Exhausted, sometimes in tears, more than 300 boys abducted by armed men in northern Nigeria found their parents on Friday, an epilogue of a terrifying week.
They were among hundreds of high school and high school students kidnapped on the evening of December 11 by armed men, nicknamed “bandits” in that area, at Kankara State Boys High School. This mass kidnappening was then claimed by the jihadist group Boko Haram, usually active in the north-east of the country, hundreds of kilometres further east.
Arriving by bus and truck in the morning at the governors residence in the state of Katsina, the children walked barefoot to a reception room, where many officials, including Governor Aminu Bello Masari, awaited them.
“I am happy, very happy to know that I will see my father, my mother and my little brothers,” said a teenager of 14 years old, smiling but looks exhausted.
It was only early in the evening that they were able to find their families, waiting for many of them outside the official district of the city of Katsina.
“I cried when I saw him,” Hajia Bilikis, the mother of Abdullahi Abdu-Rasaq, 15, told AFP.
“You suffered physically, mentally, psychologically,” said the governor while the children were massaged in the local assembly, assuring that for him too this period had been painful.
The authorities gave them clothes and President Muhammadu Buhari, a native of Katsina State and who was in the area this week for a “personal stay” paid them a short visit to the governors office, speaking to them in local Hausa language.
On Thursday, Jihadists in Boko Haram broadcast a video of dozens of suspected abducted students.
With a face covered in dust and scratched, a young boy explained that he was part of 520 students abducted by the “Shekau gang”, named after the historical leader of Boko Haram. In this video, Boko Haram claimed, through the voice of this boy, about 14 years old, that some had been killed.
Children, mostly very young, appeared at an end of strength. It was not possible to know in the immediate future whether the children in the video were those who were released or how many of them eventually remained in the hands of their kidnappers.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of children still detained on Friday.
In a statement, he “welcomes the swift steps taken by the Nigerian authorities to save children” and “calls for greater efforts to protect schools and educational institutions in the country”.
According to information gathered by AFP, this mass abduction was coordinated by gang leader Awwalun Daudawa in collaboration with two other renowned bandits, Idi Minoriti and Dankarami, armed groups that terrorize populations in northwestern Nigeria, and commit kidnappings for ransom and livestock theft.
According to several testimonies by young boys who managed to escape, the hostages had been divided into several groups on the same evening of their abduction.
According to a security source close to the case, the high school students appearing in the video were those held by Awwalun Daudawa, who responds directly to Boko Harams orders, while others could be released as a result of negotiations between the kidnappers and the local government.
The attack, which revived the memory of Boko Harams kidnapping of more than 200 girls in Chibok in 2014, was a camouflet for President Buhari, from Katsina State, where he celebrated his 78th birthday on Thursday.
Boko Haram and its dissenting branch, ISIS in West Africa (Iswap), active in north-eastern Nigeria, have killed more than 36,000 people in ten years of conflict and two million people still cannot return to their homes.