Boko Haram Claims Abduction of Some 500 Schoolchildren

Last Friday, on December 11th, some 500 Nigerian schoolboys were abducted from Katsina state’s Government Science Secondary School in Kankara by a group of 100 or so armed individuals on motorbikes. While some of the boys were able to escape during the kidnapping, as of the 15th, at least 333 students are still missing or unaccounted for.

Now, Abubakar Shekau, leader of Boko Haram, has been recorded in a voice memo claiming that Boko Haram is responsible for the kidnapping. Though it is a bit surprising that the militant group engaged in a mass abduction in a location far from their headquarters, coordinated kidnappings are a common tactic of the group. The new hashtag flooding social media, #BringBackOurBoys, is an all-too-familiar reminder of the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag in 2014 in response to a Boko Haram kidnapping of 276 Christian schoolgirls in Chibok.

In the 2014 kidnapping, members of Boko Haram conducted a midnight raid on the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State, abducting hundreds of predominantly Christian students and shuffling them away to huge trucks. Those that were Christian were forced into renouncing their faith, converting to Islam, and marrying their captors. Some were transported to far-away Chad and Cameroon, others remained at Boko Haram bases. Though throughout the past few years, groups of a few tens of these kidnapped girls have either been released or successfully escaped, the majority remain in captivity, some with children.

Four years later, in February 2018, Boko Haram abducted 110 schoolgirls from the Government Girls’ Science and Technical College located in Dapchi, Yobi State. Some of the girls were able to lay low and escape during the kidnapping, though five died during the event. By March of the same year, each and every abducted girl was released, with the exception of one Christian girl, Leah Sharibu, who continues to remain in Boko Haram captivity as she has repeatedly refused to convert to Islam.

Now, in 2020, the most recent abduction has caused even greater fear; never before has Boko Haram terrorist activity expanded beyond the northeastern area of the nation, and this December 11 incident marks its first attack in the northwest. Fears are only heightened after a propaganda video earlier in the year showed Boko Haram members in northwestern Nigeria pledging their devotion to Abubakar Shekau.

There are a few speculations as to why this group of schoolboys became targets for the militant group. Boko Haram has a history of attacking schools in defiance of their ‘Western’ or Christian education, which doesn’t adhere to Islamic requirements. However, some have suggested that the abduction marks the group’s intention to force the children to join the militant group and expand its operations.

In response to the kidnapping and Boko Haram’s subsequent claiming, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, stated the following:

“We condemn this appalling attack, which is the latest in a string of grave human rights abuses by Boko Haram. Since 2012 hundreds of teachers, schoolchildren and students have been killed or wounded by Boko Haram, and thousands of children have been abducted. Attacks on schools and abductions of children are war crimes. Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for several attacks on schools in the past and must be brought to justice for these and other human rights abuses.”

“Education is under attack in northern Nigeria. Schools should be places of safety, and no child should have to choose between their education and their life. 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. The Nigerian authorities must act immediately to prevent attacks on schools, to protect children’s lives and their right to education.”

“The attack on Government Science Secondary School Kankara is a serious violation of international humanitarian law, and it undermines the right to education for thousands of children in northern Nigeria. The abduction of students and the destruction of school property by Boko Haram can severely reduce the availability of and access to education for many children in northern Nigeria where violent attacks are escalating.”

Cover image by EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid via Flickr license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)