KANKARA, Nigeria- The sand-wrapped courtyard at this all-boys boarding school, once the setting for football games and award ceremonies, is a serious one for parents of more than 300 boys kidnapped in Nigeria’s largest gathering in recent times Assembly has become the point – school kidnapping.
Dozens of battered families have gathered here, suffering from lack of sleep, as their sons were abducted by gunmen on Friday night and taken into the dense forest beyond the school’s pastel-colored classrooms. The families have come to seek answers on how large-scale attacks Boko Haram, the jihadist group responsible for the attack, have carried out from their strongholds in this remote corner of northwestern Nigeria so far and have seized hundreds of their children.
“How could this have happened?” Said Suwiba Lawan, whose 15-year-old son is missing. “He was loved here, and always helps to work around the house.” Another mother, Jamila Salisu, said she had barely slept or been eating since her own son had disappeared from the same class: “The government must negotiate,” she said through tears. “Give the terrorists whatever they want so that I can see my son again.”
Six years after the abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok City, the cry of parents of schoolchildren is again echoing in Africa’s most populous country, igniting the global #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Nigeria’s senators, celebrities and opposition leaders have reacted in horror to the announcement made by Boko Haram leader Abubakar Sheku – the man responsible for the Chibok abduction – that they also carried out the operation. Thousands of people are spreading on social media with a new hashtag: #BringBackOurBoys.
“This is shaping up another huge moment in the history of the Nigeria uprising,” said Jacob Zen, an expert at Boko Haram, a Washington-based Gemstone Foundation think tank. “After Chibok, Sheku not only knows how to conduct large-scale kidnapping operations, but also how to hide the detainees and then attracts massive media attention and leverages it for dialogue.”
News of another large-scale school kidnapping comes as Nigeria’s government continues to insist on “technically defeating” the country’s rebels. But the reality is that Africa’s largest land army – a strong American counter-terrorism ally – is struggling to stop a 10-year jihadist insurgency that has metastasized into a complex multidimensional conflict of extremist extremist groups.
Boko Haram has expanded its route from the north-east to the north-west, forming alliances with heavily armed criminal networks. The Brexit of the Islamic State and ISBAP has been rejuvenated by the withdrawal of fighters fighting in the battle against Libya, Syria and Iraq by the Islamic State and ISIAP.
“How could this have happened?”
The Nigeria-born jihadist faction now controls hundreds of square miles of territory in the four countries surrounding the Lake Chad Basin, a crossroads in Africa where the US, Britain and the French are militant hideouts or provide special forces training. Across Northern Nigeria, militants are advancing to loot dozens of small military bases and weapons. According to the US Council on Foreign Relations, the period after July 2018 has been fatal for Nigeria’s security-service personnel in disintegrating conflict more than at any other time.
A senior Nigerian security official said, “We are no longer fighting to win … strategy is control and damage limits.”
There was no official update on the number of boys missing by sundown on Wednesday – still 333 of the school’s 800 students were listed by the Governor of Catsina State — or the government’s efforts to protect them.
Nigeria’s Ministry of Defense has said that search and rescue operations were underway and security officials said that troops and intelligence officers had combed the area, aided by US surveillance aircraft. Officials said the governments of Britain and France also offered air support.
But eyes in the sky can only offer limited help on the stretched Rugu forest, which spans three states and hundreds of miles. December is the end of the rainy season, when the canopy is dense. Security officials say they interrupted communication between the kidnappers that the boys were separated into three groups on Monday and may have been separated into smaller groups since. The area is built with villages and small settlements, making it difficult to separate and hostage peasants or nomadic shepherds.
Reminiscent of the US-led aerial search that took hostage for more than 200 schoolgirls caught in 2014, when US intelligence officials based in Ramstein, Germany, took over thousands of hours of footage from a global hawk drone flying over Sabisa Dali was a forest in the northeast of Nigeria. In three years, American drones scattered the forest of a vast forested area, but only a large group of young women were treated as chibok hostages as they sat under a tree – an image known as “Life Tree “. US and UK officials concluded that the attack would be very dangerous because Boko Haram could use the girls as human shields.
President Muhammadu Buhari said on Saturday that the location of the boys was indicated and that the military was exchanging fire with detainees, but a senior intelligence official said the Air Force had complained that those directors were Was never found
“There is deep frustration in the soldier,” said Chidi Nononu, a former soldier who now runs Vox Pekawi, a UK-based security consulting firm. “They are massively overworked and understaffed and have lost a lot of their legitimacy … it’s a recipe for disaster.”
The Kankara kidnapping is only the latest mass attack to plague Nigeria in recent weeks. In late November, Boko Haram kidnapped and then murdered some 70 farmers in Zamabari village in Borno state. Last week, the group killed 28 people and burned 800 homes in a village in the border in southern Niger.
School kidnapping is embarrassing for Mr. Buhari, a native of Katrina living at his local village tour at the time of the kidnapping. A former general, who ruled Nigeria as a military dictator in the 1980s, returned to power with the promise of restoring security in the north after the Chibok abduction by winning elections in 2015.
The #BringBackOurGirls campaign said in a statement that it had received news of Kanker’s kidnapping because of a “seemingly endless nightmare of kidnapping schoolchildren”. The group called on Mr. Buhari to immediately fire his military chiefs and review the entire security architecture of the country.
In Kankara, residents who voted overwhelmingly to re-elect Mr. Buhari for a second term in 2019 are now plagued with anger and mourning. The central mosque has extended its opening hours so that locals can pray more for the safe return of children. When local officials arrived to address the parents on Tuesday, the police released tear gas to remove the crowd.
Inside the school premises, some families and officials said they were concerned that if the government did not withdraw the boys quickly, Boko Haram might demand their removal and recruitment.
Garba Hasan, one of the school’s guards who hid while the gunmen barged into the school, said that most of the boys raised were from junior year – they were 15 and 16 – because their bedroom was close to the entrance.
While the world has focused on Boko Haram, the high-profile abduction of women and girls, the Islamist group has stolen more than 10,000 of the number of boys, according to rights groups and convicts.
According to the Nigeria Army and Human Rights Watch, Boko Haram has recruited children since the early days of the rebellion, first tapping them as spies and couriers before heading to front-line mobilization.
Jamila Sani, whose 16-year-old son is missing, said the government had promised to ensure that a kidnapping like Chibok would never happen again. Putting his hand on his daughter’s shoulder, he said, “He was promised security in schools when he was elected.” “They have to live up to their promise.”
Write Joe Parkinson at [email protected]
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