On Friday, parents sobbed, mobbed their children in embraces, and even kissed the ground in thanks as they reunited with hundreds of schoolboys in northwest Nigeria who had been abducted a week ago.
Among the 344 dusty and dazed-looking children who had arrived by bus on Friday morning in Katsina state, hundreds of adults jostled to locate their offspring.
Those who succeeded cheered and grabbed their kids, but by early evening, hundreds more were still waiting.
Another man knelt down and kissed the ground, thanking God for his young son’s return, before he clutched the child and sobbed.
“I feel like God has granted me paradise because I am so happy,” said an ebullient Hamza Kankara after she found her son, Lawal, in the crowd.
The gunmen attacked the Government Science Secondary School – where more than 800 students are said to live – in Katsina state for about a week ago.
President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria was under growing pressure to release the boys and to deal with instability in the north.
One child, who did not identify himself, said that his captors had told him to identify them as members of the Boko Haram Islamist militant group, even though he believed that they were armed bandits.
“They beat us morning, every night. We suffered a lot. They only gave us food once a day and water twice a day,” he told Nigeria’s Arise television.
Many information about the incident remains unknown, including who was responsible, why the boys were abducted if the ransom was paid, and how the escape was obtained.
Authorities said they were rescued on Thursday by security forces. The military said it operated on “credible intelligence” and released all 344 boys abducted.
Forsige was informed by one of the released boys that the kidnappers had originally taken them to a secret hideout.
“They said I should say they are Boko Haram and gangs of Abu Shekau,” he said, referring to a name used by a Boko Haram leader. “Sincerely speaking, they are not Boko Haram … They are just small and tiny, tiny boys with big guns.”
The boys were brought earlier on Friday to visit the governor, flanked by troops and mounted police officers. Prior to meeting with Buhari, they then underwent medical checks.
The abduction gripped a nation still incensed by widespread insecurity, and evoked memories of the abduction of more than 270 schoolgirls by Boko Haram in the northeastern city of Chibok in 2014.
Hours before the rescue of the boys was announced on Thursday, a video allegedly showing Boko Haram militants with some of the boys began circulating online. Forsige was unable to check the footage’s authenticity or who released it.
The kidnapping of the boys was particularly humiliating for Buhari, who comes from the state of Katsina and repeatedly said that Boko Haram was “technically defeated.”