Scores of schoolchildren who were abducted at gunpoint at a school in Nigeria’s north-central Niger State have been freed and handed over to their families, a government spokesperson told CNN Friday.
The students were released after their parents paid a ransom of $140,000 (70 million naira) and gave motorbikes in ransom to the kidnappers, according to the school headmaster Abubakar Alhassan.
While addressing journalists after the children regained freedom, Alhassan said the money was raised after Nigerians from different sectors contributed funds to secure their freedom.
“The government contributed, individuals have contributed, the imams, pastors have also contributed. Even I received a call from TB Joshua, he is a Christian, but he contributed,” Alhassan said.
However, a spokeswoman for the Niger State government, Mary Noel-Berje, said authorities were not part of negotiations with the kidnappers.
“The parents (of the abducted students) negotiated with the kidnappers – knowing that the government was not ready to be part of the ransom (negotiations),” Mary Noel-Berje told CNN.
Around 136 students of Salihu Tanko Islamic School Tegina were taken at gunpoint in May, the headteacher told CNN at the time.
The Niger State government, however, clarified in a statement Friday that a “total of 91 children and two passers-by were kidnapped out of which 92 regained their freedom but unfortunately lost one of the children.”
The statement added that the released students looked “feeble and malnourished,” and some will “require more medical attention” before being reunited with their families.
Hauwa’u Isa, whose seven children were among those released, told CNN: “I cannot find a word to express how delighted I am today. For the past 88 days, I have been praying not to die without seeing my children.”
Another parent, Fatima Adamu, said she almost gave up hope of seeing her kidnapped five-year-old son again.
“I was almost giving up about seeing my son again..but I thank God because today I will be going home with him,” she told CNN.
Kidnapping for ransom remains a major security challenge in Nigeria.
Hundreds of students have been abducted in different incidents in the northern part of the country since December.
The Niger State government said the string of kidnappings has “in no small measure discouraged parents from sending their children to school.”
Dozens of schools have been closed down in Nigeria’s northern region to prevent further attacks on academic institutions which are seen to be vulnerable.