Accounts emerging as the 300 boys are returned tell of the maltreatments and things they had to bear. The boys who were returned on Friday after their rescue from a week’s captivity in northwestern Nigeria have been reunited with their families.
“They took us into the forest, we walked for two days without having anything to eat and they were beating us,” 14-year-old Murtala Sale told CNN.
Sale was one of hundreds of schoolboys who were abducted last week by gunmen in Katsina State. They arrived at the state government house on Friday morning after being rescued the previous night.
“Some [of us] felt sick because we had not eaten for the two days, they selected the sick ones and gave them food to eat,” he added.
Many of the children arrived covered in dusty blankets and barefooted on heavily guarded buses.
More than 300 schoolboys were kidnapped in the attack on December 11 on the Government Science Secondary School Kankara in Katsina State. The Nigerian military rescued 344 of them late on Thursday, and they were received at the state capital by governor Aminu Bello Masari.
A 13-year-old boy named Jamilu Suleiman said the kidnappers took the boys to a forest, where they spent days walking.
“They usually give small children guns and sticks to beat us just to display and satisfy their price. They gave us bread, a single groundnut cake, for the entire day,” he added.
“We cannot quantify the level of trauma we have been through,” another parent said “My son’s name is Ali Buhari… I am not sending him back, I am not sending him back.
Masari’s spokesperson, Abdu Labaran, told CNN on Thursday that Boko Haram was not involved, but rather the boys were kidnapped by bandits masquerading as the Islamist terrorist group.
Earlier in the week, a man claiming to be Abubakar Shekau, a leader of one of Boko Haram’s factions, said his group was responsible for the kidnapping in a short audio message and video which showed the children.
Masari has dismissed these messages and said instead that “local bandits” were “mimicking” his speech.
Unicef, the United Nations agency responsible for providing humanitarian aid to children, said that far too often in Nigeria, children are the “target of attack.”
“Attacks on educational facilities are a grave violation of children’s rights,” said the agency’s Nigeria representative, Peter Hawkins, in a statement on Friday. “This incident is a disturbing reminder of the heavy toll that violence takes on civilians in north-west Nigeria, including children.”
While kidnapping for ransom by criminal elements has become more common, an abduction of this scale is unheard of in Katsina State. It recalls the brutal kidnapping of 276 girls from Chibok in 2014 by Shekau’s group. More than 100 of those girls never returned home.