By Job Osazuwa
The other day, President Muhammadu Buhari described the kidnapping of 317 female students of Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe, Zamfara State, on February 26, 2021, as “inhumane and totally unacceptable.” He vowed that his administration would not succumb to blackmail by bandits, targeting innocent schoolchildren for ransom.
The Jangebe kidnapping occurred nine days after the abduction of 40 people, including 27 students, from a school in Kagara, Niger State.
Though mass kidnapping of students and insecurity did not start under the Buhari administration, the situation has worsened, sending a surge of anxiety and fear in the school environment and elsewhere.
For years, Boko Haram insurgents and other criminal elements have terrorised many parts of Nigeria, unleashing mayhem, anguish and trauma on innocent students and teachers. Not many people would easily forget the kidnap of students of Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State. It was in the night of April 14, 2014.
Most of the students might have been far asleep when the sons of the devil struck. In commando style, about 276 female students were marched out of their dormitory at gunpoint. Herded into the back of an open-bed truck, many puzzles would undoubtedly run riot in their minds. Fright was simply an understatement that visited each of the students in the hands of their uninvited visitors.
With high hopes, the young women were preparing for admission into the university and were planning careers in engineering, journalism, business, medicine and law, among other courses. The girls were preparing to take their final examinations. All those aspirations were brought to an abrupt halt.
Some of the girls spontaneously tumbled into the darkness, willing to risk being shot or lost in the unknown forest to flee from their captors. Only a few, who were sitting on the edges of the truck, escaped. Some of them jumped from the vehicle, grabbed tree branches, twisted their ankles and then ran as fast as their strength could carry them until they found help.
But others were pulled deeper into the moving truck by their captors. They drove fast toward Sambisa forest, where Boko Haram had set up base to wage a bloody war against the Nigerian government.
Before the attack, most Nigerians had never heard of a place called Chibok in the country, but the abduction brought it to global limelight.
The attack was greeted with worldwide outrage and demonstrations across the country and beyond. It also sparked the #BringBackOurGirls movement, an international campaign embraced by then United States First Lady, Michelle Obama. The campaign for the Chibok girls’ return by many activists was massive.
While in captivity in the dreaded forest, their tormentors occasionally released videos showing the innocent students, all dressed in hijab. Some of the Chibok girls were believed to be dead even before scores of them were released years later.
While in the insurgents’ den, the girls were subjected to nightmarish conditions, including sexual slavery, forced marriage and starvation. In May 2016, one of the captives, Amina Ali, summoned uncommon courage and escaped from the forest with her baby. Five months later, the Nigerian government reportedly offered Boko Haram cash and prisoners for the release of 21 girls.
As many of the freed students revealed, the militants had given them a choice to either convert to Islam and marry any of the fighters, or become slaves forever. Most of the tormented and hapless girls reportedly chose slavery.
From Chibok, Dapchi, Yobe, Kankara, Katsina, Kagara to Jangede, it has been bitter tales and tears, following attacks on schools and abduction of students.
Indeed, thousands of students have been kidnapped over the years. Many of them are yet to be rescued, while some died in captivity.
About 276 schoolgirls were kidnapped in Chibok in April 2014, 110 schoolgirls in Dapchi, February 2018, 300 students in Kankara, December 2020, 28 students in Kagara, February, with one killed and 15 non-students abducted in the operation, and 317 schoolgirls in Jangede.
At least, 300 students were abducted from Zanna Mobarti Primary School in Damasak, Borno State, by Boko Haram on November 24, 2014. On September 29, 2013, gunmen stormed the College of Agriculture in Gujba, Yobe State, killed 65 students and injured 18.
It was also gathered that Boko Haram used some schools in Borno and Yobe states as detention or killing centres. Government forces as well used schools as detention centres and military bases.
There are also instances of child recruitment from schools by bandits. In March 2016, the international media reported a girl caught with a bomb was one of the 276 girls kidnapped from the school in Chibok.
Many children are now afraid to go to school.