On Friday, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the abduction of 317 schoolgirls from a public school in Zamfara State, Northwest Nigeria, describing it as “inhumane and totally unacceptable.”
Terrorists, on Friday morning, attacked Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe in Talata-Mafara Local Government Area of the state and abducted 317 schoolgirls after overpowering members of a local vigilante group who tried to repel them.
The attack is the third mass abduction of students in three months amid a rising wave of attacks on villages in northwest and northeast regions.
Reacting to the development, President Buhari said his administration would not bow to blackmail by terrorists “who target innocent school students in the expectations of huge ransom payments.”
Garba Shehu, the president’s spokesperson, quoted Buhari as saying, “no criminal group can be too strong to be defeated by the government.”
“The only thing standing between our security forces and the bandits are the rules of engagement.”
“We have the capacity to deploy massive force against the bandits in the villages where they operate, but our limitation is the fear of heavy casualties of innocent villagers and hostages who might be used as human shields by the bandits.”
“Our primary objective is to get the hostages safe, alive and unharmed,” the president was quoted as saying.
President Buhari explained that the government had been careful of handling the situation because “a hostage crisis is a complex situation that requires maximum patience in order to protect the victims from physical harm or even brutal death at the hands of their captors.”
“Let them not entertain any illusions that they are more powerful than the government,” he warned.
“They shouldn’t mistake our restraint for the humanitarian goals of protecting innocent lives as a weakness or a sign of fear or resolution.”
The president warned state governments against rewarding terrorists with money and vehicles, adding that it may backfire disastrously.
He also advised states and local governments to be more proactive by improving security around schools and their surroundings.
Zamfara shuts down schools
Bello Matawalle, the state governor, has shut down all boarding secondary schools in the state following the abduction.
In a special state broadcast, Matawalle said the order was necessitated after 317 students of Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe, were abducted overnight by armed terrorists.
The governor said the attack had heightened tension as some parents who feared a recurrent situation, were seen withdrawing their children from schools.
“We have no alternative than to close down all boarding schools so as to douse the fear being entertained by parents and guardians due to the recent abduction of the schoolgirls in Jangebe,” Matawalle said.
Peter Hawkins, Nigeria’s UNICEF representative, called for the immediate release of the schoolgirls, saying: “We are angered and saddened by yet another brutal attack on schoolchildren in Nigeria.”
“This is a gross violation of children’s rights and a horrific experience for children to go through.”
Amnesty International also condemned the appalling attack, warning in a statement that “the girls abducted are in serious risk of being harmed.”
Amnesty International said teachers have been forced to flee to other states for protection, and many children have had to abandon their education amid frequent violent attacks in communities.
Save the Children International also said attacks on schools violate children’s right to undisrupted and quality education in a safe environment.
It said parties to the conflicts in Nigeria must stop targeting schools and protect children at all times.
“We call upon all parties to refrain from targeting school children and to ensure that the kidnapped girls in Zamfara state are immediately released and returned to their families,” the organisation said in a statement on Friday.
In recent months, mass abductions and school attacks by terrorists have become endemic in the country.
The latest attack comes barely two weeks after terrorists kidnapped 42 people, including 27 students from a boarding school in the north-central Niger state. The students are yet to be released.
In December, 344 students were abducted from the Government Science Secondary School Kankara in Katsina State before being released.
The armed gangs who are operating from the swathes of forests straddling Zamfara, Kaduna, Katsina Kebbi and Niger states are replicating the tactics of Boko Haram insurgents, some have suggested.
In 2018, more than 100 schoolgirls were abducted by Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP), a splinter group of Boko-Haram, from the town of Dapchi in north-east Nigeria. They were released after a ransom was paid, according to the United Nations. Leah Shu’aibu, who did not renounce her Christian faith, was not released and is still being held by the terrorists.
Four years earlier, Boko Haram had abducted 276 schoolgirls from Chibok village in Borno State, the insurgency’s epicentre. A total of 112 girls are still missing.
Some analysts say ransom payment by government officials are fueling the upsurge of the incidences. But concerned state governments have denied doing so.