Gunmen in Nigeria's northwestern Niger State attacked a government school yesterday, reportedly abducting hundreds of students and teachers and killing one student.
Niger is among the states in Nigeria's northwest and northcentral regions plagued with security challenges from gangs of bandits pillaging, extorting, and kidnapping for ransom in mostly rural areas. Just two months ago, hundreds of schoolboys were kidnapped in a similar attack on a school in Katsina in the northwest. They were released days later after a ransom was reportedly paid.
Boko Haram, an insurgency group which has terrorized Nigeria's northeast region for over a decade, claimed involvement in the Katsina State abduction, but this was denied by the authorities. Boko Haram's activities received global attention in 2014 after they abducted almost 300 girls from their boarding school in a similar incident in Chibok, a town in Borno State. While 200 girls were released following negotiations, about 100 remain unaccounted for.
Boko Haram has since carried out more high-profile attacks and abductions in schools in the northeast. Their announcement of involvement in the Katsina abductions raised concerns over the possible expansion of operations into other areas.
Nigeria endorsed the international Safe Schools Declaration in March 2015, as a commitment to safeguard education in armed conflict. President Muhammadu Buhari ratified the declaration in 2019, making a commitment that the government would legally implement the declaration. Under the declaration, Nigeria is obliged to ensure programs and policies to prevent and respond to attacks against schools and to fight impunity for such attacks.
The recent abductions are yet another tragic reminder of the security challenges that persist and how schools and schoolchildren remain a target for armed groups. The Nigerian authorities need to live up to their commitments and double their efforts to provide a safe learning environment for children, and to ensure justice for victims.