Nigerian security forces have launched an operation to rescue 317 schoolgirls kidnapped by armed militants in the country’s northwest, an area at the heart of a violent crime crisis that kills thousands of people every year and afflicts every corner of the country. most populous country in Africa.
The students were abducted from the government secondary science school for girls in Jangebe, a remote village in Zamfara state, at around 1 a.m. on Friday. It is the largest mass kidnapping since hundreds of schoolchildren were kidnapped from a school in neighboring Katsina state in December, but comes days after dozens of students were kidnapped in Niger State.
“We are irritated and saddened by yet another brutal attack on schoolchildren in Nigeria,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF representative in Nigeria.
‘Bandit’ is a catch-all term for the roving gangs of motorcyclists armed with bush rifles and AK-47s – and, as seen in photos from recent attacks, sometimes RPG launchers. – who massacre villages and kidnap buses loaded with people. They made the main roads completely unsuitable for movement and abducted or killed people in all walks of life.
The crisis has undermined President Muhammadu Buhari’s national security credentials. The ex-general, who ruled Nigeria as a military ruler in the 1980s, was elected in 2015 on a promise to defeat the jihadist group Boko Haram and make Nigeria safer.
But nearly two years into his second term, banditry has affected the entire country, from the rugged northwest to the oil-rich Niger Delta region in the south. It has overtaken the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast, now in its eleventh year, as Nigeria’s most pressing security issue.
There is no official count of the number of bandits or groups of bandits operating in Nigeria. But they are believed to be a mix of organized criminal gangs and members of communities who say they have been abandoned by the state and have since turned to crime.
Some northern governors have attempted to negotiate peace with groups terrorizing their states, sparking criticism for ostensibly offering to address the grievances of people who kill and kidnap their citizens, including promises to build clinics and schools. But all of these attempts failed.
The governor of Zamfara, Bello Matawalle, recently joined calls to grant amnesty to these bandits who “repent” and pledge to lay down their arms. But Mr. Buhari dismissed this approach, which Nigeria applied to activists in the Niger Delta.
“Criminals are criminals and should be treated accordingly,” he said Thursday during a forum with northern governors. He also warned against “ethnic profiling”. He did not give details, but ethnic Fulani shepherds have been accused of the violence.
The kidnapping in Jangebe echoes Nigeria’s most famous kidnapping, when Boko Haram activists took 276 schoolgirls from Chibok town in Borno state. Many were rescued, while some were released in exchange for millions of dollars in ransom. About 100 are missing.