In Gisau, Nigeria, the gunmen who abducted approximately 300 schoolgirls from a boarding school last week had them beaten and promised to shoot them during a march against their will, victims explained on Tuesday after they were finally released.
The students from Jangebe, a town in the region of the Zamfara state, were kidnapped in an attack after midnight on Friday. Since then, the 279 girls have been surrendered by their captives, Zamfara Governor Bello Matawalle confirmed.
Hundreds of the young girls in blue Muslim veils were seated in a hall in a state government building before being sent for medical examinations. Some of the parents were immediately reunited with their daughters, and one happy dad cried tears of relief after finally getting his child back.
Fifteen-year-old Farida Lawali said that she and her schoolmates had been marched to a forest by the captors.
“They carried the sick ones that cannot move. We were walking in the stones and thorns,” she explained, wearing a light blue veil.
“They started hitting us with guns so that we could move,” she continued. “While they were beating them with guns, some of them were crying and moving at the same time.”
Another young victim, Umma Abubakar, described to Reuters how they were marched despite many of them having injuries: “They said they will shoot anybody who did not continue to walk.”
Alleviation of the girls’ return was diluted by worry over the conditions of their release. A string of similar school kidnappings in recent months has caused many Nigerians to fear that regional authorities are making the predicament worse by releasing the abductors without consequences or simply paying them off.
A media adviser to the state governor, Zailani Bappa, dismissed that they paid a ransom but confirmed that the kidnappers had been given amnesty and received help relocating to a new area with freshly built schools, a hospital, and other amenities.
“The process means amnesty for those who repent and will be assisted to resettle,” he stated. “Those who surrender their arms will be assisted to start a new life. Since they are herders, they will be supported with a few cows each.”
However, the state’s noticeable policy of appeasement ran contrary to the central government. President Muhammadu Buhari demanded that the kidnappers be brought to justice and emphasized that if ransoms were being handed out, this would make these kinds of attacks more common.
His national security adviser, Babagana Monguno, noted that the president had arranged a massive military operation to Zamfara, prohibited mining and instituted a no-fly zone in the state.
His administration “will not allow this country to drift into state failure,” Monguno stated. “We are not going to be blackmailed.”
However, the military is already overwhelmed, and it was hard to evaluate whether the flight and mining bans would have much effect in a state with no significant airport and where many mines already function illegally.
Boarding schools in northern Nigeria have turned into targets for mass abductions for ransom by militarized outlaw gangs.
The phenomenon began with the jihadist group Boko Haram, who took 270 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in 2014, around 100 of whom were never returned. However, in recent months there has been a sudden uptick in similar plots, including the kidnapping of 344 boys in December.
Friday’s attack on the Government Girls Science Secondary School was the second mass school abduction in just over a week.
Anonymous authorities have reported to Reuters that the officials have paid ransoms in the past in trade for young hostages, establishing an incentive for more kidnappings.
Several of those authorities did not comment on Tuesday on if they feel a ransom had been paid in last week’s incident.
Lawal Abdullahi, who had seven daughters among the ones abducted and set free, said the incident would not stop him from educating his children.
“It’s a ploy to deny our girls … from getting the Western education in which we are far behind,” he said to Reuters. “We should not succumb to blackmail. My advice to government is that they should take immediate precautions to stop further abductions.”