Desperate families wait on news of kidnapped Nigeria studentsMon, 11 Mar 2024 18:55:03 GMT

Families of more than 250 Nigerian students kidnapped from a school last week waited desperately on Monday for news about their welfare and the progress in rescue efforts four days after the attack.Gunmen on motorbikes stormed the school in Kuriga, northwestern Kaduna state on Thursday, rounding up the pupils and forcing them into the bush before their panicked families.It was one of the largest mass abductions carried out by criminal gangs known locally as bandits who target schools, villages and highways in their hunt for victims to squeeze out ransom payments.The government said it has sent troops into the forests that carpet northwestern states to rescue the students who number about 280, but little detail has emerged after the kidnapping.Muhammad Kabir, a relation of several of the schoolchildren, said the families had not been briefed on what is being done to free them.”From what we gathered, the children have been divided into groups by the captors and sent to different camps,” he told AFP in Kaduna city where he lives. “We have been left in apprehension, we have no idea what the children are going through in the hands of their kidnappers.” He said they feel time is running out, and called for the state and federal governments should act fast.”Kuriga is a closely-knit community, we are one big family. So, everybody has been affected by this tragedy.”Monday marked the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when families in the mostly Muslim north of Nigeria gather in the evenings to break fast.Resident Abdullahi Musa said little news had emerged in Kuriga after the government said troops were in the forests trying to locate the children.”This was on Saturday and since then we have not heard anything,” Musa said. “We are talking about more than 280 children.”Another resident Isa Mustapha said they felt “in the dark” with little information.Nigeria’s military did not respond to calls for comment on a rescue. A presidential spokesman did not respond immediately to a request for an update.A spokesman for Kaduna state governor said it was a “national security” matter and he was unable to comment.- Second mass kidnap -The Kuriga attack was the second mass kidnapping in a week, illustrating the task faced by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who has promised to improve security since coming to office in May.Kaduna State governor Uba Sani said security forces were working with state officials, but cautioned media against politicising the incident at such a sensitive moment.No group has claimed any responsibility, but residents blamed bandits, the gangs that raid villages to loot and carry out mass abductions for ransom especially in Nigeria’s northwestern states.A week earlier, Islamist militants also kidnapped as many as 200, mostly women and children, from a camp for people displaced by jihadist conflict in northeast Borno State. Officials have given conflicting figures for the numbers of missing in that attack.UN child welfare agency UNICEF has called on the government to do better at protecting schools in Nigeria, where hundreds of pupils have been kidnapped in the last three years.Most were released after weeks or months in camps hidden in forests following negotiations and ransom payments.Kabir Adamu, director of Nigeria risk firm Beacon Consulting, said preventing school abductions was one of the responsibilities of the national police and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps paramilitary outfit.”The leadership of these organisations should be held responsible for failing to prevent the attacks,” he told AFP.More than 40,000 people have been killed and another two million displaced by fighting in Nigeria’s northeast since the jihadist war began in 2009. Violence has eased and militants have been forced back from areas they once controlled but they still launch attacks, carry out kidnapping raids and ambush convoys in remote areas.But security forces are also battling the heavily armed criminal gangs in the northwest, where hundreds of thousands of people have also been displaced, a surge in intercommunal clashes in the northcentral region and simmering separatism in the southeast.