Around 9:40 pm on Friday the 11th of December, gunmen stormed a boys’ boarding school in Katsina State, Nigeria, and kidnapped hundreds of schoolboys. A long shootout between police and the gunmen followed, during which many boys fled home. Still, local residents fear that half of the school’s 800 students are missing.
Police and the Air Force claim to have found the gunmen’s forest hideout, where both sides have engaged in a shootout. Little is known about the outcomes of this crossfire.
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, himself from Katsina, has criticized the kidnapping. His spokesman Garba Shehu tweeted: “President Muhammadu Buhari on Saturday strongly condemned the bandits’ attack at the Government Science Secondary School, Kankara in Katsina State, charging the army and the police to go after the attackers to ensure that no student gets missing or harmed.”
The President will spend the next week in Katsina, presumably to coordinate a rescue effort.
Nigeria’s recent memory is tainted by similar attacks. In 2014, militants from the jihadist group Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, North-East Nigeria. The kidnapping sparked #bringbackourgirls: a global campaign to locate the missing children, endorsed by public figures like Michelle Obama and Beyoncé. But 112 girls are missing to this day. Some are feared dead.
Boko Haram also caused havoc last month, November 2020, when they killed dozens of farmers in the Zabarmari village. Previously, the farmers would stay quiet about any Boko Haram activities they witnessed in exchange for being left alone to tend their crops. However, Boko Haram alleges that a farmer broke this unofficial contract by tipping off Nigerian Security Forces. The slaughter was retribution.
What distinguishes the recent kidnapping is ambiguity. Katsina, in northwest Nigeria, is outside Boko Haram’s usual area of operations, so they are unlikely to be behind it. No other known terror group has claimed responsibility. This raises questions about whether a fringe radical group is gaining traction, or whether lone kidnappers have simply become more capable of leading large attacks.
Either way, it is not good news for President Buhari. As former military head of state, Buhari won Nigeria’s 2015 presidential election on the back of promises to quash insurgency. Five years on, terrorism is a persistent threat: Nigeria ranks third in Visions of Humanity’s Global Terrorism Index, having lost 1,245 citizens to terrorism in 2019.
Spokesman Garba Shehu affirms that: “The President has directed the reinforcement of security of all schools in line with the safe schools policy of the administration.”
Reinforcement will be crucial to protecting Nigeria’s children. This will surely not be the last attack on a school in the country. But with extra security, it will hopefully be the last of its magnitude.