KANO, NIGERIA (AFP) – Gunmen kidnapped scores of children from an Islamic seminary in central Nigeria, officials said, the latest in a string of such incidents plaguing the populous African nation.
About 200 children were at the school in Niger state on Sunday (May 30) during the attack, the local government tweeted, adding that “an unconfirmed number” were taken.
The abduction came a day after 14 students from a university in north-western Nigeria were freed after 40 days in captivity.
Niger state police spokesman Wasiu Abiodun said the attackers arrived on motorbikes in Tegina town and started shooting indiscriminately, killing one resident and injuring another, before kidnapping the children from the Salihu Tanko Islamic school.
One of the school’s officials, who asked not to be named, said that the attackers initially took more than 100 children “but later sent back those they considered too small for them, those between four and 12 years old”.
The state government, in a series of tweets, said the attackers had released 11 of the pupils who were “too small and couldn’t walk” very far.
In a later Twitter thread, the state added that the governor Sani Bello had directed “security agencies to bring back (the) children as soon as possible”.
Armed gangs are terrorising inhabitants in north-west and central Nigeria by looting villages, stealing cattle and taking people hostage.
Such seizures have become a frequent way for criminals to collect ransoms.
Since December last year, before the attack on Sunday, 730 children and students had been kidnapped.
On April 20, gunmen known locally as “bandits” stormed Greenfield University in north-western Nigeria and kidnapped around 20 students, killing a member of the school’s staff in the process.
Five students were executed a few days later to force families and the government to pay a ransom.
Fourteen were released on Saturday.
Local press said that the families had paid a ransom totalling 180 million naira (S$572,230) for their release.
Africa’s most populous country has been plagued by kidnappings for years, with criminals largely targeting the wealthy and prominent.
But more recently, the pool of victims has expanded with the poor now also taken for ransom.
Earlier this month, hundreds of protesters partially blocked a motorway into the capital Abuja after a spate of kidnappings in the area. Marching along the highway, a dozen young men chanted: “We won’t accept this, kidnapping must stop!”
The criminal gangs maintain camps in the Rugu forest which straddles northern and central Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna and Niger states.
Their motives have been financial with no ideological leanings, but there is growing concern they are being infiltrated by Islamist extremists from the northeast waging a 12-year-old insurrection to establish an Islamic state.
The kidnappings in the north-west are also complicating challenges facing Buhari’s security forces, battling a more than decade-long north-east Islamist insurgency.