Ovioza Ikeme, a student at the Federal University Gusau (FUGUS) in Zamfara State, Nigeria, was sound asleep around 3am on 22 September when a loud bang on her door, followed by a series of gunshots, startled her.
A group of armed men had invaded her hostel in Sabon Gida, a small community next to the university. Overwhelmed with fear, she swiftly sought refuge in the bathroom. However, the assailants forcefully entered her room and dragged her out.
The gang abducted 24 female students from three separate private hostels, as well as 10 males who were construction workers, and a member of staff, it emerged later.
Barely 48 hours after the attack on FUGUS, gunmen on 24 September kidnapped 60 more people and killed eight others in Zamfara and, on 25 September, another female student at Isa Mustapha Agwai Polytechnic in Lafia, Nasarawa State, was abducted in an incident that left three other people dead, reported Sahara Reporters.
Kidnappings are rampant in northern Nigeria, where heavily armed militants, commonly known as bandits, often belonging to the ethnic Fulani group, conduct attacks in communities.
The root of this problem lies in the longstanding conflict between farmers and herders, aggravated by economic crises, inadequate police response, and the government’s hesitancy to take decisive action, according to a study ‘Bandits’ Struggle for Survival and its Humanitarian Impacts in Zamfara State, Nigeria’ published in February 2023.
The attack on FUGUS
This week, some who survived the FUGUS attack spoke to University World News. Pseudonyms were used as they asked not to be identified.
Ikeme, who was violently dragged from the bathroom as she tried to escape the gang of men, recalled the events that followed.
“They [the gunmen] collected our phones and coerced us onto a bush path. As we walked, a fighter jet flew above, prompting the kidnappers to instruct us to lie down to avoid detection. At approximately 6am, we halted at a village to rest briefly. During this break, another group arrived on motorcycles to transport us further,” Ikeme told University World News.
On their way, the kidnappers were ambushed by a group of soldiers, resulting in a gun battle. “The kidnapper whose motorcycle I was on was fatally shot in the head by a sniper. He died instantly, and the motorcycle fell, causing me injuries,” she added.
Fortunately, Ikeme and five others were rescued by soldiers that day. Subsequently, the army rescued a total of 17 individuals, according to local media.
Zainab Sani, another student who was kidnapped, took the risk of running away.
“Those of us who were not fortunate to be rescued by the soldiers kept moving until we reached a primary school around 10am, where we were instructed to rest. The men overseeing us in the classroom where I was asked to lie down, eventually dozed off.
“I took the risk and managed to escape through a window. I found myself in a nearby village, and some villagers provided me with transport fare back to school,” she recounted.
But Abigail Ayeni, the wife of one of the workers at the university who were also kidnapped, is still awaiting news about her husband.
“My husband was bundled out of his room with his hands tied. I have not heard from him since then. The kidnappers have not contacted us,” she told University World News.
A university without fence
This was not the first instance of gangs targeting the university to abduct students. In April 2023, two students were abducted from their hostel and were held for 12 days.
Again, in June 2023, five students were forcefully taken from their hostel, according to local news outlets.
According to a report by the research firm SBM Intelligence, between July 2022 and June 2023, gunmen abducted a minimum of 3,620 individuals across Nigeria, demanding ransoms totalling over NGN5 billion (about US$6.4 million), reported Nigeria’s The Guardian.
Zamfara State, predominantly surrounded by forests, has become a haven for various terrorist groups, leading to assaults on towns, highways, villages and schools.
According to Abayomi Balogun, a student at FUGUS, whose friend was among the kidnapped students rescued by soldiers this week, the lack of a perimeter wall around the university and lack of accommodation on the main campus is contributing to the vulnerability of the university.