By AJAYI TAIWO OLUWOLE and CHINEDU ASADU
MINNA, Nigeria (AP) — Overjoyed parents awaited the return of 90 young schoolchildren who had spent three months held by gunmen as authorities elsewhere in northern Nigeria announced a second group of 15 students also had been released.
The news was celebrated across Nigeria, where more than 1,000 students have been kidnapped from schools since December. 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 whether ransoms had been paid to secure the children’s release, and if so whether that could fuel further abductions by the unknown armed groups referred to locally as bandits.
Authorities also learned that one of the children taken in May had died during the ordeal. Four others were receiving medical treatment following their release Thursday night in Niger state.
“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 state Gov. Abubakar Sani Bello said of the children’s abduction. “We will do whatever it takes to bring (the kidnappers) to justice.”
Gunmen on motorcycles had attacked the Salihu Tanko Islamic School in Niger state in late May. Other preschoolers were left behind as they could not keep pace when the gunmen hurriedly moved those abducted 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.
Head teacher Abubakar Garba Alhassan did not provide details of their release, but parents of the students have over the past weeks struggled to raise the ransoms demanded by their abductors.
Also Friday, police spokesperson in Zamfara state Mohammed Shehu said that 15 other students had been handed over to officials on Friday, 11 days after they were 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 at Zamfara state officials and will soon be reunited with their parents, authorities said.
More than 1,000 students have been forcibly taken from their schools in a series of school abductions this year, according to an AP tally of figures previously confirmed by the police. Although most of those kidnapped have been released, about 200 are still held by their abductors.
After one abduction at a university in Kaduna state earlier this year, gunmen demanded ransoms equivalent to hundreds of thousands of dollars. They killed five other students to compel the students’ parents to raise the money and later released 14 others.