All the 279 Nigerian schoolgirls released by kidnappers this week were on Wednesday reunited with their parents, in an emotional event overshadowed by chaos and shooting by security forces, an AFP reporter saw.
Angered by officials’ insistence on a formal handover before parents could leave with their children, mobs began throwing stones at officials outside the school in the remote village of Jangebe when the girls were returned.
One person was shot in the stomach when security personnel opened fire and was carried away by others in the crowd.
“Four people have been shot dead in the confusion,” Jangebe resident Bello Gidan-Ruwa told AFP by phone after leaving the village.
The tally could not immediately be confirmed with official sources.
Pupils at Government Secondary School in the village in northwestern Zamfara state, the girls were abducted on Friday from their hostels by gunmen known locally as bandits, who released them early Tuesday.
Since their release, the students had been in government care in state capital Gusau, receiving medical treatment before being returned to the school to be handed over to their parents.
There were tears and hugs from parents and relations as the girls arrived in buses, but officials and security personnel insisted on ushering the children into the dining hall.
– ‘Infuriating’ –
Anxious parents were outraged by officials’ insistence that the girls must be handed over to the local chief of Anka district, Attahiru Ahmad Anka.
“It is infuriating for (officials) to say they had to finish their speeches before handing over our children to us. This is outrageous,” one mother told AFP as she led her daughter away.
“They know the roads are insecure but they didn’t care. If we leave late and are kidnapped with our daughters again, the girls’ rescue will make no sense.”
There was chaos in the hall as parents grabbed their children and stormed out to the consternation of the officials.
Shooting by the security forces began when the crowd began pelting a convoy carrying regional parliament speaker Nasiru Mu’azu Magarya with stones as it tried to leave the village.
Despite the chaos, the girls and parents were happy for their release.
“I’m extremely happy to have been rescued from our captors,” Aisha Jamilu, a student, told AFP.
“I thank God for saving us from them. It was a horrifying experience I will never forget.”
She added that she would leave up to her parents the question of whether to resume her studies and run the risk of a second kidnapping.
“Even if I don’t go back to the same school I can be transferred to another one,” Jamilu said.
Muhammad Sani, father to two of the girls, said he was “delighted” to see his daughters again.
“I can’t say express how happy I’m. I didn’t cry when the girls were kidnapped but I couldn’t hold my tears when I saw them today. They were tears of joy.”
– ‘Reintegration’ –
UN experts on Wednesday called for urgent rehabilitation of the traumatised students.
“Social inclusion of these children requires the provision of long-term measures aimed at restoring their physical and psychological well-being,” the UN Human Rights Special Procedures experts said in a statement.
“Sensitising families and communities to the importance of reintegration is imperative for them to be able to build renewed social relations… and to overcome stigma.”
The experts condemned the Nigerian government for the “lack of an effective investigation into the abduction of 344 students from a boys’ boarding school in Kankara, Katsina State, in December 2020 and released a few days later.”
Heavily-armed criminal gangs in northwest and central Nigeria have stepped up attacks in recent years, kidnapping for ransom, raping and pillaging.
© 2021 AFP