The federal defense minister has confirmed that an operation is underway to free hundreds of schoolboys who were abducted by gunmen in Katsina. Only prayers are needed 'so that there is no collateral damage,' he says.
The parents of some of the boys who were abducted by gunmen in Kankara village took to the streets on Monday to call on the government to secure their release. They held placards that read: "We need our children back" and "Government must talk".
Ikuna Bakori told DW she was "completely devastated". Her 14-year-old son Ahmed Bakori is among the boys where taken from the Government Science Secondary School (GSSS) late Friday.
Bokari was at a wedding when she heard of the attack on the school. . "I just ran helplessly. I couldn't eat; I have only managed to take some water now," she said.
Boko Haram or kidnapping for ransom?
Katsina State Governor Aminu Bello Masari put the number of the missing boys at 333, but the school's authority says 668 of the pupils in its database were still unaccounted for.
"We call on the government to rescue our children from their kidnappers," Mustapha Barde, the father of missing GSSS pupil Abbas Mustapha, said in an interview with DW. "Please don't allow it to reach the extent of gunfire exchange that will lead to the death of our children."
The hashtag #BringBackOurBoys is trending on social media and calls are growing for President Muhammadu Buhari, who is currently in his home state of Katsina, to act.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack on the school. However, authorities believe that the gunmen belong to groups of bandits in the troubled region who are known to carry out kidnappings for ransom.
Attacks on locals by Islamist militants are also common place in northeastern parts of Nigeria.
"The government has not taken it seriously based on the experience of what happened in Chibok and Yobe State in the last two years or so," said Yahya Shunku, a security analyst and retired major.
So far no group has claimed responsibility for the attack. However, authorities believe that the gunmen belong to groups of bandits that frequently carry out kidnappings for ransom in northeastern Nigeria.
In April 2014, jihadist group Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls from their school dormitory in Chibok, Borno State.
Attacks on locals by the Islamist militants occur frequenly northeastern Nigeria. Kidnapping for ransom is becoming commonplace too, according to the Nigerian security group SB Mogen. The region is also the scene of regular clashes between herders and farmers.
"It is a part of Nigeria, where three different violent actors are operating," security analyst Audu Balama Burkati, told DW. "There are two likely culprits for this attack. Either Boko Haram or ransom kidnappers."
The rich and influential were initially targeted in kidnappings but now communities and villags are ransacked too, the latest report by SB Mogen notes.
"What we have found shows that between June 2011 and the end of March 2020, at least $18.34 million (€15.12) has been paid to kidnappers as ransom," the report states. Just below $11 million of that figure was paid out between January 2016 and March 2020.
'No collateral damage'
Nigeria's Defense Minister Salihi Magashi confirmed that a search and rescue operation was underway and said the federal government will do everything necessary to ensure the return of the schoolboys.
"By the grace of Almighty Allah within the next few hours we will ensure these people are back," Magashi said. "We have the intelligence, the information, the only thing is we need prayers so that there is no collateral damage."
Analysts say inadequate security at places of learning in volatile areas such as Katsina is a major problem. "I think there is a need for government to see how to secure the schools particularly those within the rural area," Yahya Shunku, the retired major, said.
The latest attack in Katsina appears "too horrible to be true" but is not unprecedented in Nigeria, says Burkati, the analyst.
"No one can imagine that a whole school under a government can be kidnapped and the kidnappers can walk away. It is happening in the context of violence, which has been going on for about 10 years now."
The United Nations and other non-state actors have called on the Nigerian government to secure the release of the boys. "Schools should be a place of safety and learning but for these boys and their families, it has turned into a nightmare," said the advocacy group, Save the Children.