Books, Blackboards and Terror

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More than 130 kidnapped Nigerian students were released over the weekend, according to officials, less than a month after gunmen abducted nearly 300 students in the northern Kaduna state, the latest in a spate of kidnappings in the West African country, Al Jazeera reported.

Government spokesman Abdulaziz Abdulaziz said all the students were released following “a lot of backchannel engagement.” He added that “all of them were fine,” giving the official number of freed students at 137.

However, the official did not clarify the discrepancy in numbers, after initial reports suggested that the number of kidnapped students was 287.

Separately, Nigerian military spokesman Maj. Gen. Edward Buba said rescue efforts “would continue until other hostages are found,” the Associated Press noted.

The release comes weeks after motorcycle-riding gunmen invaded a school in the town of Kuriga on March 7 and forced students into the forests before authorities could arrive. School officials said a total of 287 students were kidnapped, with more than 100 of them aged 12 or younger.

The attackers had demanded a total of $680,000 for the release of the students and vowed to kill them if they were not paid within 20 days.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but the March 7 abduction was the most recent one in the country where kidnappings have become more frequent in the northern and central regions.

Locals have blamed bandit groups known for mass killings and kidnappings for ransom in the conflict-battered northern region.

The recent abduction has put more pressure on President Bola Tinubu, who has vowed to end the mass kidnappings and rescue children “without paying a dime” as ransom.

In 2022, Nigeria banned the practice of paying ransoms in an effort to deter attackers. Ransom-payers could face 15 years in prison, but most parents have proceeded in paying kidnappers – with the government seldom admitting to payments.

Around 1,400 children have been abducted since 2014. The first mass kidnapping was carried out by the Islamic State affiliate Boko Haram, which seized 276 students from a girls’ school in Chibok in the northeastern Borno state in 2014.

Some of the girls have been returned to their families, but the rest have been forcefully married to the fighters.

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