More than 300 schoolboys who had been kidnapped in northern Nigeria were handed over to government security agents on Thursday, the governor of Katsina state said.
Governor Aminu Bello Masari said in a televised interview with state channel NTA that a total of 344 boys held in a forest in neighboring Zamfara state had been freed.
“We have recovered most of the boys. It’s not all of them,” he said.
The boys, whose abduction was claimed by militant group Boko Haram in an unverified audio recording, were on their way back to Katsina state and would be medically examined and reunited with their families on Friday, Masari said.
The December 11 abduction gripped a nation already incensed by widespread insecurity, and evoked memories of Boko Haram’s 2014 kidnapping of more than 270 schoolgirls in the northeastern town of Chibok.
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Late on Wednesday, Katsina state Governor Aminu Bello Masari told the BBC Hausa service the missing boys were in the forests of neighbouring Zamfara state.
An aide to Masari said soldiers and intelligence officers had been combing the Rugu forest, which stretches across Katsina, Zamfara, Kaduna and Niger states, in search of the boys.
Regional security experts say the boys could be taken over the nearby border into Niger, which would make finding them harder.
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.
Criminal gangs operating in the northwest have killed more than 1 100 people in the first half of 2020 alone, according to rights group Amnesty International.
In the northeast, Boko Haram and its offshoot, Islamic State West Africa Province, have waged a decade-long insurgency estimated to have displaced about 2 million people and killed more than 30 000. They want to create states based on their extreme interpretation of sharia law.