Gunmen last Wednesday killed a school pupil and abducted 27 other children, teachers and others in a night-time raid on their boarding school in Kagara, Niger State. According to the state governor Abubakar Sani Bello, three members of staff and 12 of their relatives were among those abducted. Some 600 boys were asleep in their dormitories when the school was raided, the principal Danasabe Ubaidu told the BBC.
The security forces were immediately deployed from Abuja to help with rescue operations. The deployment was ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The motive for the attack is unclear, but criminal gangs often carry out kidnappings for ransom in parts of Nigeria. Last December, gunmen believed to be bandits, raided a boys secondary school in the town of Kankara in Katsina State and took away over 300 students. Days of negotiation led to their release in neighbouring Zamfara State. The government of Katsina said no ransom was paid.
In the latest attack, the gunmen wore military uniforms and stormed the state-run boarding school for boys in huge numbers, before taking students into a nearby forest, the AFP news agency quoted an unnamed security source and an official as saying.
Troops with aerial support were trying to track down the attackers, AFP quoted the security source as saying. Mr Ubaidu told the BBC that some of the children had managed to flee into nearby bushes and were returning.
An uncle of four children at the school said that all his nephews survived, but another pupil was killed. “They told us that some people in military uniforms knocked at the doors of their dormitories and asked them to come out for morning assembly. But the students dispersed in different directions. “One of them said his colleague was shot dead beside him by the gunmen as he tried to flee,” the uncle said in an interview with BBC Hausa.
Describing the attack as “cowardly”, President Buhari said he had deployed a team of security chiefs to co-ordinate rescue operations. He has been under intense pressure to tackle insecurity, including an insurgency by Boko Haram Islamists in the north-east. Those militants have also been involved in the mass abductions of schoolchildren. The pressure last January resulted in the President changing his four military heads, pledging to improve security. He had made the same promise while campaigning for the 2015 election. The security forces have made some modest gains against the criminal bands. But analysts believe that a multi-pronged approach is required to end the insecurity, including more military operations to flush out gunmen from their forest hide-outs and more efforts to create jobs in a nation where many people are unemployed. Influential individuals have offered to negotiate the release of kidnap victims. In this latest case, Kaduna-based Islamic scholar, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi is the individual troubleshooter. Last week, he said on a Channels TV programme “Politics Today” that the bandits were Fulani herders who felt their existence was being threatened. Because of this, “they cross borders to defend their kinsmen each time they are attacked.” Defending his role as mediator, Gumi said there was the need for a cleric to intervene because the Fulani and those fighting them were two sides that saw each other as enemies, “whereas they are all victims.”
At a time, it seemed Gumi’s effort appeared to have paid dividend when it was reported the kidnappers had released their student hostages. But this was denied by the Niger State government. It said instead that those freed were passengers of a bus belonging to the state transport company snatched before the school raid.
This latest school raid reveals some very disturbing trends. One, the bandits are always two steps ahead of the security forces. In the wake of the Kankara incident, the government promised there would be no repeat. Kagara has proved these kidnappings would not end any time sooner. Two, the criminals choose their targets by the English alphabets. First it was the letter “C” (Chibok), then “D” (Dapchi), now “K” (Kankara and Kagara). What letter will the next school target begin with? Let the security forces figure this out.
Then the big matter of ransom. The government has repeatedly denied ransom was paid for previous victim releases. How true is this? Some parents are beginning to speak up to the contrary. The government has to come clean on this.