescued and released

184

Dozens of schoolboys rescued from kidnappers in north-west Nigeria arrived  home on Friday, many barefoot and clutching blankets.

Television pictures showed the boys in dusty clothes and light green uniforms, looking weary but well, getting off buses in Katsina and walking to a government building.

One, with flecks of dried mud on his face, told Channels TV the captors fed them bread and cassava.

“It was cold,” he told the reporter. Asked how he had felt when the bus arrived in Katsina, he said: “I was really happy,” and broke into a smile.

A week earlier, gunmen on motorbikes raided the boys’ boarding school in nearby Kankara and marched hundreds of them into the Rugu forest. Authorities said security services rescued them on Thursday, although it was not clear if all of them were found.

The abduction gripped a country incensed by widespread insecurity and evoked memories of Islamist militant group Boko Haram’s 2014 kidnapping of more than 270 schoolgirls in the north-eastern town Chibok.

Six years on, about half the girls have been found or freed. Others were married off to fighters, while some are assumed  dead.

Hours before the rescue was announced, a video started circulating online purportedly showing Boko Haram militants with some boys. Reuters was unable to verify the authenticity of the footage or who released it.

On Friday, the boys walked from the bus in single file, flanked by soldiers and armed police officers. A group of parents waited to be reunited with them in another part of town.

“I couldn’t believe what I heard until neighbours informed me it’s true,” Hafsat Funtua, mother of 16-year-old Hamza Naziru, said in a phone interview.

Describing the moment she heard the news, she ran out of her house with joy “not knowing where to go” before returning home to pray.

Another parent, Husseini Ahmed, whose 14-year-old Mohammed Husseini was also abducted, expressed happiness and relief he would soon be reunited with his son.

“We are happy and anxiously expecting his return,” he said.

Last week’s mass kidnapping piled pressure on government to deal with militants in the north of the country.

It was embarrassing for President Muhammadu Buhari, who comes from Katsina and repeatedly said Boko Haram has been “technically defeated”.

Boko Haram has a history of turning captives into jihadist fighters. If its claims are true, its involvement in north-western Nigeria marks a geographical expansion in its activities. It could also have purchased the boys from local criminal gangs with which it has been building ties.