Unidentified gunmen kidnapped some 140 students from the Bethel Baptist High School in central Nigeria Monday in the latest of a series of mass abductions of children in the country.
Firing their guns, the assailants breached the walls of the Christian boarding school around 2:00am Monday morning and once inside assembled the children and staff in the courtyard of the facility.
Following an exchange of fire with members of the school’s security team, the attackers got the upper hand and left with the majority of the 180 students who were in residence. The exact number of the abducted students is unclear, and conflicting reports range from 133 to 164.
The school is located in Maraban Rido on the outskirts of the state capital of Kaduna, an area that has been hit hard by a surge in violence and kidnappings in recent months.
“This is a very, very sad situation for us,” said Bethel Baptist pastor Joseph Hayab, whose own son narrowly escaped being taken.
“Right now, I’m speechless,” Hayab said. “The school is an educational ministry of my church.”
On Monday afternoon, hundreds of women, including parents of Bethel school students, blocked the road connecting Kaduna to the south of the province, in protest against the incessant kidnappings of their children, local media report.
In particular, protesters have denounced the failure of civil authorities to protect their children from the bandits and Muslim Fulani raiders who have been carrying out the kidnappings with impunity.
“This government has abandoned the people of Kaduna,” said Mustapha Kumbe, the father of one of the kidnapped students. “We will continue to protest until our children come back.”
The attack was the fourth mass school kidnapping in Kaduna state since December and more than 1,000 children have been abducted in Nigeria in the same period. Most of the kidnappings are motivated by the desire to obtain a ransom under the threat of executing the captured students.
Moreover, it was the third major attack in Kaduna in just the past three days. At least eight hospital workers in the state were kidnapped on Sunday, including two nurses and their two babies.
On Sunday evening, seven people were also killed in sporadic attacks in neighboring towns, according to Samuel Aruwan, a security officer in the Kaduna government.
“Today is a day of mourning, as we grieve over what is the most serious attack and greatest tragedy to impact the Baptist community in Nigeria,” said Elijah Brown, CEO of the Baptist World Alliance. “I echo the words of a Baptist leader from Kaduna, ‘Our church is in serious pain.’”
Following Monday’s kidnapping, the Kaduna State government ordered the immediate closure of 13 schools located in districts considered vulnerable to similar attacks.