Gunmen have released 74 children out of a total of more than 80 people they kidnapped earlier this month in Zamfara (north-west) after paying a ransom, parents and a village head of the Nigerian state said.

Gangs often carry out kidnappings for ransom in Nigeria, especially in northern and central regions of Africa’s most populous nation. The gangs, which the authorities generally refer to using the term bandits (“bad elements”, or “robber gangs”), have been terrorizing residents in central and northwestern Nigeria for more than a decade, committing animal theft, looting, and murder. Their attacks have multiplied in recent years. In addition to gang activity, authorities are also dealing with a jihadist insurgency in the north-east of the country and separatist activity in the south.

Two parents who live in Wandamai village said they paid 20,000 naira (about 40 euros) each. Their children were among those set free. They were acutely malnourished.

The community leader reported that 11 hostages remain in the hands of the gunmen and two were killed as they tried to escape.

A police spokesman in Zamfara limited himself to saying he had no comment at this time.

Kidnappers often hold their victims for months in forested areas until a ransom is paid.

Gangs also often require villagers to pay protection to allow them to harvest in their fields.