The incident is the first mass school abduction in Nigeria since President Bola Tinubu took office in May.
Security forces have rescued 14 of at least 20 students abducted from a university in northwestern Nigeria and are searching for the remaining captives, school authorities say.
Gunmen attacked the school in Zamfara state’s Bungudu district last week and fled with the students and some workers in the first mass school abduction in Nigeria since President Bola Tinubu took office in May.
The 14 students from the Federal University Gusau were rescued with two other people, a statement from the university said on Monday without providing details about when they were freed or the nature of the rescue operation.
“The sad and unfortunate incident has indeed thrown the University community into serious tension and apprehension,” the statement said, adding that security forces were “doing their best” to rescue the remaining students. It also said steps were being taken to boost security around the university.
Such abductions from schools are common in northwestern and central Nigeria, where armed groups often take people hostage in exchange for huge ransoms that analysts said help them to buy guns and sustain their operations.
Nigeria’s military has been fighting armed groups like Boko Haram in the northeast, which has left it thinly stretched to tackle the kidnapping gangs, known locally as bandits.
The bandits are believed to be mostly ethnic Fulanis, but pastoralists and mercenaries from the region as well as neighbouring Chad and Niger are also involved.
An estimated 12,000 people died and hundreds of thousands more displaced across the northwestern states of Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna from 2011 to 2022 due to the crisis, according to the Centre for Democracy and Development, an Abuja-based policy and advocacy think tank.
In Zamfara, one of the kidnap-for-ransom hot spots, many vigilante groups have sprung up with teenagers joining their ranks and wielding knives and clubs.
The latest attack poses a new challenge to Tinubu, who extended the ruling party’s reign with his election victory after promising to solve Nigeria’s security crisis. It adds to growing pressure from the opposition and activists who have accused Tinubu of not doing enough to guarantee security.
Armed groups have been carrying out attacks in many remote communities, often taking advantage of the inadequate security presence in those areas.
While condemning the university abductions in a statement issued by his office on Sunday, Tinubu said his government is “determined to ensure that educational institutions remain sanctuaries of knowledge, growth, and opportunity, and totally free from the menacing acts of terrorists”.
Nigeria’s government is struggling to tackle criminal gangs who have stepped up concerted attacks against village communities, schools, and colleges in northern states over the last eight months. Gang members popularly characterised as ‘bandits’ have kidnapped more than 1,000 students alone since they began abducting civilians for ransom payments in greater numbers in December.