A tree trunk, some quick thinking and crawling several miles through the forest helped a Nigerian schoolboy escape from kidnappers.
The 17-year-old student (whose name we can’t reveal) was abducted alongside more than 500 others from Government Science Secondary School in the north-western Katsina state on Friday night.
“We were being pushed and beaten, we spent the night marching, sometimes walking on thorns. Thirty minutes before dawn we were told to sleep,” he told BBC Hausa.
He said that while the group was resting, he found a tree under which he sat down.
“After we sat down, I leaned back a little. I found the side of a tree which I hid behind. I lay down and stretched out my legs.”
When the gunmen ordered the rest of the group to move on, they didn’t notice him behind the tree.
“After everyone left, I started crawling and looking round, until I entered a nearby village, and it is by the special grace of God that I was able to escape,” he said.
Katsina State governor Aminu Bello Masari said 333 students were still missing but it is not clear how many of them are with their abductors, as many may have run away and not yet been found. He also said that the kidnappers had made contact and that negotiations were under way.
However, Garba Shehu, a spokesman for the Nigerian president, had told the BBC that students who had fled said only 10 of their colleagues remained with the gunmen.
‘They said they were security men’
The student who escaped said the armed men came to the school around 21:30 local time (20:30 GMT) on Friday and that many students jumped the school fence and fled when they heard gunshots.
However they were tracked by the gunmen who had flashlights and who told tricked them into believing that they were security personnel and asked them to return.
The students would later realise that the men were not who they said they were.
At this point it is believed that the students were rounded up and forced to walk into the forest by the armed men.
“After we were taken into the forest, one of them ordered us to stop and count our belongings before continuing our journey,” he said.
He said that 520 students were counted and that he did not see anyone else while he was escaping.
The government has blamed the attack on bandits, a loose term for gangs operating in the area, often kidnapping people for ransom.
Who are the bandits?
Nduka Orjinmo, BBC News, Lagos
In Nigeria’s north-west, “bandits” is a catch-all phrase covering Fulani herdsmen, armed vigilante groups and even Islamist insurgents fleeing the insurgency in the north-east.
Some of the leaders of these bandit groups, who engage in kidnapping and attacking farming communities, have openly met governors and other state authorities during failed negotiations for truce.
But this is the first time bandits have abducted hundreds of students from a school – a tactic that has been used in the past by groups like Boko Haram and Iswap, raising fears that these criminal groups in Nigeria’s north-west are copying the Islamist militants.
Most of the kidnappings by “bandits” are done for ransom so many are hoping that this will be resolved soon – if security operatives fail to rescue the students, with money changing hands, unlike the case of the Chibok girls where some are still being held in captivity.
Many Nigerians have criticised President Muhammadu Buhari, who was in his home town of Daura less than 200km (125 miles) away, for not going to the scene of the incident. That the bandits could dare to stage, and successfully carry out, such an operation with the president and his vast security paraphernalia in the area has shocked many.