On Friday 26 February, 317 schoolgirls were abducted by unidentified gunmen from a boarding school in northwest Nigeria’s Zamfara state. A police statement said that police and military forces have begun joint operations to trace the kidnappers and rescue the girls and that authorities were looking into witness information that they had been moved to neighbouring forests. Currently, none of the schoolgirls have reportedly regained freedom and returned home.
The schoolgirls’ abduction has caused international outrage, with Amnesty International calling it a “serious violation of international humanitarian law” that undermines the right to education for thousands in the region. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also strongly condemned the abductions and called for the girls’ “immediate and unconditional release” and safe return to their families.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari further denounced the latest kidnapping, calling it “inhumane and totally unacceptable.”
“The administration will not succumb to blackmail by bandits and criminals who target innocent school students in the expectation of huge ransom payments,” Buhari said in a statement on Friday. “Our primary objective is to get the hostages safe, alive, and unharmed.”
Friday’s attack is the latest in a string of abductions in Nigeria and comes just over a week after gunmen kidnapped 42 people, including 27 students, from a boarding school in the north-central state of Niger. Currently, only 38 of the students, teachers, and family members have been rescued.
Last December, more than 300 schoolboys in the northwestern state of Kasina were taken and later released after a ransom was reportedly paid. Boko Haram, an insurgency group that operates hundreds of miles away in Nigeria’s northeastern region, claimed involvement in the attack. While this was later denied by authorities, the jihadist group’s claims have raised concerns over the possible expansion of their operations into other areas.
Boko Haram’s activities received global recognition after their notorious kidnapping in April 2014, in which they abducted 276 girls from their boarding school in Chibok in Borno state. More than a hundred of the schoolgirls are still missing.
Nigeria has seen several such attacks and kidnappings in recent years due to rising insecurity, crime, and infiltration by armed organizations. According to Al Jazeera, Boko Haram is opposed to Western education, and its militants often target schools. Other organized armed groups, locally called bandits, often kidnap students for ransom. Specifically in Zamfara state, government officials have cited large groups of armed men for pillaging, extorting, and abducting for money and the release of their members held in jail.
If this round of kidnapping goes unpunished, Nigeria’s criminal gangs may plot more such abductions in the near future. Anietie Ewang, an African Division researcher at Human Rights Watch, noted the recent abductions and tweeted that “Strong action is required from the authorities to turn the tide and keep schools safe.”
As abductions and violent attacks continue to occur in Nigerian communities, many children have had to abandon their education, and teachers have been forced to flee to other states for protection.
“Education is under attack in northern Nigeria,” Amnesty International tweeted following the recent abductions. “Schools should be places of safety, and no child should have to choose between their education and their life.”
Friday’s mass kidnapping is yet another reason why Nigerian authorities need to follow through with their commitments and substantially increase efforts to provide a safe learning environment for all children. The government must protect their vulnerable schoolchildren and ensure justice for victims immediately.
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