“So far we are yet to account for 333 pupils,” says Katsina State Governor, Aminu Masari on Sunday after a meeting with security officials, noting that the boarding school had a total of 839 students.
It was reported that the attackers stormed the all-boys (Boarding) school, late on Friday, December 11 and opened fire with security forces, forcing hundreds of students to flee and hide in the surrounding forest.
Masari said students who managed to escape the attack have been coming out of hiding in the forest. It is unclear if the students initially hid or they escaped from their attackers.
“Efforts are being made to ascertain the actual number of children that have been kidnapped,” said Masari.
Meanwhile, parents and family members on Sunday gathered at the school, issuing a plea to authorities to bring the missing boys to safety.
Defence Minister Major General Bashir Salihi-Magash, who met Masari, the governor, said the military will pursue the attackers and rescue the students without any collateral damage.
“We will go the whole hog,” said Salihi-Magash. “We have the intelligence, the information where they are and their movement and their method of operation.”
Furthermore, the Nigerian terrorist group popularly known as Boko Haram claimed to be responsible for last week’s abduction of the Kankari missing school boys. This claim was made on Tuesday, December 15.
The government and the attackers are negotiating the fate of the boys, according to Garba Shehu, a spokesperson for Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. However, it is unclear whether the negotiations are with Boko Haram or another group.
“The kidnappers had made contact and discussions were already on, pertaining to the safety and return” of the children to their homes, said Shehu on Twitter during talks with Katsina Gov. Aminu Masari.
Masari said security agencies “deployed for rescue operations have also informed us that they have located their position.”
According to reports by The Daily Nigerian, there was an audio message from Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau claiming the abduction, although there has been no independent verification of its authenticity.
Boko Haram has carried out mass abduction of students in the past. One major case of abduction took place in April 2014, where more than 270 schoolgirls were taken from their dormitory at the Government Secondary School in Chibok in North-Eastern Borno State. About 100 of the girls are still missing.
In February 2014, 59 boys were killed during a Boko Haram attack on the Federal Government College Buni Yadi in Yobe State.
In the audio message about Friday’s attack, Shekau said his group abducted the schoolboys because Western education is against the tenets of Islam.
Students corroborated this account with various news agencies, saying many of them were also rounded up and forced to walk to a nearby forest, where some were able to escape.
Several armed groups operate in northern Nigeria, where Katsina State is located. It was originally believed that the attackers were bandits, who sometimes work with Boko Haram.
Bandits have operated in the northwest region for some time, and kidnappings have increased in recent years. Amnesty International says that more than 1,100 people were killed in the first six months of 2020 in violence related to attacks by bandits.
If Boko Haram is proven not to be behind the abduction, it could mean a new wave of religious extremism is on the rise in Nigeria. For more than 10 years, the group has engaged in a bloody campaign for introducing strict Islamic rule, but it has been mainly active in northeast Nigeria, not in the northwest, where Katsina State is located. Thousands have been killed and more than a million people displaced by the violence.