Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari looks on after security forces rescued schoolboys at the Government house in Katsina,…
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari looks on after security forces rescued schoolboys at the Government house in Katsina, Nigeria, Dec. 18, 2020.

ABUJA, NIGERIA - Authorities in Katsina initially blamed the mass abduction of 344 schoolboys on gangs of bandits who have kidnapped other people for ransom in the northwestern Nigerian state.

Then officials reversed course, tying the abductions to cattle herders at odds with farmers about how to use the land.  

Muhammed Bello, a rescued student, is carried by his father as his relatives celebrate after he retuned home in Kankara,…
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Experts say security chiefs incompetent to handle the situation 

But retired police commissioner and security analyst Lawrence Alobi disagrees with the idea that herders carried out the attack.

"The herdsmen don't have any problem with the school authorities or the students," said Alobi. "Their problem is with farmers, where they can graze their cattle. So, I don't know the relationship between the abduction of those students and the farmers clash.”

Islamist militant group Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the abduction of the schoolboys and released a video footage showing some of the abducted boys before their release.

The claim, if verified, would mark a turning point for the group, which to date has been active almost exclusively in the northeast of the country.

Security expert Kabir Adamu says he believes the abductions were carried out by bandits acting on orders from Boko Haram sect leader Abubakar Shekau.

"The call may have been placed at his direction. What is more important is who makes the calls," Adamu said. "So, if the bandit groups that carried out the attacks have subjected themselves to the authority of Shekau, then it means he's the one who finally made the call.”

Conflicts between cattle herders and crop farmers have lingered in Nigeria for many years, and thousands of been killed during violent clashes over grazing land.

The Miyetti Allah cattle herders association did not speak about the accusations from police, but the group played a role in negotiating the release of the schoolboys.

Alobi says blaming farmers and herders clashes for abductions may be downplaying or dismissing the possibility of expanding extremism in other regions of the country.

"The government is trying to play on the psychology of the people to allay fears, but I think the government should be sincere to the people so that everything will be based on facts," said Alobi.

Nigerian authorities in 2016 declared that Boko Haram was technically defeated and recently refuted the group's claims over the kidnapping, describing it as whimpers from a dying horse.

But security experts will be monitoring the situation closely to see what happens next.