Dozens of schoolchildren, teachers and their families have been abducted by gunmen in central Nigeria after an attack on a boarding school, the latest in a growing wave of kidnappings and mass attacks that have ravaged the country.
A Niger state government spokesman said 27 students, three teachers and a dozen family members of the school staff were taken away, 42 people in total. Previous reports had indicated that hundreds of people were missing from the school of about 1,000 students.
Heavily armed gunmen dressed in military uniforms stormed the Government Science School (GSC) for men in Kagara Town, Niger state, between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, killing at least one student.
The attack is believed to have been carried out by suspected armed groups known as “bandits” who have terrorized northwestern and central Nigeria in recent years. The groups have launched marauding attacks from forest havens stretching across northwestern Nigeria to neighboring Niger, terrorizing vulnerable rural communities left defenseless due to lack of security.
Murders, sexual violence, and mass ransom kidnappings have increased dramatically, including in schools.
The state governor on Wednesday ordered the closure of all internees in areas at risk of bandit attacks.
A spokesman for the Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, who is increasingly vilified for the growing insecurity that has recently forced him to replace all the heads of the armed forces, said: “Our prayers go out to the families of the victims of this attack. . As a result of these reports, the president has ordered the armed forces and the police to guarantee the immediate and safe return of all the captives.
The attack in Niger follows a similar attack in December, when some 300 schoolchildren were abducted in Katsina, in northwestern Nigeria, sparking outrage over increased insecurity in recent years. The children were subsequently released, while the government denied widespread reports that the gunmen, who were associated with Boko Haram, received a ransom.
The frequency and ease with which armed groups have carried out attacks in northwestern Nigeria has caused growing consternation. Despite several airstrikes and army operations, the groups remain a potent threat in many parts of northern Nigeria. Some local governments have signed controversial and shady “peace accords” with the groups, and some have admitted to paying or offering assistance to the insurgents. However, attacks remain commonplace.
Earlier this month, bandits kidnapped more than 20 passengers from a bus in the city of Zungeru, 50 km from where the schoolchildren were taken on Wednesday. In a video posted by the gunmen according to local reports, distraught victims are surrounded by assailants with rocket launchers and rifles, and forced to plead with the government to pay 500 million naira ($ 1.3 million) in ransom.
In recent years, attacks have also increased along Nigeria’s porous border with Niger, with refugees increasingly fleeing into the country.
The lack of rural security and the protection offered by a vast and mineral-rich forest has provided the conditions for armed groups to flourish.
While “banditry” encompasses a range of criminal activities associated with various non-ethnic and ethnic factors, many of the recent large-scale armed attacks are suspected to have been perpetrated by Fulani assailants. According to Amnesty International, 1,126 people were killed by bandits between January and June of last year.
The attack in Katsina in December appeared to be the worst attack on record by suspected bandits, according to Audu Bulama Bukarti, an extremism expert and analyst at the Tony Blair Institute. “It is another major point of escalation in the rapidly deteriorating security situation in the Northwest,” he said.
The threat of banditry has been compounded by increasing associations with jihadists, who are still waging an 11-year insurgency in the northeast of the country. Many fear that jihadists are increasingly active in northern and central Nigeria, seeking partnerships with thriving armed groups.
In December, Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the kidnappings in Kankara. Although the attack was carried out by bandits, the association between the two armed groups caused widespread alarm.
In April 2014, Boko Haram abducted 276 girls from their school dormitory in Chibok, in the northeastern state of Borno. About 100 of the girls are still missing. The group has also carried out kidnappings of other school children and thousands of people in northeast Nigeria.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism