Zimbabwe

Tired but smiling, freed Nigerian schoolboys arrive back home

KATSINA, Nigeria (Reuters) -Dozens of schoolboys who were rescued from kidnappers in northwest Nigeria arrived back home on Friday, many of them barefoot and clutching blankets.

Television pictures showed the boys dressed in dusty clothes, looking weary but otherwise well, getting off buses in the city of Katsina and walking to a government building.

One of them, with flecks of dried mud on his face, told Channels TV the captors had fed them bread and cassava.

“It was cold,” he told the reporter. Asked how he had felt when the bus arrived in Katsina, he said: “I was really happy,” and broke into a smile.

“We are very grateful. We are very grateful. We are very grateful,” a man who said he was the father of two of the boys told the Arise television station.

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A week earlier, gunmen on motorbikes raided the boys’ boarding school in the nearby town of Kankara and marched hundreds of them into the vast Rugu forest. Authorities said security services rescued them on Thursday, although it was not clear if all of them had been recovered.

The abduction gripped a country already incensed by widespread insecurity, and evoked memories of Islamist militant group Boko Haram’s 2014 kidnapping of more than 270 schoolgirls in the northeastern town of Chibok.

Six years on, only about half the girls have been found or freed. Others were married off to fighters, while some are assumed to be dead.

Hours before the rescue of the boys was announced, a video started circulating online purportedly showing Boko Haram militants with some of the boys. Reuters was unable to verify the authenticity of the footage or who released it.

TEARS OF JOY, PRAYERS OF THANKS
On Friday, the boys from the Government Science Secondary School walked from the buses in single file, flanked by soldiers and armed police officers, and were taken to the government building to meet the governor.

They were then brought back and driven off for medical checks, officials said.

A group of their parents waited to be reunited with them in another part of town.

“I couldn’t believe what I heard until neighbours came to inform me that it’s true,” Hafsat Funtua, mother of 16-year-old Hamza Naziru, said earlier in a phone interview.

Describing the moment she heard the news, she said she ran out of her house with joy “not knowing where to go” before returning home to pray.

Last week’s mass kidnapping piled pressure on the government to deal with militants in the north of the country.

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It was particularly embarrassing for President Muhammadu Buhari, who comes from Katsina state and has repeatedly said that Boko Haram has been “technically defeated”.

Buhari said he had congratulated the state’s governor and the army, in a brief clip from an interview posted on his Twitter account earlier on Friday.

Boko Haram has a history of turning captives into jihadist fighters. If it was involved, the abduction in northwestern Nigeria marks a expansion in its activities from its base in the northeast. But it could have purchased the boys from local criminal gangs with which it has been building ties.

Armed gangs that rob and kidnap for ransom, widely referred to as “bandits”, carry out attacks on communities across the northwest, making it hard for locals to farm, travel or tap rich mineral assets in some states such as gold. – Reuters

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