A recent report by United Nations Children’s Fund/European Union (UNICEF/EU) said that more than 200 students are still in captivity in Nigeria as of last month. According to the same report, some 300,000 children have been killed in the North East in the last 11 years of the Boko Haram/ ISWAP insurgency, among them 59 teenage boys massacred in Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, Yobe State on February 25, 2014. Add this to those that have died in the North West and North Central regions of Nigeria due to terror attacks by bandits, herdsmen militia and kidnappers and the figure becomes even grimmer.
No fewer than 2000 schoolchildren have been abducted from their schools in Nigeria, and more than 1,000 were kidnapped in the first six months of this year. Mass abduction of Nigerian students is not such a new phenomenon. It started on April 14, 2014 when Boko Haram terrorists kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from Government Girls’ Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State. More than seven years later, about 100 of the Chibok schoolgirls are yet to be accounted for, with reports emerging that many of them had been put in the family way by their abductors.
Another such mass abduction would happen four years later at Government Girls’ Science and Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe State. This time, 110 schoolgirls were taken away by ISWAP terrorists, but after one month, the terrorists returned 104 of the girls and held back Leah Sharibu, the only Christian among the students, reportedly for refusing to convert to Islam as demanded by the terrorists. Five of the girls had died in the process. Till now, Ms Sharibu is still in captivity. Despite President Muhammadu Buhari’s pledge to rescue her, there seems to be no further effort by government to find her and return her to her distraught parents.
Since last year, kidnap attacks on schools have been very rampant in Kaduna, Niger, Zamfara, Kebbi and Katsina states. Some of the notable ones are the 136 pupils of Saliu Tanko Islamiyya School, Tegina, Niger State, aged between 3 and 11, who regained their freedom three months later, after their parents and the school owner sold properties to raise millions for ransom payment. It was nearly the same story for students of Bethel School in Kaduna, only that 13 of them are still held. The bandits have been releasing them in batches, ostensibly as ransom is paid.
Another ‘lucky’ group are eight students and staff of Nuhu Bamali Polytechnic, Kachia, Kaduna, who were released over two weeks ago after spending 28 days in the kidnappers’ den. On December 11, last year, 344 schoolboys of Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State, were carried off when bandits struck at their dormitory. They were freed six days later, according to the state government. Another 279 girls were on February 28, 2021, abducted at Government Girls’ College, Jangebe, Zamfara State, and freed four days later, while another 27 pupils, three staff members and their 13 relatives were forcibly taken away from a school in Kagara, Niger State, on February 17, 2021. All were released after 10 days, on February 27.
It pertinent to point out that, in the considered opinion of this newspaper, this list is by no means exhaustive. However, our primary interest is about school children yet to regain their freedom. The Chibok girls have now spent 2,712 days in captivity, and Leah Sharibu has been held for 1,305 days. Some students of Federal Government College, Birnin Yauri, Kebbi State, have clocked 103 days in the kidnappers’ den while the remaining 13 students of Bethel School, Kaduna, have spent 83 days with the bandits.
Sadly, in our view, some of the parents of the abducted children, who spoke on national television, have accused the government of treating their plight with levity. As a newspaper, we wish to state that a minute in the hands of terrorists is a most traumatic experience that can afflict one for life; one can only imagine the level of torment these children have suffered, and are still suffering, by spending days, weeks, months and years at the mercy of terrorists.
It is inconceivable that bandits will come to a town in large numbers, operate for hours, whisk away hundreds of children, keep them for weeks and months and negotiate and collect millions in ransom without security agencies being able to track them down. This kind of negligence, we dare say, cannot be acceptable. That is why many Nigerians speculate that there might be collusion in high places.
Government’s primary role is to safeguard the life and property of the citizens. This is a duty the authorities must not forget. We urge them to mainstream the rescue of schoolchildren in captivity and make it a top priority. They must also fish out and deal with the real culprits behind this crime that is embarrassing Nigeria among the comity of nations.