LAGOS, Feb 18 (Reuters) – Nigeria’s defence ministerprompted criticism on Thursday for urging Nigerians not to “becowards” and to stand up to armed bandits, while security forcesembarked on a mission to rescue 42 people kidnapped from aboarding school this week.The comments by Bashir Salihi Magashi, a retired army major,came on Wednesday, hours after gunmen abducted dozens of people,including 27 students, from the Government Science secondaryschool in the Kagara district of north-central Nigerstate. The Nigeria Police Force, in a statement on Thursday, said amassive search and rescue mission was being carried outalongside the military in which helicopters,counter-intelligence unit forces and intelligence agents hadbeen deployed. Niger state government officials have said they believe theattack was carried out by “bandits” – the term used in Nigeriato describe armed gangs who attack communities and kidnap forransom. A spate of attacks have been carried out by such groupsin the last year. On Wednesday, speaking about such gangs in the wake ofWednesday’s attack, the defence minister told reporters: “Weshouldn’t be cowards.” “I don’t know why people are running away from minor, minor,minor things like that,” he said. “They should stand. Let thesepeople know that even the villagers have the competence andcapability to defend themselves.”The comments attracted widespread criticism. “People cannot defend themselves with bare hands whileconfronted with bandits are who are increasingly acquiring moresophisticated weapons,” said Isa Sanusi, a spokesman for rightsgroup Amnesty International. He said Nigerian authorities had a duty to protect lives andproperty and should not resort to “blaming the people”. Many expressed frustration on social media. Kayode Ogundamisi, a commentator on Nigerian affairs withnearly 600,000 Twitter followers, tweeted: “Simply put, he’ssaying YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN!”A spokesman for Magashi did not immediately respond to arequest for comment.In Kagara, where the school building stood empty on Thursdayfollowing the early hours attack a day earlier, businessmanAhmed Yakubu said gunmen were attacking communities that lackprotection from security forces. “The security situation is so bad,” he said. “I see no reason why people will come on motorcycles… andthey will enter a village, carry out an operation successfullyand leave without any challenge.”
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