344 Schoolboys Returned To Katsina, Nigeria, Following Boko Haram Abductions

On 17 December, 344 boys were returned home to Katsina state, north-western Nigeria, having been abducted at gunpoint from the Governmental Science Secondary School in Kankara six days before. Some of the boys had escaped during the kidnapping and had managed to return home, however, over 300 children remained unaccounted for. Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the kidnappings.  Yet, the Nigerian government continues to blame ‘bandits.’ Since 2009, Boko Haram has focused its attacks in north-eastern Nigeria and these recent abductions in the north-west have sparked fears over security and future attacks.

In an audio message, Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, stated that “what happened in Katsina is our responsibility,” adding that they were against Western education.

At the time of the kidnappings, President Buhari was in Daura, Katsina on a private visit, less than 200 km from the school in Kankara. Garba Shehu, the president’s spokesman, stated that the children who had managed to escape believed that ten of their schoolmates were taken, however, this was not verified. President Buhari has been criticised by the Nigerian people for failing to prevent this attack, especially as he and his vast security team were nearby.

A 17-year-old student managed to escape from his kidnappers by crawling for several miles through forests. The student recalled that the boys “were being pushed and beaten, we spent the night marching, sometimes walking on thorns.” He also stated that the abductors counted 520 students and he had not seen any of them during his escape.

The government’s response to this incident has faced criticism for continuing to insist the perpetrators are bandits, despite Boko Haram claiming responsibility. In north-western Nigeria, the term ‘bandits’ refers to a number of different groups, such as armed vigilantes and Islamist insurgents fleeing from the north-east. Despite statements from the boys who escaped and from local families and the school community reporting vast numbers of missing children, the Nigerian government persists in reporting considerably lower numbers.

Upon the return of 344 of the boys, Abdul Labaran, a spokesperson for the governor of Katsina state, stated that none of the kidnapped children had been killed, however, this directly contradicted a video in which a boy detailed that some had been killed by Nigerian fighter jets. Labaran also stated that Boko Haram’s first video clip had been verified, yet, a supposed message sent from Abubakar Shekau, the group’s leader, turned out to be the work of an impersonator.

It still remains unclear why the 344 kidnapped boys who were later discovered in a forest near the town of Tsafe in Zamfara state were released. The state Governor, Aminu Bello Masari, stated that “we have recovered most of the boys. It’s not all of them.”

This incident has given rise to concerns about the presence of Boko Haram in north-western Nigeria. Over the past ten years, the group has carried out school abductions in north-eastern Nigeria in retaliation to western education. The people of north-western Nigeria have also experienced kidnappings and armed attacks, however, these are said to be carried out by gangs of bandits, some of whom are connected to Boko Haram. Amnesty International has reported that over 1100 Nigerian people were killed by bandits in the first six months of 2020 and that the government has failed to catch any of the perpetrators. This government failure has contributed to the recent concerns over Nigeria’s security and President Buhari’s refusal to publicly acknowledge the potential presence of Boko Haram in north-western Nigeria following the Katsina state abductions.