Freed Nigerian schoolboys welcomed; calls for more security

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KATSINA, Nigeria (AP) – Bleary, barefoot, seemingly numb from a week in captivity, more than 300 Nigerian schoolchildren, released after being kidnapped in an attack on their school, were greeted on Friday by the governor of the Katsina State and the President of Nigeria.

The reunion with their parents began late in the day.

“Since this incident happened, I haven’t been able to sleep, but now I can sleep,” said Salisu Kankara, a parent of one of the schoolchildren who was released.

The relatively quick release of the more than 330 boys came after a swift response from the government, which appears to have learned of previous mass kidnappings from schools, especially of schoolgirls in Chibok, which did not have such a happy outcome.

The students’ nightmare began on the night of December 11 when they were seized by men armed with AK-47 rifles from the Government Boys Only Science Secondary School in Kankara village, Katsina state, in north-western Nigeria. They were led through a forest and forced to lie down in the dirt amid cannon battles between their captors and the troops chasing them.

The boys described walking in the bush and different forests, stopping during the day and walking at night without shoes, walking on thorns and stones.

Boko Haram jihadist rebels in Nigeria claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, claiming they attacked the school because they believed Western education was not Islamic.

As the boys’ parents eagerly awaited news, many in Nigeria and around the world braced themselves for a long and drawn-out hostage situation. Many feared that the boys would be forced to become child soldiers for Boko Haram.

But the kidnapping reached a surprisingly satisfying climax when Katsina governor Aminu Bella Masari announced the release of 344 boys on Thursday evening.

“I think we can say… we got most of the boys back, if not all,” he said.

Masari told The Associated Press that no ransom was paid to guarantee the boys’ freedom. It is not known if other concessions were made.

Masari said the government will work with the police to strengthen security at the Kankara school and other schools. Only one policeman was working at the school when it was attacked, according to the students.

The kidnapping of schoolchildren was a chilling reminder of previous Boko Haram attacks on schools, in particular the mass kidnapping by Boko Haram in April 2014 of more than 270 schoolgirls from a government boarding school in Chibok, northeastern Switzerland. ‘Borno State. About 100 of these girls are still missing.

“The difference, we know in this case, is that the government moved faster,” said Bulama Bukarti, an analyst on sub-Saharan Africa at the Tony Blair Institute.

In Chibok, it took weeks of advocacy and outcry from Nigerians, celebrities and the international community before the government admitted the girls had been abducted and acted. During this time, Boko Haram had the opportunity to put the girls in small groups and move them away so that it was difficult to find them.

This time, the government deployed forces quickly after the boys were kidnapped and the kidnappers soon found themselves surrounded, Bukarti said.

Their release is “a fantastic story at the end of a terrible week,” he said. “Parents will be reunited with their loved ones… all of Nigeria will breathe a sigh of relief for a good ending.”

UNICEF Nigeria Representative Peter Hawkins called on the attackers to release any other children who may be detained from this or other attack.

“Schools must be safe. Children should never be the target of attacks and yet, far too often in Nigeria, …

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