nigeria kidnappings

Empty classroom of the Government Science College where gunmen kidnapped dozens of students and staffs, in Kagara, Rafi Local Government Niger State, Nigeria on 18 February 2021. Photo: AFP/Kola Sulaimon

Nigeria kidnappings: Rescue operation underway after 317 students were abducted

Heavily-armed criminal gangs known locally as “bandits” in the northwest and central Nigeria have stepped up attacks in recent years, kidnapping for ransom, raping and pillaging.

nigeria kidnappings

Empty classroom of the Government Science College where gunmen kidnapped dozens of students and staffs, in Kagara, Rafi Local Government Niger State, Nigeria on 18 February 2021. Photo: AFP/Kola Sulaimon

Authorities in northwest Nigeria said 317 students were abducted by gunmen on Friday in the country’s latest mass kidnapping, and a rescue operation was underway. Police spokesman Mohammed Shehu said in a statement:

“The Zamfara State Police Command in collaboration with the military have commenced a joint search and rescue operations with a view to rescuing the 317 students kidnapped by the armed bandits in Government Girls Science Secondary School Jangebe”. 

Kidnappings in Nigeria

Last week, 42 people were taken by a gang from a boys school in nearby Niger state. In December, more than 300 boys were kidnapped from a school in Kankara, in President Muhammadu Buhari’s home state of Katsina, while he was visiting the region.

The boys were later released but the incident triggered outrage and memories of the kidnappings of schoolgirls by jihadists in Dapchi and Chibok that shocked the world.

The federal government has not yet officially commented on this latest mass kidnapping. Several hundred girls are unaccounted for after armed bandits raided a school in northwestern Nigeria, a teacher says.


Their disappearance raises fears that Nigeria has been hit by another mass kidnapping – the hallmark of criminal gangs and extremist Islamist groups.

2014: ‘Chibok’ girls taken

Boko Haram gunmen seize 276 girls aged between 12 and 17 from the Government Girls Secondary School in the remote town of Chibok in northeastern Borno state on April 14, 2014.

The girls are forced from their dormitories onto trucks and driven into the bush. Fifty-seven manage to flee in a daring escape.

‘Slave brides’

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau claims responsibility in a video and vows to sell the girls as slave brides.

Boko Haram says they have converted to Islam and will not be released unless militant fighters held in custody are freed.

An international outcry follows with a campaign demanding the girls’ release backed by A-list celebrities and politicians, with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls going viral.

2016: First girl found

In April 2016, on the eve of the abduction’s second anniversary, a “proof of life” video emerges showing 15 of the girls in black hijabs.

The following month the Nigerian army confirms the first of the schoolgirls has been found. Aged 19, she has a four-month-old baby and is found with a man she describes as her husband near Boko Haram’s Sambisa forest enclave.

In October, 21 of the girls are freed following talks brokered by Switzerland and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). 

Local sources say four jihadist prisoners were freed in return.

2017: 82 freed

In May 2017 another 82 girls are released in exchange for five Boko Haram commanders.

Later that month, Boko Haram release a video in which a woman in a black veil claiming to be one of the Chibok girls brandishes a gun and proclaims loyalty to the group. 

In all, 107 of the 219 held since 2014 have either escaped or been released. 

Some of the young women are now studying at the American University of Nigeria in Yola, although others had to drop out of education because their poverty-striken families could not afford to pay for transport, food or even their sanitary towels.

2018: Dapchi kidnapping

In February 2018 the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), an offshoot of Boko Haram, snatches 111 girls from their boarding school in the northeastern town of Dapchi, around 300 kilometres (186 miles) from Chibok.

The jihadists return more than 100 girls to the town on March 21 after talks with the government. Five of their schoolmates reportedly died in captivity.

The group refused to free Leah Sharibu, then 15, as she would not convert to Islam. The only Christian among the hostages, she still remains in captivity three years on.

2020: Kankara abduction

On December 11 2020, more than 100 gunmen on motorcycles storm the all-boys Government Science Secondary School in the town of Kankara, in Katsina state, seizing 300 students.

The attack is initially blamed on armed criminals before Boko Haram – which operates hundreds of kilometres (miles) away – claimed responsibility. The boys are later released after talks with government officials.

2021: Jangebe raid

Armed bandits raid a school dormitory in Jangebe in northwestern Zamfara state overnight Thursday, a teacher and a parent tell AFP. More than 300 girls are missing, the teacher says.

The attack comes just a week after gunmen stormed a school in neighbouring Niger state, killing one student and kidnapping 42 pupils, teachers and relatives.

© Agence France-Presse

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