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UPDATE 11-'Crying and moving': Nigerian schoolgirls recount forced march kidnap ordeal

GlobalMar 02, 2021 19:18
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* Attackers abducted girls in northwestern Zamfara state
* Kidnappings for ransom are common in parts of Nigeria
* Freed victim says girls beaten, threatened with shooting
* Governor says 'repentant bandits' helped with release

(Adds ban on mining, no-fly zone)
By Afolabi Sotunde and Seun Sanni
GUSAU, Nigeria, March 2 (Reuters) - Gunmen who kidnapped
nearly 300 schoolgirls from a boarding school in northwest
Nigeria last week beat them and threatened to shoot them during
a forced march into captivity, victims said on Tuesday after
they were set free.
The pupils from Jangebe, a town in Zamfara state, were
seized in a raid just after midnight on Friday. All 279 had now
been released by the gunmen, Zamfara Governor Bello Matawalle
said.
Dozens of girls in Muslim veils sat in a hall in a state
government building before being taken for medical checks. A few
parents arrived, and one father wept with joy after seeing his
daughter.
Farida Lawali, 15, told how she and the other girls had been
taken to a forest by the kidnappers.
"They carried the sick ones that cannot move. We were
walking in the stones and thorns," she said, covered in a light
blue veil.
"They started hitting us with guns so that we could move,"
she added. "While they were beating them with guns, some of them
were crying and moving at the same time."
Another of the girls, Umma Abubakar, told Reuters they were
forced to walk although many had injuries: "They said they will
shoot anybody who did not continue to walk."
Relief at their return was tempered by concern over the
circumstances of their release. A series of similar school
abductions in recent months has led many Nigerians to worry that
regional authorities are making the situation worse by letting
kidnappers go unpunished or paying them off.
Zailani Bappa, a media adviser to the state governor, denied
that a ransom had been paid, but said the captors had been
offered amnesty, as well as assistance to resettle at a site
with newly built schools, a hospital and other facilities.
"The process means amnesty for those who repent and will be
assisted to resettle," he said. "Those who surrender their arms
will be assisted to start a new life. Since they are herders,
they will be supported with a few cows each."
But the state's apparent conciliatory approach was at odds
with the central government. President Muhammadu Buhari called
for the captors to be brought to justice and said that if
ransoms were being paid, this would make future attacks more
likely.
His national security adviser, Babagana Monguno, said the
president had ordered a massive military deployment to Zamfara,
banned mining and imposed a no-fly zone in the state.
The central government "will not allow this country to drift
into state failure," Monguno said. "We are not going to be
blackmailed."
But the military is already stretched, and it was difficult
to assess whether the flight and mining bans would have much
impact in a state with no major airport, and where many mines
already operate illegally.

CRIMINAL GANGS
Boarding schools in northern Nigeria have become targets for
mass kidnappings for ransom by armed criminal gangs.
The trend was started by the jihadist group Boko Haram,
which kidnapped 270 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in 2014,
around 100 of whom have never been found. But recent months have
seen a sudden escalation of similar attacks, including the
abduction of 344 boys in December.
Friday's raid on the Government Girls Science Secondary
School was the second school abduction in little over a week.
Officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have told
Reuters that the authorities have made payoffs in the past in
exchange for child hostages, creating an incentive for
abductions. Several of those officials declined to comment on Tuesday on
whether they believed a ransom had been paid in the latest
incident.
Lawal Abdullahi, whose seven daughters were among those
kidnapped and freed, said the incident would not deter him from
schooling his children.
"It's a ploy to deny our girls ... from getting the Western
education in which we are far behind," he told Reuters. "We
should not succumb to blackmail. My advice to government is that
they should take immediate precautions to stop further
abductions."

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FACTBOX-The violence and insecurity affecting Nigeria
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UPDATE 11-'Crying and moving': Nigerian schoolgirls recount forced march kidnap ordeal
 

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