A Nigerian gang has freed the remaining 23 people it had held for six months since attacking a train in northern Kaduna state. Gunmen initially took more than 60 people from the train and authorities have negotiated for months with the gang to win their release.
Relatives of the victims welcomed their release but have also had strong words about growing insecurity in Nigeria.
The victims were released Wednesday evening, more than 180 days after they were abducted when armed men attacked their train.
Usman Yusuf, the secretary of a seven-member government-led committee that negotiated their release, said security agencies and the Federal Ministry of Transportation worked together to rescue the victims.
Their abduction had triggered national and international criticism of the government.
Their release has been welcomed by many, including Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who said on Twitter, “I am delighted by this news and we are all grateful to the security agencies.”
Idahat Yusuf expressed her happiness over the release of both of her sisters.
“It’s the best news ever,” she said. “We thank God almighty that this has finally come to an end, even though it ended after six months. Nobody died in captivity so we’re very happy about that.”
President Buhari had opposed suggestions to deploy military force in search of the remaining abductees, citing fears the victims could be caught up in a crossfire.
Authorities said the rescued victims would be reunited with their families after medical examinations have been conducted.
Jesse John, one of the train abductees released in August, said he was also excited about the news of the other kidnap victims.
“I was so excited, I started calling my friends, to be honest yesterday was my first time since I got out of there [that] I posted on my [social] media, because I told them I will never be happy if the rest are not released,” John said.
Nigeria has seen a wave of large-scale kidnappings in its northwest and central states since late 2020.
Authorities have intensified offensives against gangs in recent months and said operations have been largely successful.
But Yusuf said the government must take security matters more seriously to prevent abductions.
“The government needs to get more serious because honestly there’s no excuse for such attacks in a sovereign nation like ours where we have the military, air force, the navy,” she said. “I don’t see any reason why people should not be able to sleep peacefully in this country.”
The railway between the capital, Abuja, and Kaduna city has been closed since the attack. Many are waiting to see if services will resume, though they remain skeptical about safety.