Nigeria reels from two mass kidnappings, mainly women and children

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DAKAR, Senegal — Nigeria has been rocked by two mass kidnappings in the past week, with the United Nations, government officials and local residents saying that hundreds of women and children were abducted in separate incidents.

Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu condemned the abductions Friday and directed security and intelligence agencies to immediately rescue the victims, whom he called “very vulnerable” internally displaced people and students.

The U.N., residents and local officials said that about 200 people, many of them women out collecting firewood, were kidnapped March 1 in Borno State, where residents have long been terrorized by Boko Haram, an Islamist extremist movement.

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A second mass kidnapping took place Thursday hundreds of miles away in Kaduna State, according to local media reports, which said that at least 100 students were abducted from their school. In this region in northwest Nigeria, bandits have often carried out such raids.

In his statement Friday, released through a spokesperson, the president said that he had received briefs from security chiefs on the two incidents but did not provide details about the identity of the attackers or the number of people abducted. He said that he was confident that the victims will be rescued.

“Nothing else is acceptable to me and the waiting family members of these abducted citizens,” Tinubu said. “Justice will be decisively administered.”

Details about the first abduction are still emerging, in part due to connectivity issues in the area, which is near Nigeria’s border with Cameroon, and there have been some conflicting reports about the total number of people taken and whether the abduction was carried out by Boko Haram or its rival, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).

But analysts said the event in Borno appears to be largest kidnapping of women and girls by an Islamic extremist group since Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls in the town of Chibok in 2014, launching an international outcry and efforts to bring back the girls — dozens of whom remain missing even a decade later.

Modu Goni, a resident of Gambarou Ngala, estimated that at least 180 women who had been collecting firewood were taken from the area.

When residents went to look for the women, Goni said, they found the carts that they had used to collect wood and nothing else. He said that they continued looking for the women and girls, traveling to three or four other villages, but found nothing and ultimately collected the women’s belongings and returned to their homes, where families have not yet had news of those were taken.

“What can they do?” he said in a phone interview. “Every day they are praying for the return of their parents.”

Mohamed Malick Fall, the United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria, said in a statement that although the exact number of people abducted remains unknown, it is estimated to be more than 200. He said that the women came from multiple camps for internally displaced people in the area.

“While an unspecified number of older women and children under 10 have reportedly been released, scores of IDPs remain unaccounted for, according to protection partners,” Fall’s statement said.

He noted that more than 2 million people in Borno and neighboring Adamaway and Yobe states have fled to “garrison towns where they have few, if any, livelihood options,” with those who decide to venture beyond the town limits for work doing so “at great peril.”

Malik Samuel, a research consultant with the Institute for Security Studies, who is based in Abuja, said that based on the location of the Borno abductions, they were most likely carried out by the JAS faction of Boko Haram.

“The last abduction of this scale was the Chibok girls,” he said. “And the reason that they have not been able to make such abductions since then is because of the success of the security forces.”

He said that although Boko Haram remains larger than is sometimes widely acknowledged — he estimated that it has about 2,000 members — it controls far less territory than it once did and will have limited options in terms of where to take the women and girls. Its movement will be constrained by both security forces and ISWAP, a rival offshoot with which the group regularly clashes.

The government of Borno State said recently that 95 percent of people who shared Boko Haram’s ideology had surrendered or died.

In the case of the Kaduna kidnapping, more than 500 miles away in Nigeria, locals said that assailants surrounded a government-owned school in the town of Kuriga on Thursday as students were beginning the school day, according to the Associated Press. Authorities had said that 100 children were abducted, while the head teacher put the figure at 287.

In a statement, Cristian Munduate, UNICEF’s Nigeria representative, described the abduction as “part of a worrying trend of attacks on educational institutions in Nigeria, particularly in the northwest, where armed groups have intensified their campaign of violence and kidnappings.”

“The alarming frequency of such incidents across the country signals a crisis that requires immediate and determined action from all levels of government and society,” Munduate said.

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