Nigeria abduction: At least 275 pupils missing after gunmen storm school

A search and rescue team has been deployed to find the missing children, mostly aged between eight and 15.

At least 275 pupils are missing after gunmen attacked a school in northwestern Nigeria in the second mass abduction within a week in the country.

Local government officials in Kaduna state confirmed the kidnappings from Kuriga school on Thursday, but didn’t provide figures as were working out how many children had been abducted.

Reporting from the capital, Abuja, on Friday, Al Jazeera’s Fidelis Mbah said school authorities told the state governor that about 25 of the abducted students had been returned to their parents, but 275 remained missing.

A search and rescue team had been deployed to try and rescue the children.

Mbah said that about 175 of those still missing are believed to be between the ages of eight to 15.

Kidnappings for ransom are common in Africa’s most populous country, where heavily armed criminal gangs have targeted schools and colleges in the past, especially in the northwest, although such attacks have abated recently.

Idris Maiallura, the local councillor for Kuriga, said he had been to the school and that the gunmen initially took 100 primary school pupils but later freed them while others escaped.

Parents and residents blamed the abductions on a lack of security in the area.

Amnesty International called on the authorities to safely rescue the students and hold the perpetrators to account.

“Schools should be places of safety, and no child should have to choose between their education and their life,” the rights group said on X, as it called on the authorities to also “take measures immediately to prevent attacks on schools, to protect children’s lives and their right to education”.

People gather in an area where gunmen kidnapped students in Chikun, Nigeria, on March 7, 2024 [AP Photo]

‘The government has neglected us’

“We don’t know what to do, we are all waiting to see what God can do. They are my only children I have on Earth,” Fatima Usman, whose two children were among those taken, told the Reuters news agency by telephone.

Another parent, Hassan Abdullahi, told Reuters that local vigilantes had tried to repel the gunmen but had been overpowered.

“Seventeen of the students abducted are my children. I feel very sad that the government has neglected us completely in this area,” Abdullahi said.

Kidnappings for ransom by armed men have become endemic in northern Nigeria, disrupting daily lives and keeping thousands of children from attending school.

In 2014 the Boko Haram armed group kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls in Borno state’s Chibok village.

The last major reported abduction involving pupils in Kaduna was in July 2021, when gunmen took more than 150 children in a raid. They were reunited months later with their families after they paid ransoms.

Since coming to office in May, President Bola Tinubu has made reducing insecurity one of his priorities, but the armed forces are battling on several fronts, including against a longrunning battle in the northeast of the country.

Al Jazeera’s Mbah said that in recent weeks, Nigeria has seen a spate of attacks and abductions, and the military has stated that they lack the weapons to be able to confront and overpower armed groups.

Chris Kwaja, an associate professor at the Centre for Peace and Security Studies at Modibbo Adama University in northeastern Nigeria, told Al Jazeera that the frequency of abductions tells an “unfortunate story of the high level of coordination, sophistication and lethality” that defines the criminal organised groups in the country.

There is also a level of complicity within the communities affected, Kwaja said on Friday, that allows kidnappers to know how to undertake such operations.

The criminal networks can provide incentives to people within communities who do not feel supported by the government and are facing “hunger, starvation,  poverty and unemployment”, he said.

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