Freed Nigerian schoolchildren reunited with families

The freed students of the LEA Primary and Secondary School Kuriga upon their arrival at the state government house in Kaduna, Nigeria, Monday, March 25, 2024. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • 137 students were released unharmed on Sunday and taken to Kaduna city for health checks.

Abuja. Over 130 Nigerian schoolchildren freed following a mass kidnapping have reunited with their families and were expected to return home on Thursday, a state governor's spokesperson told AFP.

Gunmen abducted the children from their school in northwestern Kuriga village on March 7, prompting national outcry about insecurity in the country.

Officials said 137 students were released unharmed on Sunday and taken to Kaduna city for health checks.

They met their relatives at an event hosted by state governor Uba Sani on Wednesday, his spokesperson said.

"Emotions were very high," spokesperson Muhammad Shehu said in a statement.

He told AFP all the released children in Kaduna had met relatives. He confirmed they were set to return home with their families later on Thursday.

The authorities have said an adult abducted with the children died in captivity, and six of the pupils were treated in hospital earlier this week for injuries received while held for ransom by the gunmen.

Teachers and locals previously said around 280 pupils were kidnapped, but the army said the 137 released represented "all the captives".

Discrepancies between the number of people kidnapped and released are common in Nigeria due to unclear early reports and the return of those who go missing while fleeing attacks.

But it was still not clear why there was such a large difference between the figures.

Gangs of armed criminals routinely attack communities, loot villages and carry out mass kidnappings in northwest and north-central Nigeria.

Troops had been searching forests for the pupils and relatives said the kidnappers demanded a large ransom -- but President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has insisted he ordered security forces not to pay up.

Kidnap victims in Nigeria are often freed following negotiations with the authorities, though a 2022 law banned handing over money to kidnappers and officials deny ransom payments are made.