A Christian peace building and social justice campaigner has urged the UK Government to take action to stop a series of mass kidnappings of schoolchildren in Nigeria.
Ayo Adedoyin, CEO of international organisation Peace & Social Justice (PSJ UK) has said the UK cannot turn a blind eye to the worrying issue.
He’s raised concerns after gunmen abducted 317 girls from a boarding school in northern Nigeria on Friday morning.
Police and the military have begun joint operations to rescue the girls after the attack at the Girls Science Secondary School in Jangebe town, according to a police spokesman in Zamfara state, Mohammed Shehu.
One parent, Nasiru Abdullahi, told The Associated Press that his daughters, aged 10 and 13, are among the missing.
"It is disappointing that even though the military have a strong presence near the school they were unable to protect the girls," he said. "At this stage, we are only hoping on divine intervention."
Resident Musa Mustapha said the gunmen also attacked a nearby military camp and checkpoint, preventing soldiers from intervening while the gunmen spent several hours at the school.
Adedoyin, whose charity seeks to promote peace building, social justice and sustainable development in Nigeria and other parts of the world, said: “The UK Parliament and government, which seeks to be a force for good on the world stage, cannot stand by and watch as terrorists in northern Nigeria continue to play chess with the lives of young citizens... The government of Nigeria keeps negotiating with criminals and paying large ransoms, which encourages and funds further evil.
“The UK, by turning a blind eye, sends a signal of support to the terrorists which in turn, gives them an air of superiority and impunity due to a lack of accountability.
“The security ineptitude demonstrated in the frequency of these mass kidnappings is escalating at a ridiculously alarming rate, so we demand national government action concerning these and other similar acts destabilizing Nigeria.”
Several large groups of armed men operate in Zamfara state, described by the government as bandits, and are known to kidnap for money and for the release of their members from jail.
The Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari has insisted his government won't give in to blackmail.
He said on Friday that the government's primary objective is to get all the school hostages returned safe, alive and unharmed.
"We will not succumb to blackmail by bandits and criminals who target innocent school students in the expectation of huge ransom payments," he said.
"Let bandits, kidnappers and terrorists not entertain any illusions that they are more powerful than the government."
Peter Hawkins, Unicef representative in the country said: "We are angered and saddened by yet another brutal attack on schoolchildren in Nigeria," said "This is a gross violation of children's rights and a horrific experience for children to go through." He called for their immediate release.
This latest mass abduction targeting schools and children is becoming a regular occurrence for terrorist groups and affiliated armed bandits to disrupt and discourage education of young citizens.
Friday's attack came less than two weeks after gunmen abducted 42 people, including 27 students, from the Government Science College Kagara in Niger State. On Saturday, an official announced that all of them have been freed. The chief press secretary for the Niger state governor, Mary Noel-Berje, said those released have arrived in the state capital, Minna.
In December, 344 students were abducted from the Government Science Secondary School Kankara in Katsina State. They were eventually released.
These follow previous high-profile mass abductions of 276 girls from Chibok in Borno State and 110 schoolgirls from Dapchi in Yobe State, a case in which one, Christian schoolgirl Leah Sharibu is still missing, three years on.
Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch, noted the recent abductions and tweeted that "strong action is required from the authorities to turn the tide & keep schools safe."
Amnesty International also condemned the "appalling attack," warning in a statement that "the girls abducted are in serious risk of being harmed".
Teachers have been forced to flee to other states for protection, and many children have had to abandon their education amid frequent violent attacks in communities, Amnesty said.
Adedoyin has pressed the UK Government to take drastic actions to ensure the Nigeria’s government takes the issue seriously.
“Our ask is that UK trade negotiations with Nigeria be suspended until the Nigerian Government can demonstrate that they are indeed being intentional and proactive in protecting her citizens, evident in the development of quantifiable security measures enforced in all Nigerian States,” he said.
“These security measures should be designed in partnership with various international statutory provisions and do not infringe but protect the human rights of Nigerian citizens.
“Enough is Enough, our children are not disposable pawns.”