KANKARA, Nigeria (AP) — Anger, fear and exhaustion. Anxiety has overwhelmed many parents in Nigeria’s northern Kankara village who await word on their sons who are among the more than 330 kidnapped by extremists from a government boys’ school last week.
They held onto hope as the Katsina State governor Aminu Bello Masari said that 17 boys have been rescued since the attack, including 15 by the military, another by police and one boy found roaming in the forest who was brought in by residents.
Nigeria’s Boko Haram jihadist rebels have claimed responsibility for the abduction of the students from the Government Science Secondary School in Kankara. Hundreds of other students managed to escape by jumping the fence during the extremists’ attack or by fleeing as they were taken into the nearby forest.
Boko Haram kidnapped the boys from the school because it believes Western education is un-Islamic, the rebels’ leader Abubakar Shekau said in a video claiming responsibility for the attack, according to SITE Intelligence Group.
The Nigerian government is in talks with the attackers in an effort to free the boys, government spokesman Garba Shehu said in a statement. He did not, however, identify the attackers who the government earlier described as bandits.
Aminu Ma’le, whose child was among the 17 who regained their freedom, said “I give thanks to God for helping us out in a miraculous way, and I pray for the safety of other children still missing or in captivity.” His son was found wandering in the bush by the military, he said.
Parents say they are tired of waiting for the situation in the north, home to President Muhammadu Buhari, to improve.
“There’s no way I can measure my anger now,” said Marwa Hamza Kankara, camping outside the school Tuesday night for word of her son. “No woman wants to be outside at this hour but we cannot sleep, we cannot eat, because of our missing children.”
Hamza says that all those missing belong to Nigeria. “I am not only crying for my child but I am crying for all the children,” she said.
When armed patrols go by, parents outside the school momentarily gain hope that they may have found their sons.
Across Nigeria, people are closely following the fate of the kidnapped boys and many criticize the government for the continuing extremist violence.
“Nobody is happy about the insecurity in the country. Even kids are afraid of being in present Nigeria because of insecurity,” said 58-year-old Syvester Anachike, who sells newspapers in Abuja. “Just imagine, the children been abducted in the president’s state! It is unfair. It’s not good.”
Friday’s abduction has become a rallying cry for Nigerians fed up with the ongoing extremist violence. #BringBackOurBoys is trending on Twitter as people express their frustrations and hark back to 2014 when the #BringBackOurGirls campaign became an international rallying cry for girls kidnapped from a government boarding school in Chibok, in northeastern Nigeria.
“One thing that seems obvious about the security challenge is that there is no fair play and transparency from the leadership,” said Chiroma Shibu, a member of the National Youth Assembly of Nigeria, a non-profit organization created by students and other young people from around country.
Salisu Masi, who has two sons among those kidnapped, said he is disturbed by claims that Boko Haram is behind the abduction. “It is very worrying,” he told The Associated Press.
A joint rescue operation was launched Saturday by Nigeria’s police, air force and army after the military engaged in gunfights with bandits after locating their hideout in the Zango/Paula forest.
The mass kidnapping draws attention to Nigeria’s persistent problem of the extremist insurgency. For more than 10 years, Boko Haram has engaged in a bloody campaign to introduce strict Islamic rule. Thousands have been killed and more than a million people displaced by the violence. Boko Haram has been mainly active in northeast Nigeria, but with the abductions from the school in Katsina state, they have increased their attacks into the northwest.
The Islamic extremist group has carried out mass abductions of students before. In Chibok, in April 2014, more than 270 schoolgirls were taken from their school in northeastern Borno State. About 100 of the girls are still missing.
In February 2014, 59 boys were killed when Boko Haram attacked the Federal Government College, Buni Yadi in Yobe State.
“Boko Haram is an outcome of the fact that there is a low level of education in Northern Nigeria,” said Prof. Sylvester Odion-Akhaine of Lagos State University. He said the ongoing unrest is worsening the region’s socio-economic problems.
The kidnappings have highlighted that education is under attack in Nigeria, said Amnesty International.
“Schools should be places of safety, and no child should have to choose between their education and their life,” Isa Sanusi of Amnesty International said Wednesday in a statement. “Other children have had to abandon their education after being displaced by frequent violent attacks on their communities, and many teachers have been forced to flee to other states.”
Katsina State shut down all its boarding schools after the attack on the secondary school at Kankara. The government of Zamfara State, next to Katsina, has closed 10 schools as a precaution. Jigawa and Kano States have also ordered schools to close, according to Nigeria’s Premium Times.
Many Nigerians are blaming President Muhammadu Buhari for the security lapses in the country.
The opposition People’s Democratic Party says the abduction of the students in Katsina, the home state of the president, who was on a visit there at the time of the attack, raises serious questions over the government’s capacity to fight insurgency.
The opposition party said that the inability of the government to ensure Nigeria’s security has opened the country “for terrorists, bandits, vandals, and insurgents.”
Umar reported from Maiduguri, Nigeria. Sam Olukoya in Lagos, Nigeria, and Carley Petesch in Dakar, Senegal, contributed to this report.