In Nigeria, residents in shock after more than 280 students are kidnapped by bandits

“At first we thought they were soldiers and we started greeting them and shouting ‘God be with you’,” recalls 11-year-old Maryam Usman

In Nigeria, residents in shock after more than 280 students are kidnapped by bandits

“At first we thought they were soldiers and we started greeting them and shouting ‘God be with you’,” recalls 11-year-old Maryam Usman. She then understood, from the first shot fired into the air, that they were in reality bandits. The girl and other students at the Kuriga school in northwestern Nigeria had just entered their classrooms on Thursday March 7 at around 8 a.m. when dozens of armed men entered the facility, located in a farming village 100km from Kaduna town.

Maryam Usman managed to escape quickly, which was not the case for all of her comrades. That day, more than 280 students, out of the 1,000 children and young adults present, were forcibly taken away by the group of bandits. This is the latest mass kidnapping in Africa's most populous country, where kidnap-for-ransom bandits regularly target schools, places of worship and highways.

The Kuriga school is divided in two, between primary education and secondary education, which share blocks of unfenced buildings, with classrooms in poor condition. During the gunshots, some, including Maryam Usman, took refuge inside nearby houses, but the attackers chased them and dragged them outside with kicks and whips, according to the young girl. “One of the men grabbed my veil and started dragging me along the ground. I managed to take off my veil and escape,” she told AFP, in tears, outside her home.

“There was nothing we could do.”

Mustapha Abubakar, 18, was among hundreds of people captured by the attackers and taken to the forest. But the high school student managed to escape.

“We walked for hours in the scorching heat until we were all exhausted and thirsty,” confides the young man, still traumatized. According to him, the bandits kidnapped more girls than boys. Three times a fighter plane flew over them, but each time their captors asked them to lie down on the ground and take off their white school shirts so as not to be noticed. “I still have hallucinations at night. I keep hearing the sounds of motorbikes outside my house, as if they are coming to kidnap me,” worries Mustapha Abubakar.

At the time of the attack, Jibril Ahmad, a member of the village's community protection force, said he grabbed his hunting rifle to confront the attackers with other members of this self-defense force. “One of us was shot in the head, while another was injured in the leg,” he said. Several parents watched helplessly as the school was attacked, begging the attackers to spare their children. “We couldn't do anything” and now “we don't know what our children are going through,” laments Amina Abdullahi outside the village chief's house. Her two children were kidnapped.

“They took the children out of school and into the bush, like shepherds with their cattle,” says the school caretaker, Abdullahi Musa, 76, who was himself kidnapped from his farm outside Kuriga and released two days before the mass kidnapping. Sani Hassan, a teacher, was having breakfast at a restaurant near the school when his establishment was attacked. He saw in the distance one of his colleagues being taken away with “a large number of students”: “I was in a state of astonishment and watched in horror. It was surreal. »