The parents of more than 300 children in Nigeria are demanding answers after a group of armed bandits took over an 800-student school and kidnapped some of the students on Friday night, according to Reuters.
Some of the students managed to break free and hide in the woods, but 333 are still missing from The Government Science Secondary School in Kankara, which is in the Nigerian state of Katsina. Reuters interviewed Usama Aminu, one of the students who was asleep at the time of the attack.
“When I decided to run they brought a knife to slaughter me but I ran away quickly. They said they would kill whoever is trying to escape then I began to run, climbing one rock to another through a forest,” Aminu said.
Aminu is one of the hundreds of students who attended the all-boys school before they heard gunshots on Friday night. The students emerged from their dorms and saw men with guns, assuming they were soldiers there to protect them. It was only minutes later that they realized the bandits were already in the building threatening to kill students, Amino explained to Reuters.
Gunmen on motorbikes shot through the school's gate and shot a security guard in the leg, The Washington Post reported. Since the abduction, Nigeria has closed all of the schools in the state.
Binta Ismail spoke with BBC and The Washington Post, outraged after both her young son and brother were reported missing. She slammed the government for failing to protect the poor and allowing bandits to terrorize local populations across northern Nigeria.
“The government does not value us at the moment,” Ismail said, noting that abductions of this nature do not happen to wealthy Nigerians. “None of their children have been victims — we are sure of that. Because this affects poor children, nothing is treated with seriousness.”
On Monday, #BringBackOurBoys was trending on Twitter because of the public outrage over the kidnapping, which happened in the home state of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari.
The controversial leader was bashed in local newspapers because he was actually in Katsina when the mass abduction happened but he still has not gone to the school. Dozens of people on social media questioned how local gangsters could conduct an attack like this while the president was in town.
To imagine that terrorists actually abducted school children in Katsina, the home state of the President while he is currently in the state.
It’s the audacity and sheer extent of insecurity in Nigeria for me.
— Rinu #EndSARS???????? (@SavvyRinu) December 12, 2020
There has been massive public outcry over the case considering the brazenness of the attack and the history of school abductions in Nigeria. The country made global news when terrorist group Boko Haram
kidnapped hundreds of girls from a school in Chibok in 2014. Many of those girls were never seen again.
Al Jazeera spoke to experts in Katsina who said the attack was not by Boko Haram or other terror groups and was instead the work of a local gang or group of bandits hoping to flex its power as it negotiates with the local government over various issues.
Oluwaseyi Adetayo, a former state services department officer, told Al Jazeera that the bandits conducted the abduction as a show of force in order to force the Katsina government to negotiate with them.
While details about the aftermath of the abduction are still murky, state spokesman Abdul Labaran told Reuters that military and intelligence chiefs were in charge of the mission to rescue the boys and that police had in fact fired shots at the abductors, allowing a few children to escape.
“The bandits called us back. They told us not to run. We started to walk back to them, but as we did, we saw more people coming towards the dormitory. So I and others ran again. We jumped over the fence and ran through a forest to the nearest village,” student Muhammad Abubakar said to Reuters. “I never thought I would see my parents again.”
Abubakar still has seven friends who are missing and said hundreds were being marched out of the school when he fled.
Reuters also spoke to multiple Nigerians who criticized the government for failing to protect the country's children repeatedly. The founder of the "Bring Back Our Girls Movement" that arose after the Chibok kidnappings, Oby Ezekwesili, said, “Nothing of our government system was available to protect those children. What else can define poor governance.”
The government has released some updates, reporting on Twitter that the kidnappers had been found but that the army was setting up a raid to get the boys back.
Investigations so far reveal that one of the attackers was killed and a policeman injured during the attack. The exact number of students missing cannot be ascertained at the moment as massive operations including investigations, search and rescue exercise are still ongoing.
— Nigeria Police Force (@PoliceNG) December 12, 2020
Spokesman Garba Shehu told the Associated Press that the army has discovered that the attackers are in the Zango/Paula forest in the Kankara area and the operation is ongoing. The two sides have already exchanged fire.
For years, Katsina has been beset by bandit groups that kidnap people for ransom, according to The Guardian.
On Saturday, there was a chaotic scene at the school as enraged parents demanded answers from the state government.
— Nigeria Police personnel fired tear gas as Parents of kidnapped victims boos the Executive Governor of Katsina State during his visit to the school. pic.twitter.com/MAABA4l0rG
— VyrãlTreñdz (@TheVyralTrendz) December 14, 2020
The kidnappers were communicating with authorities through a teacher at the school, CNN reported on Monday.
"The abductors of the Kankara students have contacted a teacher and asked him to tell the government to stop the helicopter surveillance. They have not asked for ransom," Abdu Labaran, the Katsina state director general of media, said.
BBC News analyst Nduka Orjinmo explained that the term "bandits" is an all-encompassing phrase used to describe a variety of local criminals, jihadists and thieves.
"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 a 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," Orjinmo said.
"Most of the kidnappings by 'bandits' are done for ransom so many are hoping that this will be resolved soon, " Orjinmo added, "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."