Hundreds of boys missing after attack on school in northern Nigeria

Incident echoes previous kidnapping in April 2014 when 276 schoolgirls were abducted

Hundreds of students are missing after their school was attacked in northern Nigeria last Friday.

About 800 boys were enrolled at the Government Science Secondary School in Kankara, Katsina State, about half of whom are still unaccounted for, according to local officials.

Gambo Isah, the police spokesman for Katsina State, said a large group of “bandits” opened fire with AK-47 rifles, engaging police in a gunfight, which caused many of the students to run away and hide. Kidnappings for ransom have taken place in the region before.

On Saturday, the Nigerian president’s spokesman, Garba Shehu, said police and the army had been ordered to chase the attackers, while ordering the reinforcement of security at schools nationwide.


"Attacks on schools are a violation of children's rights. This is a grim reminder that abductions of children and widespread grave violations of children's rights continue to take place in northern Nigeria," said Unicef's regional director for west and central Africa, Marie-Pierre Poirier.

“Children should feel safe at home, in schools and in their playgrounds at all times. We stand with the families of the missing children and the community affected by this horrifying event.”

Family members of the missing boys gathered to wait for news. “We are terrified,” Bint’a Ismail, whose child and younger brother were both missing, told reporters. “We don’t see the point of the government.”

Previous kidnapping

The incident echoes a previous kidnapping which took place nearly 700km east of Kankara. In April 2014, 276 schoolgirls were abducted from their school in Chibok, in Nigeria's Borno State, by the Islamic militant group Boko Haram.

That kidnapping came to worldwide attention after Nigerian activists and lawyers started a campaign called Bring Back Our Girls, which saw celebrities and then-US first lady Michelle Obama pose with the slogan.

Despite this, tens of thousands of others have been kidnapped from across the region during a decade of conflict, which displaced millions and led to more than half of all schools being closed. At one point, between 2014 and 2015, Boko Haram controlled territory the size of Belgium.

The Islamic militant group’s name roughly translates as “Western education is forbidden”. Over the past few years it has fractured, with one faction aligning itself with the so-called Islamic State, and rebranding as the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).

The groups are still carrying out attacks, with Boko Haram believed to have been responsible for killing dozens of farmers two weeks ago.

Last week, the prosecutor for the Hague-based International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, said her office had concluded that there was "reasonable basis to believe" that Boko Haram, its splinter groups, and the Nigerian security forces fighting them had all committed crimes against humanity and war crimes.

While this conclusion was reached after a preliminary examination of the situation, which has been ongoing since 2010, she said the move to a full-blown investigation would need to be approved by judges.

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports on Africa