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Dozens of Children Kidnapped in Nigeria Are Released, Officials Say

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Dozens of Nigerian schoolchildren who were kidnapped this month have been released, officials said on Sunday. The Nigerian military said that 137 children had been freed by security forces in the northwest of the country.

The children were abducted on March 7 from their school in Kuriga, a small town in the state of Kaduna, the latest in a long series of kidnappings that have plagued Africa’s most populous nation. The exact number of children taken from Kuriga remains murky.

The state’s governor, Uba Sani, announced the return of the children, but he did not provide additional information on the circumstances of the abduction or of their release.

Nigeria’s military said in a statement that 76 girls and 61 boys had been freed in the northern state of Zamfara, and were being taken back to Kaduna. The military did not confirm the total number of children abducted on March 7, or provide further details about the operation.

Residents had told the local news media that armed men kidnapped the students just after they had finished their morning assembly and taken them into a nearby forest.

The episode evoked memories of the 2014 abduction of 276 schoolgirls in the town of Chibok by Boko Haram, an Islamist armed group, which shocked the nation and prompted outrage abroad. Many of the girls were released, reportedly in exchange for ransoms, but 98 of them are still missing, according to Amnesty International.

On Sunday, Nigeria’s president, Bola Tinubu, thanked the military for securing the children’s release and said that his administration was trying to ensure “that our schools remain safe sanctuaries of learning, not lairs for wanton abductions.”

Days before the children were abducted, about 200 people were kidnapped in Nigeria’s Borno state, officials said. The state is at the center of the Boko Haram insurgency. The victims, who had ventured into the countryside to collect firewood when they were abducted, have not been returned yet.

More than 3,600 people were reported kidnapped in Nigeria last year — the highest number in five years, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, but the figure could be higher given that many abductions are not reported.

The kidnappings are mainly driven by a quest for ransom payments, according to the Nigerian analysis firm SBM Intelligence, which can be paid in cash but also in food or medicine. They are a feature of all of the conflicts ravaging the West African nation, including Islamist insurgencies, separatists movements and piracy, SBM Intelligence said.

“The scourge of banditry, kidnapping and other forms of insecurities must be decisively tackled to restore peace and stability to our beloved nation,” the Alumni Association of the National Institute, part of a Nigerian research center, said in a statement on Sunday.

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