Armed ViolenceFeatures

Kuriga: The Many Attacks That Culminated Into A Mass Abduction In A Kaduna Community 

Before March 7, when almost 300 pupils and students were herded away by terrorists, Kuriga, a once little-known village in Chikun local government area of Kaduna State in northwestern Nigeria, had witnessed up to 15 major terror attacks.

The door-to-door toting of guns in Kuriga started as far back as 2011. “We have had at least 15 attacks,” Nasiru Zakariya’u told HumAngle. 

When the terror gangs first came, they stole valuables from homes.

But this quickly changed.

“They started rustling cattle, sometimes not less than 200 or 300 cows.”

In a town like Zaria, which is about 175 km away from Kuriga, something frighteningly similar took place in 2023. Rustlers killed one Ardo Alhaji Shuaibu Muhammad and his four sons execution style – they were dragged out of their homes and shot in the head. The gang then took off with 100 cows. This explains the behaviour of terrorists in Kaduna State and, to some extent, in the region as a whole.. 

‘Unknown’ but massively terrorised

One Friday, terrorists stormed Kuriga, which is located in Chikun local government area of Kaduna State, North West Nigeria. This time around, they wanted people, and so they whisked away worshippers during jummah prayers.  

One of Zakariya’u’s brothers was kidnapped among about 15 others. Only 11 returned. The other four are nowhere to be found after several years now, he said. The family does not know whether his brother is dead or alive and assumes he is no more.

Zakariya’u pointed out that he believes over 50 people were killed within that period because the terrorists kept returning. “They kept coming back and kidnapping people, and later, the people in the village decided that since the government won’t help us, we should get up and protect ourselves.

“We get up every day and protect the village, but the moment we relax, they come back and kidnap people. We tried our best to get the government’s attention, but no action was taken.”

On Thursday, March 7, over 200 pupils and students were kidnapped at a school in Kuriga. The news made media rounds like it never has. HumAngle gathered that worsening insecurity had led to the merging of the primary and secondary sections of the school years ago. 

Khalifa Aminu, 30, who lived there for about two decades before his family relocated, explained that the secondary school was a little bit on the outskirts of town before the merger.

Over the years, as the activities of terrorists increased, about half of the population moved out. “Some were killed there,” he added. “It’s just that now it involves children, and so the incident has become popular.” 

Cut off

Kuriga suffers from a lack of telecommunications service, and so residents have to climb elevated places like rocks in order to communicate, which is mostly via voice notes using social media apps. “I have not been able to communicate with my friend there,” Aminu said. “The place has been cut off for about two years.”

Aminu told HumAngle that kidnappings started in Kuriga around 2015 and intensified between 2017 and 2018. Once, in 2020, his neighbour’s father-in-law was kidnapped right in his home. The kidnappers pointed the neighbour out as the person they wanted to bring the ransom money. He was a commercial driver.

“He took N4,5 million to them and never returned after the delivery. Meanwhile, the father-in-law was released. That was in 2020.”

In 2022, travellers to Birnin Gwari moved through a route they called “The Red Zone”, a frequently attacked section around Udawa. This was between Birnin Gwari and Kaduna. There, vehicles waited for security reinforcements before they could make their journey in a convoy.  

On the route, there were mostly ghost towns due to the activities of terrorists. Aminu pointed out that Kuriga is just about 10 to 15 km away from Udawa. Udawa, on the other hand, is about 76.7 km away from Kaduna city. Birnin Gwari, where terrorists have some foothold, is about 173 km away from Niger State. Terrorists are known to meet from the former to the latter after capturing their victims.  

Terrorists have been reported to move from the Shiroro local government area of Niger State in north-central Nigeria through Katarma and Udawa to Birnin Gwari in Kaduna State.

Map showing various locations with markers near Kaduna, Nigeria, featuring towns and a reservoir.
GIS: Mansir Muhammad/HumAngle 

Once, on March 28, 2023, terrorists launched an attack on one of such convoys, killing a passenger and abducting ten others. Aminu pointed out that the roads most infested by terrorists lead to Birnin Gwari, Udawa, Kuriga, and a town called Ladi.

They called for help in vain  

Zakariya’u, who sells phone accessories, was born and raised in Kuriga. He narrated how, a day before the school abduction, the community learned of the approach of about 45 terrorists on motorcycles.  

“We did everything we could. We sent voice notes to the people living in Kaduna and other people in places with a network so it could reach security. I was communicating with a certain soldier, and I sent a voice note telling him what was happening, but he didn’t respond. Due to the lack of a cellular network in the village, we try to communicate with people through social media, hence the voice note.

“Around 8 am, I heard someone say, ‘Look at them coming’, and I started hearing gunshots. Some people were able to escape the school, and some ran into other people’s houses.

“Among the teachers was a man who stayed even though he had a chance to run. It is assumed that he stayed because the children were left on their own, including smaller primary children. His name is Abubakar Isa, and he is the Junior (secondary school) Principal.”

Level of security presence

Zakariya’u added that some children were able to escape abduction. One of them who escaped after being captured revealed that the terrorists did not leave the forest surrounding the village but kept moving in circles because there were aircraft flying over the area. “He said he was able to escape during this time. Based on his information, some were collapsing from thirst and hunger.” 

Governor Uba Sani of Kaduna State was reported to have visited Kuriga in less than 12 hours after the incident. He promised his government’s dedication to the release of the captives and expressed his readiness to stay in the area until then. 

At about 11:15 a.m. on March 12, locals noticed the approach of terrorists on motorcycles around the old secondary school area. The few who had local guns shot in the air to stall their approach, Zakariya’u told HumAngle. The gang then parked and remained stationed there as some armed residents kept watch.

When HumAngle reached out to ASP Mansir Hassan, the Kaduna State Police Command spokesperson explained that the governor had spoken and they are doing all they can to rescue the children. 

But the community had witnessed a similar scenario before the March 7 abduction. When they noticed the presence of the terrorists from a distance, they had tried to reach people outside their locality, including security personnel, but to no avail.   

“Our biggest problem is insecurity, and we are not allowed to farm and herd. We don’t have anything left but God, and we are begging him to bring an end to this.

“We started having network issues in the village around 2014 and 2015. We had only two cellular network providers then, Etisalat and Globacom. Etisalat later took their company away, and we continued using Globacom, and the reception started getting worse. We don’t have a cellular network, and it’s a major problem for us due to the lack of security.

“People only get to farm at the edge of the town. If you pass maybe a few kilometres from houses, you will see animals eating up people’s produce on farms. They don’t allow us to herd or farm. We have paid many taxes to them so they can let us farm but we still are not safe from them. When you get caught farming, sometimes you bribe them, and they let you get your produce.” 

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Nathaniel Bivan

Nathaniel Bivan is Features Editor at HumAngle. He tweets @nathanielbivan

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