The Nigerian government reported on Friday (26) that 317 students had been abducted from a rural school in the northwest of the country, another stage in the growing wave of violence sparked by armed groups operating in rural areas.
This is the third mass kidnapping of students in three months in Nigeria.
The girls were abducted in the wee hours of Friday, around 1 a.m. (Thursday evening in Brazil), from a municipal school for women in the town of Jangebe. No group claimed responsibility for the action.
Police in Zamfara state – where the kidnapping took place – said they had already started search and rescue operations with the military to locate the girls. “There is information that they have been transferred to a nearby forest and we are following them closely,” Police Commissioner Abutu Yaro said at a press conference.
Zamfara’s Information Commissioner Sulaiman Tanau Anka told Reuters news agency the attackers had already arrived at the scene shooting and taken the students both in vehicles and on foot. .
Nigeria is the scene of the action of several radical groups, such as Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, which leaves the situation in the country unstable.
Initially, school kidnappings were carried out by these groups, but the tactic has now also been adopted by other activists working in the northwest who do not have a clear agenda.
The groups are the target of reports of sexual violence, attacks, kidnappings and thefts against rural towns and villages in Nigeria and neighboring Niger.
In recent months, mass kidnappings for ransom targeting students have become more frequent and the lack of security has left many people in rural areas and schools at risk.
Friday’s hijacking is the third such incident since December. The increase in kidnappings is in part fueled by large government rewards in exchange for child hostages, officials said, declining to be identified. The government denies making any such payments.
After the kidnapping, there was a tense atmosphere in the town of Jangebe and residents threw stones at journalists, injuring a cameraman, said a government official who requested anonymity.
The families of the victims are also suspicious of the government’s ability to reoffend children. “We are going to save our children because the government is not ready to protect them,” Mohammed Usman Jangebe, the father of one of the abductees, told Reuters.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari replaced his longtime military leaders earlier this month amid escalating violence.
Last week, unidentified gunmen kidnapped 42 people, including 27 students, and killed a student in an overnight attack on a boarding school in north-central Niger state. The hostages have not yet been released.
In December, dozens of gunmen abducted 344 students from the town of Kankara, in northwestern Katsina state. They were released six days later, but the government denied that the ransom had been paid.
The kidnappings have hit a country already enraged by widespread insecurity and bring up memories of the 2014 kidnapping of more than 270 students by Boko Haram from a high school in the northeastern city of Chibok, which drew attention of the whole world.