Amid an intensified military crackdown in North West Nigeria, bandits have released 75 abducted students of Government Day Secondary School after 11 days in captivity.
Taken on September 1, the students of the junior secondary school in Kaya in the Maradun Local Government, Zamfara State were released on Sunday.
Their abduction followed an invasion on the school by large numbers of armed bandits.
Mr Mohammed Shehu, the Zamfara State Police spokesman, confirmed their release.
A local government source said: "A total of 75 hostages taken from the Government Junior Secondary School Kaya were released on Sunday evening. They looked robust and unharmed."
A video released by Zamfara State Governor Bello Matawalle's office showed him greeting buses full of students in the night and asking them if they had been harmed.
According to security sources and the local source, their captors had released them in exchange for safe passage out of the forest as the army had surrounded their camp.
Commenting on the abduction, Unicef said it was horrified by yet another attack on an educational institution in Nigeria.
It said on September 3 that of the 100 abducted students, 23 escaped and returned home – two of them with bullet wounds. The abducted students are aged between 14 and 19.
“We strongly condemn this attack, which has happened just a few days after kidnapped students of a school in Niger State, north-central Nigeria, were freed,” said Peter Hawkins, Unicef’s representative in Nigeria.
“We call on the authorities to take expedited action to rescue these students and reunite them with their families.”
He added: “We reiterate that attacks on schools and the abduction of learners are a gross violation of children’s rights, and a horrific experience for children to go through – one which could have long-lasting effects on their mental health and overall well-being.
“Schools must be safe; no child should experience any harm because they went to school, and no parent should come to grief for sending their children to learn.”
The release of the students came after the army began a crackdown on criminal gangs in the state and local authorities shut down telecoms in Zamfara to disrupt communications between armed groups.
A spate of abductions for ransom has forced Zamfara and other North West states to close all schools until safety is guaranteed.
Reports say many of the bandits are releasing their victims because they have run out of food and are not getting ransom money.
The bandits have been locked up in their various camps as the military has blocked movement of food, water and petrol and restricted movement of motorcycles, their main mode of transportation.
They are also fleeing the continuous bombardment by security agents and blockades by vigilance groups that are manning borders to prevent them from infiltrating other states.
With security operations ongoing in the state, gunmen also attacked a military base in Zamfara on Saturday, killing 12 security forces members before stealing weapons and torching building, two security sources said Monday.
It was not immediately clear who carried out the raid in Mutumji, but the base about 80 kilometres (50 miles) from the state capital Gusau, is a key site for logistics and reconnaissance in the army's fight against bandits in the area.
Jihadists in Nigeria's northeast frequently attack military bases in Borno State, the heart of a 12-year insurgency that has killed 40,000 people.
But the large, heavily armed criminal gangs who raid villages and kidnap for ransom in the northwest and central states have also become more brazen.
In July, bandit gunmen shot down an air force jet over Zamfara while it was returning from operations. The pilot safely ejected and managed to escape capture.
Gunmen also attacked the country's elite defence academy in northwest Kaduna State last month, killing two officers and kidnapping another in a raid in one of the symbols of the armed forces.
Since December the bandit gangs have also increasingly targeted schools for abductions, and more than 1,000 students have been kidnapped over this year in a string of raids.
Most of those students have been released after negotiations and some escaped, but dozens are still being held in forest hideouts by their bandit captors.