Hundreds of schoolgirls who were kidnapped at gunpoint from their boarding school in Nigeria have been released, authorities said.
The girls were abducted on Friday by armed men who raided their state-run school in Nigeria’s northwest Zamfara State, the police said.
Yusuf Idris, a spokesman for the regional governor Bello Matawalle, said Tuesday that all 279 girls had been safely returned and accounted for.
The girls arrived early Tuesday at the Zamfara government’s state house, where they were dressed in identical pastel hijabs.
Idris said they were in a “good condition,” although some of them had open sores on their feet and were given medical treatment.
Some of the girls recounted their ordeal at the hands of the kidnappers. “Most of us got injured on our feet and we could not continue trekking, so they (their captors) said they will shoot anybody who did not continue to walk,” Umma Abubakar told reporters gathered at the state house.
“We walked across a river and they hid us and let us sleep under shrubs in a forest.”
Officials had originally said 317 students were abducted from the Government Girls Secondary School in Jangebe, but Idris said that number was incorrect.
The girls’ abduction is the latest in a string of similar kidnapping cases. At least 42 people were abducted from a state-run school last month and later released, and more than 300 schoolboys were taken and later freed in December.
Kidnapping for ransom is rife in parts of Nigeria and has become a major security challenge. State governors regularly pay ransoms to secure the safety of victims but rarely admit to doing so.
Idris said that no ransom was paid for the girls’ release, telling CNN that the kidnapped girls were freed after “repentant bandits” acted as intermediaries to negotiate their release.
“They said the kidnappers treated them fairly. They were provided food but they didn’t have a place to sleep, no bed or mattress and they had to walk barefeet. They said it was their worst experience in life,” he added.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari recently told state governors to review “their policy of rewarding bandits with money and vehicles,” saying the policy “could backfire with potentially disastrous consequences.” Buhari also urged governors to work hard to secure their schools.
Buhari reacted to the release of the girls by tweeting that “the news brings overwhelming joy” and that he was “pleased their ordeal has come to a happy end without any incident.”
“We are working hard to bring an end to these grim and heartbreaking incidents of kidnapping. The Military and the Police will continue to go after kidnappers,” he said.