The Roman Catholic Church has shut down one of its biggest boarding schools in Kumbo in the restive Northwest Cameroon after unidentified gunmen briefly kidnapped students and employees.
The gunmen stormed the campus of Saint Augustine’s College, Nso on Saturday and seized 170 students, two security guards, a teacher and three of his children, Fr Elvis Nsaikila, the Diocesan Director of Communications, said.
“The abductees were released in the afternoon of Sunday and conveyed back to the college campus in the evening,” Fr Nsaikila said, without disclosing who was behind the kidnap and whether the school paid any ransoms to the abductors.
However, the Sun newspaper reported that “only petrol money” was given to the kidnappers.
Parents and guardians
Fr Nsaikila said authorities of the boarding school had requested parents and guardians to take their children back home as soon as possible as “the school has closed down”.
The Kumbo school attack, just two days after a 10-day lockdown imposed on the region by separatist activists, was not the first in the restive English Northwest region. A similar incident took place in November last year in the regional headquarter, Bamenda, where more than 80 people, including the principal, a teacher, a driver and 79 students, were kidnapped from the Presbyterian Secondary School, Nkwen by suspected secessionists.
Saturday’s abduction marked an escalation of the over two-year long crisis that has gripped the two English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions.
The crisis in the anglophone Cameroon started as an industrial strike by lawyers and teachers in 2016, but snowballed into an internal armed conflict in 2017 when separatists joined in and symbolically declared the independence of the state of Ambazonia. No country has recognised the self-declared state.
Though the majority of teachers’ unions called off their strike in February 2017, separatist activists have continued to pressure the local population to keep their children out of school, promising “to deal with” those seen in the institutions.
According to the latest Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), over 444,000 people have fled their homes and were currently internally displaced in the regions due to the violence.
In addition to the internally displaced, over 32,600 others have fled across the border and were registered as refugees in neighbouring Nigeria with many of them exposed to varied dangers, including risk of food insecurity, the report adds.