By Martin Cole-
A group of nearly 300 girls kidnapped from a school in north-western Nigeria last week have been released, a local official says.
Sources in Nigeria believe they were paid a ransom, but there has been no official word confirming such payment.
The girls were abducted by unidentified gunmen from their boarding school in Jangebe, Zamfara state, on Friday and taken to a forest, police said.
The authorities said 279 girls had been freed, adding that a figure given last week by police that 317 had been kidnapped was not accurate.
The large groups of armed men operate in Zamfara state, described by the government as bandits, and are known to kidnap for money and for the release of their members from jail.
Such kidnappings in Nigeria were first carried out by jihadist group Boko Haram, but the tactic has now been adopted by other criminal gangs.
President Muhammadu Buhari issued a statement on Friday in which he urged state governments “to review their policy of rewarding bandits with money and vehicles, warning that the policy might boomerang disastrously”.
The men who ransacked the school had also attacked a nearby military camp and checkpoint, preventing soldiers from intervening.
Lawani Adali, the security man on duty on the day, said policemen and vigilantes could not get inside because the gunmen had blocked all entrances.
The state’s governor said on Tuesday that the group had been freed and the girls were now safe.
Nigerians are regularly seized by gunmen, forcing families to raise funds from friends and relatives.
Kidnappings carried out for ransom are common in the north.
Dozens of the girls were seen gathered at a government building in Zamfara after they were taken there in a fleet of mini-buses. “It gladdens my heart to announce the release of the abducted students… from captivity,” Governor Bello Matawalle wrote on Twitter.
“This follows the scaling of several hurdles laid against our efforts,” he added. “I enjoin all well-meaning Nigerians to rejoice with us as our daughters are now safe.” The authorities said 279 girls had been freed, adding that a figure given last week by police that 317 had been kidnapped was no longer accurate.
“They said they [would] shoot anybody who did not continue to walk,” she added. “We walked across a river and they hid us and let us sleep under shrubs in a forest.”
Several large groups of armed men operate in Zamfara state, described by the government as bandits, and are known to kidnap for money and for the release of their members from jail.