More than 300 schoolboys kidnapped last week in an attack on their school in northwest Nigeria have arrived in the capital of Katsina state amid celebrations of their release.
Television pictures on Friday showed the boys, many of them wearing light green uniforms and clutching blankets, arriving on buses, looking weary but otherwise well.
The boys were abducted last Friday after gunmen raided the all-boys Government Science Secondary School in Katsina’s Kankara village and marched nearly 350 of them into the nearby Rugu forest. The Boko Haram armed group claimed responsibility for the abduction.
None of the boys spoke as they walked from the bus in single file, flanked by soldiers, into a government building.
Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris, reporting from Katsina, said the boys walked barefoot, some of them limping with blisters on their feet.
“You can see they are virtually exhausted and traumatised following the events of the past seven days,” he said. “You can see fear, confusion, trauma,” he added, shortly after the boys walked past him at the scene of their arrival.
It was not clear if all of the boys had been recovered in the rescue operation, but Katsina state’s Governor Aminu Bello Masari told Idris on Thursday that all 344 boys had been released.
The boys were moved to a camp where they will undergo medical tests and evaluation before a likely meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, according to Idris.
Meanwhile, a group of the boys’ 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, the mother of 16-year-old Hamza Naziru, said earlier in a phone interview.
She said the moment she heard the news, she ran out of her house with joy “not knowing where to go” before returning home to pray.
Another parent, Husseini Ahmed, whose 14-year-old Mohammed Husseini was also among those abducted, expressed happiness and relief that he would soon be reunited with his son.
“We are happy and anxiously expecting their return,” he said.
Details ‘kept closed’
The kidnapping had gripped Nigeria and raised growing concerns and anger about insecurity and violence in the country’s north.
In an audio recording released on Tuesday, a man identifying himself as the leader of Boko Haram claimed the group was responsible for the abduction.
On Thursday, dozens of protesters marched through the streets in the city of Katsina as #BringBackOurBoys trended on Nigerian social media.
The hashtag harkened back to a campaign launched to bring home more than 200 girls abducted by Boko Haram in 2014 in the northeastern town of Chibok.
The details of how the boys were released are still unknown. Idris said the government officials are “refusing to say anything about it”.
“They are insisting that no exchange of prisoners was done in exchange for the children, but a lot of people doubt that,” he said.
Criminal gangs operating in northwest Nigeria 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 in West Africa Province (ISWAP), have waged a 10-year rebellion estimated to have displaced about two million people and killed more than 30,000.