Gunmen in Nigeria on Saturday released 27 teenage boys who were kidnapped from their school last week in the northern state of Niger, while security forces continued to search for more than 300 schoolgirls abducted in a nearby state.
Schools have become targets for mass kidnappings for ransom in northern Nigeria by armed groups, many of whom carry guns and ride motorcycles.
On February 17, 27 students, three staff and 12 members of their families were abducted by an armed gang who stormed the Government Science secondary school in the Kagara district of Niger state, overwhelming the school's security detail. One boy was killed during the raid.
After their release, boys were seen by a Reuters witness walking with armed security through a dusty village, some struggling to stand and asking for water. A government official said the boys were aged between 15 and 18.
"The Abducted Students, Staff and Relatives of Government Science Collage Kagara have regained their freedom and have been received by the Niger State Government," Governor Abubakar Sani Bello said in a tweet.
The release of the schoolboys comes just a day after the raid on a school in Zamfara state where gunmen seized 317 girls.
"As we welcome the news of the release of the abducted Kagara students, I urge government to expedite action on the release and safe return of the kidnapped students of Government Girls Secondary School Jangebe," Peter Hawkins, UNICEF's Nigeria representative, said.
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The recent attacks have raised concern about rising violence by armed gangs and Islamist insurgents. Jihadist group Boko Haram carries out abductions in Nigeria's turbulent northeast, as does a branch of Islamic State.
The unrest has become a political problem for President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired general and former military ruler who has faced mounting criticism in recent months over high profile attacks by the gangs known locally as "bandits".
Buhari replaced his long-standing military chiefs this month amid worsening violence in Nigeria.
In December, gunmen raided a school in northwestern Katsina state and kidnapped nearly 350 boys, who were subsequently rescued by security forces.
Violence and insecurity have compounded the economic challenges faced by citizens in Africa's most populous country and top oil exporter, which is struggling to cope with a fall in revenues due to a slump in crude prices in addition to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The most high profile school kidnapping was that of more than 270 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram from the town of Chibok in 2014. Around 100 of them remain missing.