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From Katsina To Niger To Zamfara: How Bandits Abducted Over 670 Students In Three Months

Akinola Ajibola  
Updated February 27, 2021
Government Science Secondary School, Kagara, in Niger State was attacked by gunmen on February 17, 2021.
Government Science Secondary School, Kagara, in Niger State was attacked by gunmen on February 17, 2021.

 

Securing the lives and properties of the people is a major responsibility of the Nigerian government, as mandated by the nation’s constitution.

But, for years, the rate of insecurity in the country has been on the rise, including insurgency and banditry in the North, and the activities of killer herdsmen across the South.

Other crimes such as armed robbery, cultism, kidnap for ransom, and internet fraud, among others, cannot be ignored.

The alarming rate of insecurity has sparked an outcry in the country, especially the increased activities of bandits who seemed to have turned schools into soft targets.

In less than 12 weeks, gunmen have attacked three secondary schools and made away with innocent children numbering over 670.

Three Years In Captivity

These attacks, which raised concerns from within and outside Nigeria, were preceded by similar incidents in Nigeria’s north-east region.

Perpetrated by the Boko Haram insurgents, a secondary school in Chibok, a town in Borno State, was attacked and 276 students were kidnapped in April 2014.

While the girls were released in batches and others escaped from captivity over the years, unconfirmed reports said an additional number of girls escaped in January 2021.

Relatives of Leah Sharibu react during her 2nd year in captivity remembrance in Abuja. PHOTO: Sodiq Adelakun
Relatives of Leah Sharibu react during her second year in captivity remembrance in Abuja. PHOTO: Sodiq Adelakun

 

Four years after the Chibok girls’ abduction, a group of insurgents invaded the Government Girls Secondary School, Dapchi in Yobe State, also in the North East.

The insurgents abducted over 110 girls from the school in February 2018 but later returned them to the community after holding them captive for four weeks.

However, one of the girls, Leah Sharibu, was left behind and has remained in the custody of the insurgents reportedly for refusing to renounce Christianity.

Leah, who is said to be the only Christian among the Dapchi girls, recently marked her third year in the custody of the insurgents since she was abducted alongside her colleagues on February 19, 2018.

Six Nights Of Horror

The first of the recent attacks occurred on December 11, 2020, when bandits invaded the Government Science Secondary School in Kankara, one of the 34 local government areas in Katsina State.

Sources said the incident took place in the night as the assailants forced their way into the school premises and marched hundreds of students to an unknown location.

Confirming the attack on the school, the state governor, Aminu Masari, noted that 17 of the students escaped while over 300 others were unaccounted for.

President Muhammadu Buhari gestures at a meeting with the Kankara students on December 18, 2020, following their release by their captors.

 

The students later went on to spend a week in the custody of their abductors before they were released and later kept safe in Tsafe, a local government area in Zamfara State.

“It’s been seven days since this happened, but by God’s grace, we’ve been able to retrieve the children from the bandits. All 344 of them,” Governor Masari said of the students’ return.

Narrating their ordeal, some of the students told Channels Television that their experience in captivity could best be described as “horrific”.

The incident occurred at a time when President Muhammadu Buhari travelled to Daura, his hometown in Katsina for a private visit.

During his stay in the state, he did not visit Kankara to sympathise with the parents of the students but he later met with the students after they regained freedom.

Katsina is located in the north-west region of the country, but the Boko Haram terrorist group which has been operating in the North East for more than a decade claimed responsibility for the abduction.

The Midnight Raid

While the dust of the abduction in Katsina had yet to settle down, pandemonium gripped Rafi Local Government Area of Niger, a state in the north-central region of Nigeria.

On February 17, armed men believed to be bandits stormed the Government Science College in Kagara town in what could be described as a repeat of the Kankara incident.

Sources told Channels Television that the assailants gained entry into the school premises at about 2 am and began to fire sporadic gunshots.

In the process, one of the students was said to have been killed with others sustaining varying degrees of gunshot wounds.

Government Science Secondary School, Kagara, in Niger State was attacked by gunmen on February 17, 2021.
Government Science Secondary School, Kagara, in Niger State was attacked by gunmen on February 17, 2021.

 

The assailants reportedly began the operation from the staff quarters and ended at the students’ hostels after which they left with an unconfirmed number of staff and students to an unknown destination.

However, one of the staff was able to escape from the hands of the bandits while the authorities in the state said efforts were ongoing to rescue the others.

There have been rumours that the abducted persons had been released and reunited with their families, but the authorities in Niger State distanced themselves from such reports.

“Our utmost priority right now is to make sure we bring them back home safe and that is exactly what we are going to do. So, there hasn’t been any information I can give you at this moment but once we have anything for you, we will let you know,” Governor Abubakar Bello told reporters at the Government House in Minna, two days after the abduction.

After spending 10 days in the custody of their abductors, the students were released by the bandits on February 27.

Another Chibok Experience?

Just as the Kagara incident continued to generate reactions, with calls to strengthen the nation’s security architecture, Nigerians woke up to the sad news of another bandit attack on a school, this time in Zamfara State in what could be described as a replica of the Chibok abduction of 2014.

Located in Talata Mafara Local Government Area of the state, the Government Girls Science Secondary School in Jangebe became the third victim on February 26 in the chain of bandit attacks on schools in the North within the last three months.

The Commissioner for Information in Zamfara, Suleiman Anka, told Channels Television that the school came under siege at midnight, although he did not give the figure of students abducted by the assailants.

A statement from the police authorities in the state later confirmed that 317 students were kidnapped in the process, while the command, in collaboration with the military, has launched a joint search and rescue operations with a view to rescuing the victims.

More than 300 students were kidnapped from Government Girls Secondary School in Jangebe, Zamfara State on February 26, 2021.
More than 300 students were kidnapped from Government Girls Secondary School in Jangebe, Zamfara State on February 26, 2021.

 

Meanwhile, a resident of Jangebe town told Channels Television that seven of the abducted students who escaped from the bandits returned home in the evening of February 26.

The girls said they maneuvered their way while trekking along the forest, adding that more students who also fled from the armed men should be expected to return.

The abduction of the schoolgirls came at a time when the authorities in Zamfara ordered the immediate closure of 10 boarding and day schools in a bid to prevent such an incident.

Those ordered to close were located on the Zamfara borders with Katsina, Kaduna, and Sokoto States where bandits have attacked dozens of communities in recent times, but the school in Jangebe was not among the affected schools.