The sand-covered courtyard of this boys-only boarding school, once the scene of football matches and awards ceremonies, has in recent days become a gloomy gathering point for the parents of more than 300 kidnapped boys in the biggest mass ever in Nigeria – school kidnapping.
Dozens of grieving families have gathered here, gaunt and roused from lack of sleep, since their sons were kidnapped by gunmen on Friday night and led into the dense forest past the pastel-coloured classrooms of the ‘school.
Families have come to demand answers as to how Boko Haram, the jihadist group that claimed responsibility for the attack, could have ventured so far from its strongholds in this remote corner of northwestern Nigeria and been grabbed hundreds of their children.
However, the reality is that Africa’s largest land force (a strong ally in the US counterterrorism) is struggling to contain a 10-year jihadist rebellion that has metastasized into a complex multidimensional conflict of overlapping militant groups.
Boko Haram has extended its influence from the northeast to the northwest, negotiating alliances with heavily armed criminal networks. The Islamic State of West Africa’s separatist province, or ISWAP, has been rejuvenated thanks to help from the Islamic State and the return of seasoned fighters from Libya, Syria and Iraq.