Bello Matawalle, governor of Zamfara, says the 344 schoolboys who were abducted from Katsina and taken to a forest in the state were released with no ransom paid to their kidnappers.
The governor told Daily Nigerian that the state was able to secure their release through the help of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) and repentant bandits.
The students were kidnapped after gunmen attacked Government Science Secondary School in Kankara, Katsina state, on December 11.
Seventeen of them who escaped during the attack were found while 344 others in captivity were released and handed over to security agencies on Thursday.
Although the Boko Haram insurgent group claimed responsibility for the attack, Matawalle told Daily Nigerian that “nothing like Boko Haram in this (the abduction); the bandits did it.”
He was also quoted as saying the state government employed the help of repentant bandits and leadership of Miyetti Allah to establish contact with the abductors of the students before pleading for their release.
“When we established contact with them, I persuaded them to release them unharmed. And so they did tonight,” the governor reportedly said.
“This is not the first time we facilitated the release of our people without payment of ransom. Ask anybody, we don’t pay bandits a dime. What we do is to extend olive branch to them because they also want to live in peace.
“As I speak to you, they are on their way to Tsafe, from where they will come to Gusau and sleep. They will begin their journey to Katsina tomorrow morning.”
The boys’ release came just moments after Boko Haram – notorious for how it has abducted hundreds of students on two occasions in the north – released a video of young boys it claimed were the students.
The authorities, however, insisted the insurgents were not involved in the incident and accused them of attempting to push propaganda and instil fear among residents.