Hundreds of students remain missing after gunmen last Friday attacked an all-boys boarding school at Kankara, Katsina State. A group of “bandits” wielding assault rifles stormed the Government Science Secondary School in the night, according to a statement from Katsina State Police Command spokesperson Gambo Isah.
Police officers engaged the assailants in a gunfight that gave some of the students “the opportunity to scale the fence of the school and run for safety,” he said in the statement Saturday. “More than 200 pupils have since been located, but around 400 others are unaccounted for.” After meeting with security officials on Sunday, Gov. Aminu Bello Masari said a total of 839 students were enrolled in the school and that the number of those still missing was 333. “It’s unclear how many were abducted and how many others fled during the attack and have yet to be found.”
However, the Presidency has disputed this figure. Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, told the BBC Hausa Service that only 10 of the schoolboys were still with the bandits. The BBC Hausa bulletin reads, “The government of Nigeria has said its security forces have surrounded the location where gunmen have kept schoolchildren abducted from a secondary school in Katsina State.
“Spokesman for the President, Mallam Garba Shehu, told the BBC only 10 children were remaining in the hands of the gunmen according to their colleagues who escaped from the gunmen. The number is below figures released by school authorities at the beginning. Garba Shehu said the school children who escaped said 10 of their friends were still with their abductors.” Shehu added on Twitter: “Some of the returning students debriefed by the military disclosed that 10 of their colleagues were taken by the bandits. As I said to the BBC, that still needed to be verified. Of course, this is different from saying that all the others had been accounted for. The forests and neighboring villages are being searched and parents are being contacted for information about their children.”
Boko Haram that has been staging an insurgency in the Northeast since 2009 has claimed responsibility for the latest school attack. “I am Abubakar Shekau and our brothers are behind the kidnapping in Katsina,” said the leader of the group behind the 2014 abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls in Chibok, in a voice message on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari has condemned the attack and urged school officials to carry out an audit of the student population to ascertain the exact number of those missing and those who have been found. “Our prayers are with the families of the students, the school authorities and the injured,” Buhari said in a statement Saturday.
The Nigerian military said Monday it had located the attackers’ enclave in the nearby Zango-Paula Forest, and there was an exchange of gunfire during an ongoing police operation, according to a statement by Garba Shehu. No student casualties have been reported, he said.
The Kankara school attack is the latest of the kind in the country. One of the most well-known attacks happened in April 2014, when Boko Haram insurgents kidnapped 276 girls from their dormitory at a boarding school in Chibok, a town in Borno state. Some of the girls managed to escape on their own, while others were later rescued or freed following negotiations.
Few things to note about this latest attack. One, Kankara is President Buhari’s home state of Katsina. Two, he was vacationing in Daura, his home town, when the attack took place. Clearly, it had been planned and executed to embarrass him. But more significantly, it means the resurgence of a terror group that the military claims to have decimated technically. It also shows that the group is enlarging the theater of war to include a part of the country already ravaged by armed banditry and kidnapping.
This is worrisome. Regrettably, President Buhari, who said recently that he had given the military everything it needed to counter insecurity in the land, could only lament what has just happened in his own home state. This picture of helplessness will only dampen the spirit of a traumatized citizenry. We want to see a president who will show that he is in control, whatever the circumstances. Let him start with a personal visit to Kankara science secondary school. Let Nigerians see him talk with the students and parents of those still missing.