Gunshots, chaos as pupils snatched

The Kuriga school where more than 250 pupils kidnapped by gunmen last week. Picture: AFP

The Kuriga school where more than 250 pupils kidnapped by gunmen last week. Picture: AFP

Published Mar 11, 2024


Students were just about to settle into their classes after singing Nigeria’s national anthem when the gunshots rang out. Then chaos erupted.

It was about 8am on Thursday when dozens of gunmen dressed in military uniforms rode on motorbikes into the school grounds in Kuriga, a quiet agrarian village 100km outside the northwestern Nigerian city of Kaduna. More gunmen arrived from the rear on foot, blocking all exits as shots were fired into the air.

By the time the early morning attack was over, more than 280 schoolchildren had been rounded up and kidnapped by the armed group in the latest mass abduction in Nigeria’s northwest.

It was one of the largest recent mass kidnappings by gunmen known locally as bandits in Nigeria where criminal gangs target schools, colleges and highways as they hunt for large groups of victims to make ransom demands.

On Sunday, Nigeria’s security forces were still hunting for Kuriga school victims in forests that spread across Kaduna and other states.

In Kaduna, Kuriga’s unfenced school, with its dilapidated five blocks, housed primary and secondary school sections. Security was basic as in many such rural schools.

“We initially thought they were soldiers and began hailing them and shouting ‘May God be with you’,” said Maryam Usman, an 11-year old learner who escaped. Then bandits began shooting in the air as they attacked the school where 1000 learners were about to start classes. Children and teachers scattered to escape.

Some, including Maryam, hid in nearby homes, but the attackers pursued them and dragged them out, hitting them with whips.

Mustapha Abubakar had just taken his seat in the class when he said he saw a convoy of almost 20 motorcycles with men in military uniforms coming into the school. Abubakar, an 18-year old secondary school learner, was among the hundreds seized and herded into the forest as they were beaten with horsewhips. But he managed to escape.

“We trekked for hours in the scorching heat until we were all exhausted.” The kidnappers separated girls from boys, Abubakar said. “There were more girls than boys.”

On three occasions, a military fighter jet flew over but their captors told them to lie on the ground and ordered them to take off their white school shirts to hide them better from the air. He managed to escape by diving into dense vegetation.

Jibril Ahmad, a 20-year old farmer who was standing close to the school when the gunmen arrived, gave a similar account: “I saw them riding into the school, firing gunshots in the air and gathering confused children and beating them with whips,” Ahmad said as he looked over the deserted school. Ahmad, a member of the village’s community protection force, said he ran into house for his hunting gun to engage the attackers along with other members of the community.

“One of us was shot in the head and killed while another was injured in the leg during the fight,” he said.

As the kidnappers were snatching the learners, parents watched helplessly, with mothers wailing and pleading with the attackers to spare their children, residents said.

For 76-year old Abdullahi Musa, the school’s security guard, it was a double nightmare. He was kidnapped while working on his farm outside the village days earlier and was only released by his captors two days before the mass abduction. He was in the school when the bandits stormed the building.