Violence as kidnapped schoolgirls go home
AFOLABI SOTUNDE and SEUN SANNI
POLICE fired tear gas and soldiers shot their guns into the air in northwest Nigeria as violence broke out amid the return of 279 kidnapped schoolgirls to their families on Wednesday, a day after their release, according to two Reuters witnesses.
The kidnapping of the girls from their school in the town of Jangebe, Zamfara state, had drawn the world’s attention to a remote corner of northwest Nigeria, and Wednesday was supposed to be a happy end to the children’s five-day ordeal with their handover to their families.
At least three people were shot, but it was not immediately clear by whom, the Reuters witnesses said.
Chaos broke out as parents, impatient to take their children home, burst into a hall where government officials were giving lengthy speeches in front the newly-freed girls, one of the witnesses said.
The government officials fled the hall as parents began to grab their children and leave. Outside the school gates, gunshots could be heard, said the witnesses.
As the Reuters journalists exited the school building, they saw police fire tear gas upon a group of protesters outside the school, and soldiers began to shoot into the air.
Two young girls, holding hands, ducked and ran for cover. Hundreds of others also fled, streaming down a side street, a video shot by one of the journalists showed.
Elsewhere, people threw rocks at government officials’ and reporters’ cars, smashing the rear window of one, as vehicles sped away from the town, the Reuters witnesses said.
Boarding schools in northern Nigeria have become targets for mass kidnappings for ransom by armed criminal gangs. The trend was started by the jihadist group Boko Haram, which kidnapped 270 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in 2014, around 100 of whom have never been found.
But recent months have seen a sudden escalation of similar attacks. Friday’s raid on the Government Girls Science Secondary School was the second school abduction in little over a week
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has banned mining and imposed a no-flight zone in the northwestern state of Zamfara, vowing to crack down on lawlessness in the area.
Buhari ordered a “massive” deployment of military and intelligence assets to restore normalcy to Nigeria’s northwest, National Security Adviser Babagana Monguno told journalists in Abuja after a security council meeting.
The government “will not allow this country to drift into state failure,” he said in response to the abductions. “We are not going to be blackmailed.”
A series of school abductions in recent months has led many Nigerians to worry that regional authorities are making the situation worse by letting kidnappers go unpunished or paying them off.
Buhari said that the practice of paying ransoms had encouraged kidnappers. The state government in Zamfara has denied paying a ransom but said it offered the kidnappers amnesty and help settling.
Zamfara is home to large gold deposits, with a legal mining industry operating alongside illegal mines that the authorities say have fuelled violence. The impact of a no-fly zone was difficult to assess as the state has no major airport.
Armed groups have plagued the state and its neighbours in recent years, kidnapping for ransom, looting and destroying communities and murdering civilians. Security forces’ attempts to halt their rampage have met with little success.