Reacting to the lack of clarity concerning the number of schoolboys abducted from a Katsina secondary school last Friday, Boko Haram has disclosed that it currently has 523 children in captivity.
A source within the group confirmed this to HumAngle on Tuesday. Prior to this, there had been at least five conflicting figures in the press.
Soon after the abduction took place, several reports in the media had estimated that about 600 pupils of Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, were missing as some gradually emerged from the surrounding forest in the morning.
On Sunday, Aminu Masari, Governor of Katsina State narrowed the figure down to 333 students and said the government was yet to be contacted by the group responsible for the abduction.
“Based on the available record we have, we are still searching for 333 students through either the forest or their parents to ascertain the actual number that has been kidnapped,” Masari said when he received a Federal Government delegation from Abuja.
“We are still counting because more are coming out from the forest and we are calling through the numbers of those parents that have phone numbers to find out whether or not their children have gone back home.”
The governor also said the school had a total population of 839 students.
However, on the same day, Garba Shehu, presidential spokesperson, claimed only 10 students were with the gunmen.
“Some of the children who fled the bush said that 10 children were being held hostage by the gunmen,” he told BBC Hausa.
According to a Daily Trust report published on Monday, 668 students were missing according to the official records of the Government Secondary School, and that the school had a total student population of 1,074.
Also, a recent account of one of the abductees who escaped placed the figure at 520, which is consistent with the information from Boko Haram sources.
“After we were taken into the forest, one of them ordered us to stop and count before continuing our journey. They asked one of us to count and there were 520 students,” the schoolboy told BBC Hausa on Monday.
‘Why We Delayed Claiming Attack’
In an audio recording released very early on Tuesday, Boko Haram confirmed that it was responsible for the Friday abduction, citing its reservations for secular education. This conflicts with earlier descriptions of the abductors as “bandits” by government officials.
Sources within the insurgent group informed HumAngle that the reason for the 72-hour delay in claiming responsibility for the attack was that they were trying to first ensure they had “secured” the schoolboys.
This suggests that the terror group is confident in its ability to sustain the pupils’ abduction despite attempts by the military to rescue them.
Garba Shehu had said on Saturday that the military had located the “bandits’ enclave” at the Zango/Paula forest in Kankara and exchanged fire with them and no student casualty had been recorded.
Mohammed Adamu, Nigeria’s Inspector-General of Police, also announced that he had “ordered the deployment of additional operational and investigative assets to support the ongoing search and rescue operations in Kankara and its environs”.
But any delay in taking action is dangerous.
“It’s possible that the kidnappers have reached their vehicles and loaded the boys. The abductors may take them to another part of Nigeria or even out of the country and divide them into small groups as they did with the Chibok girls. The chances of a rescue are getting slimmer,” Bulama Bukarti, a security analyst, noted on Monday.
BH Cementing Operations In Northwest
Boko Haram’s announcement earlier today makes the abduction of the Kankara GSSS students the group’s first major operation in the northwest.
In the past, the insurgents’ attacks in the region were often limited to ambushes of security operatives and smaller-scale kidnappings for ransom, and its foothold was in Nigeria’s northeast.
HumAngle reported in July that Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau was working actively on expanding the terror group’s influence to the northwest and northcentral regions towards consolidating his position as the ‘African Jihadi Caliph’.
To support his agenda, Shekau, the group leader, has adopted a more tolerant attitude towards defectors, competing factions, and building alliances with other militant groups. Some defectors who had a difficult time restarting their lives as regular civilians opted to join new Boko Haram cells in states such as Niger and Zamfara.
In a separate report, HumAngle had also noted that militia groups in the northwest were in a process of sealing an allegiance with Boko Haram. This, our report pointed out, included fighters in Katsina, Kogi, Sokoto, and Taraba states.
The latest abduction of schoolboys in Kankara, Katsina State, maybe a means for the group to indirectly announce its strong presence in the northwest. Again, it suggests that the terror group’s expansionist agenda is perhaps facing minimal resistance from the authorities.