Local vigilantes helped rescue 84 kidnapped schoolchildren in Nigeria on Sunday following a shootout between their abductors and security forces, local authorities confirmed.
The children were abducted Saturday as they returned home from a religious ceremony in the village of Mahuta in the state of Katsina, Gambo Isah.
After learning of their abduction, vigilantes set about tracking down those responsible. Although such kidnappings are typically carried out by the Islamist terror group Boko Haram, the assailants were reportedly a group of Fulani herdsmen in search of a ransom. The Fulani herdsmen are majority-Muslim and are also known to persecute Christians.
“We laid siege on the area [where] we knew they were holding the children and also took some Fulani settlements in the area hostage, warning that if anything happened to our children no Fulani would live in the area henceforth,” one of the vigilantes, Abdullah Sada, told Deutsche Welle.
“They released 60 children around 3:00 am and this morning they called and said they had released the remaining 53 who are now being ferried from the bush,” he continued.
The kidnapping and subsequent rescue occurred days after Boko Haram allegedly released hundreds of the 344 boys whom they abducted from a boarding school in Katsina state. Reports from the government did not clarify what the terms for their release were or if they accepted any ransom. Authorities have also not clearly refuted reports that hundreds of children still remain unaccounted for.
“There could still be over a hundred boys missing, either in captivity or just out there in the bush,” Bulama Bukarti, a Boko Haram analyst at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, told the Independent.
“We cannot be sure because there has never been an accurate figure,” he continued. “The government itself is working with a range instead of a number. We will start to know if there are any missing children in the coming days as the boys are reunited with their parents. I truly hope not.”
President Muhammadu Buhari described the release of the boys as a “huge relief for [the] entire country and [the] international community.” He went on to ask for patience from the Nigerian people to protect them from Boko Haram, despite his repeated claims that his administration had defeated and eradicated the organization.
“Our administration is fully aware of the responsibility we have to protect the lives and property of all Nigerians,” he said in a statement on Twitter. “I ask Nigerians to be patient and fair to us as we deal with the challenges of security, the economy, and corruption. We will not relent.”
Our administration is fully aware of the responsibility we have to protect the lives and property of all Nigerians. I ask Nigerians to be patient and fair to us as we deal with the challenges of security, the economy, and corruption. We will not relent.
— Muhammadu Buhari (@MBuhari) December 17, 2020
Northwestern Nigeria is considered one of the most dangerous places in the world and remains the central operating zone for Boko Haram. According to the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, at least 27,000 people, including 37 aid workers, have died since the onset of the caliphate’s formation in 2009, with that figure continuing to rise at an alarming rate.