0108 GMT April 21, 2021
Zamfara state governor Bello Matawalle announced that 279 girls have been freed. Gunmen abducted the girls from the Government Girls Junior Secondary School in Jangebe town on Friday, in the latest in a series of mass kidnappings of students in the West African nation.
An Associated Press reporter saw hundreds of girls dressed in light blue Muslim veils and barefoot sitting at the state Government House in Gusau.
After the meeting, the girls were escorted outside by officials and lined up to be taken away in vans. They appeared calm and ranged in ages from 10 and up.
Matawalle said they would be taken for medical examinations before being reunited with their families.
“God be praised! It gladdens my heart to announce the release of the abducted students of GGSS Jangebe from captivity. This follows the scaling of several hurdles laid against our efforts. I enjoin all well-meaning Nigerians to rejoice with us as our daughters are now safe,” Matawalle said in a post on Twitter early Tuesday.
One of the girls recounted the night of their abduction.
“We were sleeping at night when suddenly we started hearing gunshots. They were shooting endlessly. We got out of our beds and people said we should run, that they are thieves,” she said. “Everybody fled and there were just two of us left in the room.”
The attackers held guns to the girls' heads, she said.
Police and the military had since been carrying out joint operations to rescue the girls, whose abduction caused international outrage.
President Muhammadu Buhari expressed “overwhelming joy” over the release of the girls.
“I join the families and people of Zamfara State in welcoming and celebrating the release of these traumatized female students," he said in a statement. “Being held in captivity is an agonizing experience not only for the victims, but also their families and all of us.”
The president called for greater vigilance to prevent bandits from carrying out such attacks.
He urged police and military to pursue the kidnappers, and warned that policies of making payments to bandits will backfire.
“Ransom payments will continue to prosper kidnapping,” he said.
The terms of the female students' release were not made immediately clear.
Nigeria has seen several such attacks and kidnappings in recent years.
The most notorious kidnapping was in April 2014, when 276 girls were abducted by the Boko Haram terrorist group from the secondary school in Chibok in Borno state. More than 100 of those girls are still missing. Boko Haram is opposed to education and often targets schools.