At least 140 Nigerian schoolchildren are missing after gunmen stormed a school Monday in Nigeria’s northwest Kaduna state, where an epidemic of kidnappings for ransom has increasingly ensnared students in Africa’s most populous nation.
Armed assailants on Sunday also abducted eight people, including two nurses and a 12-month-old child, from residential quarters at the National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Training Center in Zaria, about 50 miles from Kaduna, according to the BBC.
The alleged kidnappings were the fourth armed attack on an educational institute in Kaduna state in the past five months and the third on the Zaria hospital.For Nigerian students living in fear of the next mass kidnapping, there is only one defense — to run
Kaduna police said in a statement carried by the BBC that the gunmen on Monday “overpowered the school’s security guards and made their way into the students’ hostel where they abducted an unspecified number of students into the forest.”
The statement said that 26 people, including one female teacher, have since returned, while the status of the rest of those missing from the Bethel Baptist School remained unknown.
Since December, more than 1,000 students have been abducted, at least nine killed, and over 200 are still missing from similar raids, according to the BBC.Nigeria confronts second mass kidnapping of schoolchildren in nine days after 317 girls vanish
© Stringer/Reuters Neighbors of a kidnapped nurse and her baby stand by the door in front of her room at the National Tuberculosis and Leprosy training center in Kaduna, Nigeria on July 5, 2021.
Nigerian police said they had not yet received any ransom demands from Sunday’s alleged kidnapping.
“So far, [there was] no ransom demand,” hospital spokesperson Maryam Abdulrazaq told Reuters. “We have not heard from the bandits since they took them away.”
Since the militant group Boko Haram abducted 276 schoolgirls from Chibok secondary school in Nigeria’s Borno state in 2014, in a widely reported incident, kidnappings for ransom by armed groups have been on the rise in parts of Nigeria where poverty, unemployment, and the proliferation of criminal and armed groups is rampant.
Kidnappers initially focused on wealthier Nigerians or foreigners. But in the past few years, “bandits,” as criminal gangs are broadly called, have increasingly targeted poorer communities, including students at boarding schools where security is known to be unreliable.
“Bandits have realized that the authorities cannot protect the people,” Isa Sanusi, spokesman for Amnesty International in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, previously told The Washington Post. “That is lucrative. Ordinary people will give up all they have to save their families.”
The proliferation of kidnappings of schoolchildren has led many parents to see schools as unsafe.
“Many parents decided to withdraw their kids from school after the kidnappings,” Sanusi told The Post. “This is a devastating setback for education — worst of all for girls.”