The nine students of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, abducted six days ago along the Kaduna-Abuja highway have regained their freedom.
Daily Trust gathered that families of the French Language students individually stumped up over N500,000 each to secure their freedom in a bush near Maru village, Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State.
The nine students were part of a travelling group of 12 who chartered an 18-seater bus to convey them to the French Village in Lagos for their French immersion programme.
They had been trapped between Akilubu and Gidan Busa Road along the Abuja-Kaduna Highway on Sunday when kidnappers blocked the double-lane highway and opened fire.
Two of the students had escaped with gunshot wounds while a female student was spared because of her toddler.
The bus driver, Nurudeen Mohammed, who also escaped the attack, later confirmed that nine students, not eight as earlier reported, had been abducted.
Daily Trust reports that the bandits had demanded a cumulative ransom of N270 million, asking each parent to provide N30 million for the students' freedom. However, after days of negotiations with relatives, Daily Trust gathered that the kidnappers settled for unequal amounts from various families.
Christian John, whose sister, Elizabeth John, was among the students confirmed that his sister had returned home safely after they paid the ransom.
He said though suffering from exhaustion, Elizabeth was doing well and happy to reunite with her family. He refused to disclose how much they paid for his sister's freedom.
The Director, Public Affairs, of ABU, Auwalu Umar also confirmed the release of all nine students on Saturday night but said he could not give further details.
Other relatives of the victims however told our correspondents that the school management and the government were not part of the negotiations.
Efforts to reach the Kaduna State Police Public Relations Officer, ASP Mohammed Jalige were not successful, as he did not answer his call.
How we secured students' release--families
Families of the abducted students told Daily Trust they were all asked to converge around a forest in Chikun Local Government Area and were then given directions into the forest.
One of the relatives, who conveyed N500,000 to secure his sister's release, said: 'It was as if we were given the same time to bring the ransom. About 12 people were released on Saturday night among them the nine students; eight females and a male. Each family went with their ransom separately in a bag and we were all directed by the kidnappers," he said.
Another family source who delivered N800,000 for the release of his niece said each family was given a particular amount to deliver with the least being N500,000.
"Some paid N700,000, some paid N800,000 and another paid N1 million. However, we paid N800, 000 to get my niece out of the forest."
Describing their journey, he said, "If you are travelling to Abuja from Kaduna, immediately after the NYSC camp, there is a solar light at a small village called Dutse. By the side, there is a tarred road that goes into Gwagwada but before we got to Gwagwada, there is a road that will lead you to Maro village. It was on our way to Maro that we were diverted into the forest. We are in serious trouble in this country because this thing happened just close to the NYSC camp."
He said the experience was both frightening and terrible. "We met with security agents who were patrolling the area while on our way and they asked us where we were going to because it was late at night. We told them we were on our way to pay ransom for the release of our relatives and the security agents wished us good luck," he said.
"We drove for about 30 minutes inside the bush and then we saw some people on motorcycles and we were asked to hop on. We rode on the motorcycles for another 30 minutes deep into the forest."
He said as they travelled into the forest, armed men surrounded them and asked them to raise their hands.
"We did as ordered because they were well-armed and so they searched our body and when they didn't find anything, they collected the money and counted them all to be sure they were complete before they released the victims."
"We were asked to form a queue and one by one, we were attended to. If your money is complete, you will be asked to provide the name of the person you were paying for and the person will be called out then you will stand aside and the next person on the queue will be attended to," he said.
The source said during the encounter, some of the kidnappers tried to make small talk with them as one of them told them he was an ex-security agent who quit and joined the group while others claimed to be from the Niger Republic and Cameroon.
The source told Daily Trust that the students and three others were released around 10 pm on Saturday but by the time they got to Abuja Junction, it was about 2 am on Sunday.
We were beaten, slept on grass - Victims
Some of the students told Daily Trust that their abductors beat them over their parents' failure to raise the ransom requested.
One student told our correspondents that ransom was paid to secure the release of eight students while the ninth was released out of sympathy.
"The abductors were unable to reach her relatives and they threatened to kill her but at the last minute, when we were about to leave, out of sympathy, she was asked to join us," said the student.
"They beat us and threatened us, but not as much as they beat the men in our midst. We slept in the open, on the grass and the kidnappers provided food and asked the females to cook meals. Sometimes we ate rice and yam and other times, we ate kwado-made from garri and kulikuli. The water was dirty but we had no option but to drink it," she said.
Another student, who said she contracted malaria, told our correspondent that the forest was cold with a lot of mosquitoes and most of them shivered during the night.
"They didn't separate us. We were kept together with others. Some people were released on Friday but the nine of us were set free on Saturday together with three others. This is an experience I will never forget and I pray no one experiences it because it was terrible," she said.
She, however, said because they were all dirty and unkempt, the kidnappers gifted them N30, 000 to buy soap to wash their cloth.