Hundreds of girls were kidnapped from a boarding school in northern Nigeria on Friday, as gunmen stormed a village in the second mass abduction in the region in just over a week.
Local reports described how unidentified gunmen invaded the town around 2 am and snatched more than 300 girls, aged 12-17, from the Government Girls' Secondary School in the town of Jangebe in northern Zamfara state.
Islamist group Boko Haram have previously claimed responsibility for school kidnappings, but as of Friday, no group had claimed the attack.
The incident follows another last week, where at least 40 people, including 27 students, were abducted in a similar raid on a state school in Niger state, 300 miles south of Zamfara.
The captives are yet to be released. Speaking on the condition of anonymity a resident who lives near the girls’ school school told The Daily Telegraph that hundreds of bandits drove into the town on several Toyota Hilux vans and scores of motorcycles, firing into the air, before heading to the school.
“A first batch went into the school premises, posing as security personnel as some wore the uniforms of security forces,” the resident said. “The second batch followed, going to the dormitories and taking the girls away, as they screamed for help.”
The resident said that some local vigilantes tried to repel the attack, but were overwhelmed given how heavily armed the bandits were.
A surge in armed violence in the northwest of Nigeria has led to a deteriorating security situation in Africa’s most populous country. In December, bandits in Katsina— which borders Zamfara state— kidnapped at least 300 schoolboys.
Following the incidents, the Nigeria Union of Teachers and the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), said they were prepared to close down schools, as students and teachers were no longer safe.
Critics have now called for president Muhammadu Buhari, who was elected in 2015 on a promise to resolve the country’s security failures, to step down after the obvious increase in attacks, including in his home state.
“Kidnapping for ransom has assumed an industrial and deadly scale never witnessed on the African continent,” a statement by 44 civil society groups said.
“Our children are no longer safe in schools and Nigerian citizens and communities are now pauperized by terrorists who extort huge ransoms while murdering their hostages.”
The governor of Niger state, Abubakar Sani Bello, also criticised the federal government for leaving states to manage rescue efforts alone.
“At the moment, we have not seen any federal support here since this incident occurred,’’ the governor said. Speaking to The Telegraph, senior adviser for Nigeria at the International Crisis Group, Nnamdi Obasi, said there had been a rise in abductions of children for ransom as they attracted large media attention, which placed pressure on authorities to negotiate with perpetrators.
Mr Obasi said that while several police and military operations were underway in the region since 2016, the federal and local governments were torn between dialoguing and fighting with armed groups.
"Contradictory statements and gaps in coordination of efforts are clearly playing into the hands of the criminal and other armed groups, emboldening them to act with increasing impunity and audacity," said Obasi.
It is clear "they don’t yet have a coherent strategy for dealing with the growing insecurity in the North West," he added.