A Nigerian state has shut down ten schools as of Wednesday in response to the jihadist terror group Boko Haram abducting hundreds of boys from a school this weekend, the nation’s Daily Trust newspaper reported.
In audio surfacing Tuesday, a voice claiming to be that of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau took responsibility for the attack and asserted its message was to discourage Nigerians from educating their children, instead pressuring them to embrace radical Islam.
The attack occurred in Katsina state, significantly west of where Boko Haram typically operates, the country’s most northwestern state of Borno. It follows several waves of deadly jihadist attacks against Christians in the region and is the third mass abduction of children this decade by Boko Haram, following the 2014 Chibok, Borno, kidnappings and the mass abduction of girls from Dapchi, Yobe, in 2018.
The government of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has repeatedly claimed that Boko Haram is “defeated” and no longer a national security threat. Buhari first made the claim shortly after taking office in 2015. When confronted by the continued vigor of Boko Haram jihadist attacks on civilians, Buhari officials have insisted that those attacking are not Boko Haram, but the “Islamic State West Africa Province,” the name that Boko Haram adopted after swearing allegiance to slain ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2015.
The Daily Trust listed ten schools in Zamfara state, which borders Katsina to its west, that have chosen to shut down in response to the Boko Haram attack, all on the borders of either Katsina or Kaduna state.
“The affected schools are at a location sharing boundaries with Katsina and Kaduna states and given the current situation in the neighbouring Katsina state we felt compelled to close these schools even though the term is ending in one week’s time,” Ibrahim Gusau, Zamfara’s education commissioner, told reporters. The closings, the newspaper noted, were in addition to the shutdown of all boarding schools in Katsina, which authorities consider more vulnerable to attack, since children sleep together in one easily identifiable dormitory, allowing for overnight attacks.
The school attack this weekend, which targeted Katsina’s Government Science Secondary School, resulted in the disappearance of 668 boys that may remain missing. Authorities initially claimed less than half of that number, 333, had been abducted. They then said they had found hundreds of boys but were struggling to contact parents, so confirmation of whether the boys were safe had not yet occurred. Other boys are believed to be hiding in the densely wooded bush areas surrounding the school and have yet to come out, fearing abduction.
Gov. Aminu Masari confirmed Wednesday that authorities had reunited at least 17 children with their families.
Parents of the missing children, believed to be between ten and 12 years old, began demanding on Wednesday that Nigerian officials pay Boko Haram a ransom to free the boys, asserting that Nigerian police and military are too incompetent to rescue the children.
“I support government paying ransom to secure release of our children, whatever amount since the government can’t rescue them. Had it be that the government can rescue them, we wouldn’t have supported paying of ransom,” one parent, identified as Aminu Dayyabu, told Nigeria’s Vanguard newspaper.
“In my presence, about 40 vehicles of the soldiers came to Kankara, entered the bush and came out,” Dayyabu narrated to the newspaper. “One of the soldiers I engaged in little discussion with told me their vehicle was attacked as their tyre and glass were shot at. I saw the damages on the vehicle. With that, he told me that government has to sit up if it must defeat the bandits because they are well armed.”
“So, whatever amount they demand as ransom, the government should pay and secure the release of our children,” he concluded.
No party, including Boko Haram, has demanded a ransom for the boys. In the audio surfacing this week, the man alleging to be Shekau insists that the objective of the attack is simply to stop Nigerians from going to school.
“What happened in Katsina was done to promote Islam and discourage un-Islamic practices as Western education is not the type of education permitted by Allah and his Holy Prophet,” the voice claimed. “They are also not teaching what Allah and his Holy Prophet commanded. They are rather destroying Islam.”
“It may be subtle, but Allah the lord of the skies and earths knows whatever is hidden. May Allah promote Islam. May we die as Muslims,” the audio concludes.
Buhari, the president, prompted a national uproar after video showed him to be visiting his farm this weekend in his native Katsina state, not far from the scene of the attack, but failing to meet with parents or even issue remarks on the incident. Buhari’s spokesperson, Garba Shehu, told the Premium Times that Buhari did not know the attack had happened when he chose to visit his home.
“We arrived on Friday evening to Daura. President went to his farm 6:00 a.m. or thereabouts when the report has (had) not broken out,” Shehu alleged, “So for anyone to now say he has chosen to visit his cow instead of the parents of students is mischief. Let me tell you, we are being careful about one thing. We don’t want politics to divert attention from rescuing these boys.”
Buhari and his officials have claimed repeatedly that Boko Haram is no longer a threat.
“I think, technically, we have won the war,” Buhari told the BBC in December 2015. “Boko Haram is an organized fighting force, I assure you, [but] we have dealt with them.”
A month later, the Nigerian army’s chief of staff Lt. General Tukur Buratai asserted, “the terrorists have been defeated; these criminals may rear their ugly heads through other means. We will continue to maintain vigilance.”
“The position of the Nigerian government is that the Boko Haram terrorism has been degraded and defeated. The real Boko Haram we know is defeated,” Shehu, Buhari’s spokesman, said in 2019, again following a wave of significant Boko Haram attacks.
In contrast to statements from Abuja, the governor of Ekiti state, another region besieged by Boko Haram, admitted last week the government was “overwhelmed” by the jihadist group it had “defeated” five years ago.
“The reality we can all say, and I personally as security scholar, the reality I can see is that our military is overwhelmed. Our military is no longer in a position to single-handedly tackle this menace effectively,” Gov. Kayode Fayemi said.