Gunmen abducted 317 girls from a boarding school in northern Nigeria on Friday, the latest in a series of mass kidnappings of students in the West African nation.
Police say they believe the girls were taken to a forest after being abducted from their boarding school in Jangebe, Zamfara state, on Friday morning. It is the latest mass kidnapping from schools in recent weeks. Armed gangs often seize schoolchildren for ransom.
Police and the military have begun joint operations to rescue the girls after the attack at the Government Girls Junior Secondary School in Jangebe town, according to a police spokesman in Zamfara state, Mohammed Shehu, who confirmed the number abducted.
One parent, Nasiru Abdullahi, told The Associated Press that his daughters, aged 10 and 13, are among the missing.
“It is disappointing that even though the military have a strong presence near the school they were unable to protect the girls,” he said. “At this stage, we are only hoping on divine intervention.”
Resident Musa Mustapha said the gunmen also attacked a nearby military camp and checkpoint, preventing soldiers from interfering while the gunmen spent several hours at the school. It was not immediately clear if there were any casualties.
Several large groups of armed men operate in Zamfara state, described by the government as bandits, and are known to kidnap for money and to push for the release of their members from jail.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said Friday the government’s primary objective is to get all the school hostages returned safe, alive and unharmed.
“We will not succumb to blackmail by bandits and criminals who target innocent school students in the expectation of huge ransom payments,” he said. “Let bandits, kidnappers and terrorists not entertain any illusions that they are more powerful than the government. They shouldn’t mistake our restraint for the humanitarian goals of protecting innocent lives as a weakness, or a sign of fear or irresolution.”
He called on state governments to review their policy of making payments, in money or vehicles, to bandits.
“Such a policy has the potential to backfire with disastrous consequences,” Buhari said. He also said state and local governments must play their part by being proactive in improving security in and around schools.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the abductions and called for the girls’ “immediate and unconditional release” and safe return to their families, calling attacks on schools a grave violation of human rights and the rights of children, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
The U.N. chief reaffirmed U.N. support to Nigeria’s government and people “in their fight against terrorism, violent extremism and organized crime,” Dujarric said, and urged Nigerian authorities “to spare no effort in bringing those responsible for this crime to justice.”
“We are angered and saddened by yet another brutal attack on schoolchildren in Nigeria,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF representative in the country. “This is a gross violation of children’s rights and a horrific experience for children to go through.” He called for their immediate release.
Friday’s attack came less than two weeks after gunmen abducted 42 people, including 27 students, from the Government Science College Kagara in Niger State. The students, teachers and family members are still being held.
In December, 344 students were abducted from the Government Science Secondary School Kankara in Katsina State. They were eventually released.
Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch, noted the recent abductions and tweeted that “Strong action is required from the authorities to turn the tide & keep schools safe.” Amnesty International also condemned the “appalling attack,” warning in a statement that “the girls abducted are in serious risk of being harmed.” Teachers have been forced to flee to other states for protection, and many children have had to abandon their education amid frequent violent attacks in communities, Amnesty said.
Christian peace building and social justice campaigner has urged the UK Government to take action to stop a series of mass kidnappings of schoolchildren in Nigeria. Ayo Adedoyin, CEO of international organisation Peace & Social Justice (PSJ UK) has said the UK cannot turn a blind eye to the worrying issue.
Adedoyin has pressed the UK Government to take drastic actions to ensure the Nigeria’s government takes the issue seriously.
“Our ask is that UK trade negotiations with Nigeria be suspended until the Nigerian Government can demonstrate that they are indeed being intentional and proactive in protecting her citizens, evident in the development of quantifiable security measures enforced in all Nigerian States,” he said.
“These security measures should be designed in partnership with various international statutory provisions and do not infringe but protect the human rights of Nigerian citizens. Enough is Enough, our children are not disposable pawns.”
(Picture Courtesy: EPA-EFE)
(With inputs from AP, Premier)