ABUJA - Hundreds of Nigerians in northwestern Katsina state held street protests Sunday calling for answers from authorities after gunmen on motorcycles abducted more than 300 schoolboys.
Nigerian security forces say they engaged in gun battles Friday with the kidnappers at Kankara’s Government Science School for boys, but are still searching for the 333 missing students.
Kankara resident Salihu Bamle says the town is in shock.
"On Friday night, the people of Kankara town witnessed a very, very sad thing," Bamle said. "Around 10 p.m. at night, the bandits were here shooting sporadically in the entire town before they moved on straight to the school."
The kidnappings occurred hours after President Muhammadu Buhari landed in Katsina, his home state, for a weeklong visit.
Katsina authorities immediately closed all schools and Nigerian police announced a review of security for schools across the country.
It’s the worst kidnapping incident since Boko Haram terrorists in 2014 kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from the northeast town of Chibok.
Of those, 112 Chibok girls are still missing and believed to be held by the Islamist militants.
The kidnappings sparked the Bring Back Our Girls group, which blames Nigerian authorities for not doing enough to find the girls.
The group’s leader, Edith Yassin, says she fears the schoolboys taken Friday could be forced to join an armed group.
"When such a large number of boys are taken away from a school, what immediately comes to mind is child soldiers, forced labor, and all other evil that terrorists make young people do. They're also looking maybe for a new set of young people to indoctrinate," Yassin said.
Security experts note Boko Haram does not usually operate in northwest Nigeria, where bandits and kidnapping for ransom are more common.
Kabir Adamu, who runs the private Beacon Security group in Abuja, says Nigeria’s poor law enforcement and justice systems are to blame.
"I can count several states where this type of incident has happened — Zamfara, Kaduna, Lagos, Ogun, Yobe; schools have been attacked, students have been taken away and no form of accountability. So clearly, the deterrent element within the criminal justice system in Nigeria is next to zero," Adamu said.
On Nigerian social media, hashtags like "Bring Back Our Boys" have been trending since the schoolboys were kidnapped.
As police and the military continue their search for the kidnapped children, religious groups called for a statewide prayer Monday.