Over 200 students and staff members, kidnapped by gunmen from a school in northern Nigeria earlier this month have been released and are safe and sound, the Kaduna state governor’s office said today, days before a deadline set by the kidnappers to pay a ransom of Rs. about $690,000.

The kidnapping, which took place on March 7 in Kuriga, a town in the northwestern part of Kaduna state, was the first mass kidnapping in Africa’s most populous country since 2021 when more than 150 students were abducted from a secondary school in Kaduna.

School abductions in Nigeria were first carried out by the jihadist group Boko Haram, which a decade ago abducted 276 schoolgirls from a school in Chibok, in the northeastern state of Borno. Some of the girls were never released.

But since then this tactic has been adopted by criminal gangs seeking to pay ransoms.

Kaduna Governor Uba Sani said the country’s National Security Adviser coordinated the release of the Kuriga students, without elaborating.

“The Nigerian Army also deserves special praise for showing that with courage, determination and commitment, criminal elements can be brought down and security restored to our communities,” Sani said.

The gunmen last week demanded a total of 1 billion naira (about $690,000) for the release of the children and staff members they had kidnapped.

The government has announced that it will not pay ransom for the release of hostages, as the practice was outlawed in 2022.