“There were 839 students, 333 are missing”. Terrible count that the one drawn up Sunday evening by the governor of the Nigerian state of Katsina, Aminu Bello Masari.
Armed men on motorcycles targeted a secondary school in northern Nigeria late Friday evening. Caught in the shootout between the attackers and the security forces, hundreds of students fled into the surrounding forest and some were kidnapped.
On Monday, the hashtag BringBackOurboys (“bring back our boys”) was one of the most shared on Nigerian social networks, recalling the one used in 2014, when 276 teenage girls from Chibok were kidnapped in the North-East, by the jihadist group Boko Haram.
What happened ?
Over a hundred armed men on motorcycles attacked this rural school located in the town of Kankara during the night from Friday to Saturday. Hundreds of teenagers fled into the bush to hide there.
Some managed to escape, but others were caught up, separated into several groups and taken away by the attackers, according to residents.
“Right now, the army is confronting the bandits in the woods. We will do everything we can to find the abducted children, ”the governor said. “Students continue to come out of the forest,” he added, while stressing that students had testified that several of their classmates had been kidnapped by the attackers.
Among them was Osama Aminu Maale, 18, who managed to escape and return home. “The gunmen who captured us ordered the older ones to count us. There were 520 of us, ”he told AFP by telephone.
Who carried out this attack?
Armed gangs have been sowing terror for several years in rural areas of central and northwestern Nigeria, engaging in large-scale cattle rustling and kidnapping for ransom.
The violence has killed more than 8,000 people since 2011, and forced more than 200,000 people to flee their homes, according to a report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank published in May.
The members of these groups, whose numbers are vague, but whose attacks are often carried out by hundreds of heavily armed men, are called “bandits” by the authorities and the inhabitants.
Those responsible for the attack on Friday probably came from one of these criminal groups, rather than one of the jihadist groups present in Nigeria, active mainly in the North-East, such as Boko Haram. Friday’s modus operandi looks “more like that of a criminal group,” Nnamdi Obasi, researcher for the ICG, told AFP.
These groups act a priori without ideological motivation, but many experts have warned against their rapprochement with jihadist groups, especially since some have pledged allegiance this year to Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau. A jihadist group linked to Al-Qaeda, named Ansaru, is also present in this region.
It is very likely that the motive is to obtain a ransom, according to analysts, stressing that kidnappings are frequent in this region, where extreme poverty is rife and where the state has little control.
In addition, “most of the inhabitants are farmers or herders faced with climate change and in ever-increasing competition for resources”, insists Idayat Hassan, director of the CDD West Africa think tank. But there could be other explanations.
The attackers “could act to obtain concessions from the government,” said Obasi. The kidnapped high school students could serve as a bargaining chip to stop military operations targeting them, or even against the release of prisoners.
What response from the government?
President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the attack and ordered the strengthening of security in all schools. In Katsina State, schools have closed.
The army claimed to have located “the hideout of the bandits”, adding that a military operation was underway. “Research in the forests and villages has been launched, and parents are contacted for more information on the missing children,” according to the presidency.
The people of the region live in fear of attacks, and demand more security. But the army has already been engaged for more than ten years in the fight against jihadist groups in the North-East. For Idayat Hassan, the government should “see beyond the only military option” to solve the problem, by “tackling the root causes of unemployment and injustice”.
Original article by : www.leparisien.fr