Nigerian police said 43 people who were abducted from a mosque in northwestern Zamfara state have been released, while one died in captivity after being tortured. Police say they are still searching for armed men responsible, who disguised themselves as fellow worshippers when they invaded the mosque last week during Friday prayers.
Zamfara State Police spokesperson Mohammed Shehu confirmed to VOA in a phone call Thursday the release of the abductees.
He said police authorities have deployed officers around the state to prevent more attacks from taking place. Shehu did not comment, though, on whether a ransom was paid to secure their release of the abductees.
"They were released,” Shehu said. “We have deployed our operatives everywhere, and they're working tirelessly to ensure that we contain the activity of armed banditry and kidnapping."
The worshippers were kidnapped on September 2 as they gathered for the weekly juma'at prayer in the village of Zugu.
Gunmen disguised as fellow worshippers invaded the mosque, shot sporadically and herded them into the bush.
Relatives and local residents of the Zugu village said they jointly raised and paid the kidnappers the equivalent of $12,000, and they also gave them many gallons of petrol before the captives were released.
Saidu Umar, a relative of one of the released abductees, said that initially the abductors asked for about $82,000, or 35 million naira.
But, Umar said, residents bargained and gave the abductors 5 million naira, and the worshippers were then released. Umar said some of the captives were wounded and unable to walk, so the residents went to the mosque with motorbikes to carry them away.
Nigerian authorities have been trying to stem violence and kidnapping in the country’s northwestern and central states for years and strongly oppose making ransom payments.
Deployment of troops in the affected regions has stretched security forces thin. But the government said it is making some progress. In March, authorities said air bombardments that lasted three days killed more than 200 bandits in Niger State.
Last month, the Nigerian Air Force said another 55 bandits were killed across central and northwestern states.
However, Patrick Agbambu, founder of Security Watch Africa Initiatives, said authorities cannot rest on previous victories.
"Crime business is a dynamic business. It changes forms at any given time,” Agbambu said. “While you're recording some success, the criminals are trying to devise other means to outwit you, so as we celebrate these successes it also calls for more vigilance from the security agencies."
Agbambu also said citizens must take caution against paying ransom to kidnappers.
"Nobody wants to experience such,” he said. “I understand the desperation of the relatives of these victims in wanting to pay ransom, but the more ransoms are paid, the more kidnapping or abduction will continue because it becomes a lucrative business."
For now, the released abductees will try to recover from their experience, while the village and authorities remain more vigilant.