279 schoolgirls abducted last week from their boarding school in northwestern Nigeria have finally been released, according to Zamfara State governor Bello Matawalle. The abduction, which happened last Friday, was carried out by armed men who raided the school.
Regional governor Bello Matawalle's spokesman, Yusuf Idris, said the 279 pupils of Jangebe Government Girls Secondary School of Science had been returned safely and a full head count had been carried out. The girls arrived at the Zamfara government state house in the early hours of Tuesday. Idris said they were in "good condition", although some of them had open sores on their feet and received medical treatment.
Officials had originally said 317 students had been abducted from the school, but Idris said that was an incorrect number. Governor Matawalle told a press conference on Tuesday that "repentant bandits" helped to free the 279 girls and defended his administration. "These repentant bandits work for us, for the government and for security," he said.
The abduction of the schoolgirls is the latest in a series of similar abduction cases in Nigeria. At least 42 people were abducted from a state school last month and later released. In addition, more than 300 schoolgirls were abducted and released in December.
Some of the girls recounted their ordeal at the hands of the abductors. "Most of us suffered injuries on our feet and could not continue walking, so they said they would shoot anyone who did not continue walking," Umma Abubakar told journalists gathered at the state house on Tuesday. "We crossed a river and they hid us and let us sleep under bushes in a forest."
The kidnappers demanded ransom as is common in some parts of Nigeria and has become an unmanageable security challenge. State governors regularly pay ransoms to ensure the safety of victims, but rarely admit to doing so.
Nigeria's president, Muhammadu Buhari, recently told state governors to review "their policy of rewarding bandits with money and vehicles", saying the policy "could be counterproductive with potentially disastrous consequences". Buhari also urged state governors to work hard to secure their schools.
Buhari reacted to the girls' release on Tuesday via a tweet saying that "the news brings overwhelming joy" and that he was "pleased that their ordeal has come to a happy ending without incident".
"We are working hard to put an end to these grim and heartbreaking kidnapping incidents. The military and police will continue to pursue the kidnappers," he said.
"I join the families and people of Zamfara in welcoming and celebrating the release of these traumatised schoolgirls," federal executive spokesman Garba Shehu said in a statement.