Parents of the more than 140 students abducted from a Christian boarding school in Nigeria have been holding vigil outside the school, crying out to God and praying for the safe return of their children and staff.
Armed assailants invaded Bethel Baptist High School in the Kaduna state of northwestern Nigeria around 1:45 a.m. Monday, the day senior students were scheduled to take their final exams, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide.
The mass kidnapping has led to the precautionary closure of 13 other schools in the area identified as “vulnerable,” most of which belong to Christian organizations.
A statement released Monday from the commissioner for Police Kaduna State Command said around 26 students and a teacher were rescued. The search continues for the remaining hostages.
The abductors promised the parents that their children would not starve if they provided rice, beans, palm oil, salt and stock cubes. They said a ransom demand would follow, Euro News reported.
Video footage released by Christian Solidarity Worldwide shows distressed mothers and fathers crying out to God and praying on the school grounds for the release of their children.
Among the parents praying for the students’ safe return was a widow whose four children were kidnapped.
The mass abduction happened in the southern part of Kaduna state in Nigeria, the epicenter of the spate of kidnappings in recent years. The abduction at Bethel Baptist High School was just one of four incidents within 24 hours, CSW reported.
Terrorist groups that have a foothold in the region, like Boko Haram, oppose education and kidnap boys to use as assassins. Those who don’t escape are brainwashed and become terrorists themselves, said Dede Laugesen, executive director of Save the Persecuted Christians.
Children often fear to attend school, she added, because terrorists attack education centers. Without education, they can’t get jobs to provide for themselves as adults. As a result, jobless and uneducated young adults often become terrorists.
Seun Bakare of Amnesty International told Voice of America that the dropout rate is already high due to the dangers associated with going to school.
“We risk the loss of a generation if these attacks on schools and attacks on education continue,” Bakare said. “It is so shameful that on one hand, bandits and Boko Haram are attacking children and their right to education, on the other hand, the government’s only response is to shut down schools. The government’s response is also an attack on education and this is completely unacceptable.”
UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore released a statement on Wednesday expressing her concerns about the kidnappings and child abductions spreading in West and Central Africa.
“The U.N. estimates that at least 950 students have been abducted from their schools by armed men since December,” Fore said in a statement.
“Over the past six weeks alone, nearly 500 children were abducted in four separate incidents across the central and northwest parts of the country,” she continued. “Many of these children have not yet been returned. It is hard to fathom the pain and fear that their families and loved ones are suffering in their absence.”
Kidnapping for ransom has become a lucrative industry for terrorists and Islamic extremist groups in Nigeria.
This abduction is the 10th mass kidnapping in northwest Nigeria since December, Newsclick NG reported.
Many Nigerians have raised concerns about what they perceive as the government’s inaction in holding terrorists accountable for the rising number of attacks and kidnappings.
In an earlier interview with CP, Emeka Umeagbalai of the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law, said kidnappings of Christians happen for various reasons. Some terrorists, like Boko Haram, ISWAP and radical Fulani militants, are motivated by money while others are motivated by Islamic radicalism.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has called for security personnel to “act swiftly” in ensuring the students’ safe return.
Critics have accused the Nigerian government of being complicit in terrorist activity, as insurgent groups are allowed to continue their operations and often receive government ransoms for kidnappings even though the government denies paying ransom to terrorists.
“We don’t want the government to make a mere pronouncement that they’re on top of the situation, we want the government to take responsibility, we want the government to take actions that will abort such occurrences,” said Emmanuel Hwande, a spokesperson at Nigerian Union of Teachers, according to Voice of America.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, recently became the first democratic nation to be added to the U.S. State Department’s list of “countries of particular concern” for tolerating or engaging in egregious violations of religious freedom under the International Religious Freedom Act.
More Christians are murdered for their faith in Nigeria than in any other country.
Religious persecution watchdog group Open Doors USA ranks Nigeria No. 9 on its 2021 World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most severe persecution for “extreme” levels of Islamic oppression.