Six years after the abduction of 276 schoolgirls by Boko Haram militants in Nigeria resulted in a global campaign demanding “Bring our girls back”, a new campaign has started gaining traction seeking “Bring back our boys”.
It started after over 300 schoolboys were abducted again by Boko Haram militants on Monday from a secondary school in Kankara in Nigeria’s northwestern Katsina state. The boys were kidnapped to punish them for “un-Islamic practices.”
According to local officials, 333 of the school’s 800 students are missing, a number that could mark the largest mass kidnapping of school students in history.
American drone and Nigerian surveillance aircraft have been dispatched over the extensive forest where survivors say the captors forced them to march.
The Wall Street Journal quoted 17-year-old Usama Male, a student who managed to escape, as saying the abduction began just after 10pm on Friday.
Male said the students after being abducted were forced to march into the forest. After almost two days of walking in a hundreds-strong column with no food and little water, he was one of the lucky few who managed to escape.
“They said they would kill whoever tried to flee but I positioned myself near the back and waited for a chance to run. Hundreds of my fellow pupils are still in captivity somewhere in the forest.”
Boko Haram leader and Africa’s most-wanted terrorist Abubakar Shekau claimed responsibility for the incident: “I am Abubakar Shekau and our brothers are behind the kidnapping in Katsina… What happened in Katsina was done to promote Islam. Western education is not the type of education permitted by Allah and his holy Prophet.”
Though he gave no figures on the number of boys abducted in Kankara, the abduction appears to be larger than the group 2014 kidnapping of schoolgirls from Chinok.
Bring back our girls
On April 14, 2014, Boko Haram militants targeted a government secondary boarding school in Chibok, Borno state, where hundreds of girls from surrounding areas had gone to take their exams.
The gunmen after arriving in the town late at night headed to the school and raided the dormitories and took away 276 girls. Some managed to escape by jumping off the lorries and running into bushes. Yet, 219 girls were taken away.
Those who managed to escape said the militants were against the girls going to school because of their opposition to western education.
The abduction resulted in a global campaign, with the world unitedly saying “bring back our girls”.
However, for two years, nothing was known about the 219 girls. Then in May 2016, one girl was found with a child. Two more escaped in September 2016 and January 2017.
In October 2016, 21 girls were released by the group following negotiations with the government. Reportedly, Boko Haram prisoners were freed in exchange.
Then in May 2017, another 82 were freed. However, 113 girls still remain unaccounted for.
Both the attacks sparked fear and anger among the largely poor and rural region close to Nigeria’s border with Niger. Targeting young students is the group’s way of attracting global attention to a conflict that rarely tops media coverage outside of the country.