Hundreds of Nigerian students kidnapped from their classrooms last week have been released.
More than 340 boys have been released, Aminu Bello Masari, governor of the state of Katsina in northwest Nigeria, said on state television on Thursday.
Last week, gunmen stormed the Government Science Secondary School in the city of Kankara, which has more than 800 students.
“At the moment 344 of the students have been released and handed over to the security forces. I think we can at least say that we recovered most, if not all, of the boys, ”said Masari.
Arrangements are now being made to transport the returned boys to Katsina where they will be reunited with their families.
“The news that reached us about an hour ago shows that they have all been recovered and are on their way from the forest area to Katsina,” said Masari, adding that they would be examined by doctors on Friday.
The government will “work with the police and also hire private security firms to protect schools” to prevent the “ugly experiences of the past six days” from occurring again, he said.
Officials are now negotiating with the attackers, the Boko Haram jihad rebels who took responsibility for the kidnapping, to ensure the release of the remaining children. The group is known to recruit and exploit child soldiers.
News of the release came after a video seen by the Associated Press showed the apparent kidnappers telling a boy to repeat their demands that the government abandon their search for the schoolchildren.
The boy says he and the others were kidnapped by a gang on orders from Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, and that some of those kidnapped from the school were dead.
Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s President, welcomed the release of the boys, calling them “a great relief to their families, the whole country and the international community,” according to a statement from his office.
Amid outcry against the West African country’s government over insecurity in the north – where Boko Haram led a decade-long riot to impose strict Islamic law – Buhari noted his government’s successful efforts to secure the release of previously kidnapped students.
The leadership “is very aware of its responsibility to protect the lives and property of Nigerians,” he said.
Additional reporting by agencies