Hundreds of kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls freed and 'safe'

State governor Bello Matawalle tweeted pictures of the freed girls. Credit: Bello Matawalle/Twitter

Hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped from a boarding school in northwestern Zamfara state on Friday have been freed, a state governor said.

Bello Matawalle announced that 279 girls, whose abduction caused international outrage, were freed on Tuesday.

The girls were abducted by gunmen from the Government Girls Junior Secondary School in Jangebe town in the latest mass kidnapping of students in the West African nation.

Hundreds of girls dressed in light blue hijabs were spotted at the state Government House office in the city of Gusau.

It said that after the meeting, the girls were escorted outside by officials and taken away in vans. They appeared calm and were aged 10 and upwards.

“Alhamdulillah! (God be praised!) It gladdens my heart to announce the release of the abducted students of GGSS Jangebe from captivity," Ms Matawalle tweeted on Tuesday.

"This follows the scaling of several hurdles laid against our efforts. I enjoin all well-meaning Nigerians to rejoice with us as our daughters are now safe."

Following the abduction, police officers and the military carried out joint operations in a bid to rescue the girls.

It is not yet clear whether the schoolgirls were rescued or freed by the kidnappers. The identity of the kidnappers also remains unclear.

Nigeria has seen several such kidnappings in recent years. On Saturday, 24 students, six staff and eight relatives were released after being abducted on February 17 from the Government Science College Kagara in Niger state.

In December, over 300 schoolboys from a secondary school in Kankara, in northwestern Nigeria, were kidnapped and later freed. The government has insisted no ransom was paid for the students’ release.

Student Masauda Umar, 20, who hid under her bed and managed to escape when gunmen abducted girls from her boarding school on Friday. Credit: AP

Nigeria's most infamous abduction was in April 2014, when 276 girls were abducted by the jihadist rebels of Boko Haram from a school in Chibok, Borno state. Up until this day, over 100 of those girls remain missing. Boko Haram is opposed to western education and its fighters often target schools.

Other organised armed groups, known locally as bandits, often abduct students for money. The government says large groups of armed men in Zamfara state are known to kidnap for money and to press for the release of their members held in jail.

Experts say if the kidnappings continue to go unpunished, they may continue.

Last week, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said the government would not “succumb to blackmail by bandits and criminals who target innocent school students in expectation of huge ransom payments.”

He called on state governments to review their policy of making payments, in money or vehicles, to bandits, saying such a policy has the potential to backfire.