May 20, 2024

Locals tell Al Jazeera they feel abandoned by the government and will have no peace of mind until the children return.

Armed men have kidnapped 15 pupils from a boarding school in northwestern Nigeria days after more than 280 students were abducted from another school with the army still searching for them.

The men broke into the Islamic seminary in the village of Gidan Bakuso in Sokoto state on Saturday and seized 15 children from the hostel as they slept, police told The Associated Press news agency.

Liman Abubakar, the head of the seminary, said the pupils were aged between eight and 14.

Sokoto police spokesman Ahmad Rufai told the AP that one woman was also abducted from the remote village, adding that a police tactical squad was deployed to search for the students.

It was the third incident of mass kidnapping in northern Nigeria since late last week, when more than 200 people, mostly women and children, were abducted by suspected fighters in Borno state. On Thursday, 287 students were taken hostage from a government primary and secondary school in Kaduna state.

Abandoned by government

Saturday’s kidnappings come as the Nigerian government launched a search and rescue mission for 287 missing children who were taken from Kuriga, in northwestern Kaduna state on Thursday in the largest mass abduction in three years.

Kuriga residents told Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris that the children were seized by more than 100 attackers shortly after their daily assembly as they spoke of feeling abandoned by the government.

“They shot indiscriminately, herding us like cows and beating us,” Mustafa Abubakar, a student who managed to escape, told Al Jazeera in Kuriga.

Abubakar recalled military jets flying over them twice before he escaped. “There was a long burst of gunfire at one point, but I’m not sure if it was from the aircraft or from the bandits,” the still-dazed student said as he returned to the school from where he was taken.

Teacher Nura Ahmad said 187 pupils were kidnapped from the Kuriga secondary school and 100 others from the primary school.

Reporting from the compound that houses both primary and secondary schools, Idris said it was moved as the “earlier location was vulnerable to attacks and mass abductions which have forced the closure of many schools in northern Nigeria”.

This has “caused the region to lag behind the rest of the country in student enrollment”, Idris reported, adding that the government and aid agencies are concerned about the future of millions of children in Nigeria.

Kaduna Governor Uba Sani insisted security forces were “working round the clock” to bring back the children.

“There is no peace or peace of mind in this family,” parent Shehu Lawal told Al Jazeera. “None in the village. We hardly eat or sleep. We only come home in daytime and find a safer place to stay the night. That’s our lives since the abduction,” said Lawal, whose child is missing.

While Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu ordered security forces to pursue the attackers, the military has been hampered by a multitude of crises across Africa’s most populous country and is spread thin, and local vigilante groups are not enough of a bulwark against the armed gangs.

Kidnappings are common in northwestern and central Nigeria where criminal gangs occupying vast, remote forests terrorise residents. Known as bandits, these groups loot villages, and kill and kidnap residents, especially students, for huge ransoms.

Some 1,400 children have been abducted in Nigeria since 300 girls were taken from the northeastern town of Chibok in 2014, sparking widespread international condemnation. Attackers also took 150 children in Kaduna in July 2021, the previous major abduction. The students were reunited months later after their families paid ransoms.

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