An Islamic School in Nigeria’s north-central state of Niger was attacked on Sunday by an armed gang that abducted students from the school. Niger state authorities confirmed that the gunmen had kidnapped an unknown number of students. A school teacher said that 150 students were missing, while certain reports bring the number to 200.
The school owner Abubakar Tegina witnessed the attack and estimates 150 students being kidnapped. “I personally saw between 20 and 25 motorcycles with heavily armed people. They entered the school and went away with about 150 or more of the students,” he said. “We can’t be exact because most of them have not reported to the school as at that time.” The school is attended by around 300 students who live at homes and only attend classed at school site. The students are aged between 6 and 18.
Niger’s state police spokesperson said that around 3 pm on Sunday a group of gunmen on motorcycles attacked the Tegina town. He said that the gunmen were “shooting indiscriminately and abducted a yet-to-be-ascertained number of children at Salihu Tanko Islamic school”.
Governor’s spokeswoman said that one person was dead during the attack and another was seriously injured. She added that gunmen had later released 11 students as they were “too small and couldn’t walk”. Apart from students, the gunmen had also abducted a group of bus passengers.
In recent months, armed gunmen attacking schools and universities and kidnapping students for ransom has become very frequent. Since December, gunmen have abducted over 700 students for ransom in Nigeria. In February, almost 300 girls were kidnapped by armed men in Nigeria from a boarding school in Jangebe, Zamfara state. Many of them were later freed.
Why the students are being targeted by kidnappers in Nigeria?
Authorities claim that recent attacks on schools and universities are carried out by “bandits”, which is a loose term for kidnappers, armed robbers, cattle rustlers, Fulani herdsmen and other armed militia operating in the region, largely motivated by money. Many have opinion that loose federal infrastructure and poor control of government and police on regional security is the reason for this. The authorities end up paying ransom, thus making abduction a lucrative source of money for kidnappers.
Kidnappers target school children rather than road travelers. Abducting students means guaranteed media coverage and publicity and pressure on government to negotiate that sometimes fetches them hefty ransom, many a times millions of dollars. Security expert Kemi Okenyodo asked, “The decision on payment of ransom should be reviewed. What are the best steps to take in preventing the abductions so we avoid the payment of ransom?”
President Muhammadu Buhari too had signaled state governors to be the fuels in crisis. “State governments must review their policy of rewarding bandits with money and vehicles. Such a policy has the potential to backfire with disastrous consequences,” he said.