Criminal Enterprise: The Mass Kidnapping Of Children In Nigeria

Parents are in agony trying to free their children

Nigerians are being forced to sell homes and parcels of land to free their kidnapped children, which continues to be a major problem in the country. Since December 2020, more than 1,000 students have been abducted across the northwest and around 300 have not returned, according to Reuters. Every single 3 weeks a kidnap takes place.

Hundreds of parents are doing everything they can to raise the ransom money themselves to try and recuperate their children. They are selling whatever they have and can to pay the abductors. “We are in agony”, Abubakar Adam, a 40-year-old tyre repairman whose 7 out of 11 children were snatched told Reuters. He has sold his car, a parcel of land, and took out his savings to raise the ransom, but still has not got any sign of what happened to his children.

In December, gunmen kidnapped 344 boys from the Government Science Secondary School in the north-western state of Katina during a night-time raid. The kidnappers released the boys a week later, but it set off a spate of similar kidnappings across the region, Reuters points out.

Most recently, on Sunday the 22nd of August, Bandits released 15 students kidnapped last month from the Bethel Baptist High school in northwest Nigeria, thanks to the payment made by their parents. So far, 56 of the kidnapped Bethel students have been released or escaped from abductors.

Lucrative business in a fragile state

Why are these mass kidnappings of students taking place? Nigeria’s economy is in a disastrous shape with double-digit inflation, a high 33% unemployment rate, and 40% of its adult population living on less than $1 a day, according to Nigeria’s statistics agency. Security forces are overstretched and severely underfunded. As a result, the country has seen a 28% increase in violence nationwide in the first six months of 2021, compared with the previous six months. And reported fatalities from violence have risen, confirms the NGO called the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.

In this weak state, it is believed that 30,000 bandits operate in the northwest to get easy money by kidnapping. They hide in forests, some are heavily armed, and operate as an “organized criminal network that has evolved over time”, according to Executive Director Partners West Africa Nigeria, Kemi Okenyodo. Kidnappers have gained more than $18 million in ransom from June 2011 to March 2020, as Lagos-based analysts SBM Intelligence estimates.

Additionally, they seem to have learned from the Islamist group, Boko Haram’s attack on the school of Chibok and its abduction of 270 girls back in 2014. Eighty-two were freed in 2017 after mediation, and 24 were released or found. More than a hundred still haven’t come home, although recently one girl has been freed.

President Muhammadu Buhari has told states not to pay anything to kidnappers to avoid more abductions while security agencies are targeting the bandits. Information Minister Lai Mohammed has told Reuters, that their strategy is working and that they have already destroyed multiple bandit camps.

Nevertheless, Buhari is under high pressure because he promised to tackle insecurity at his inauguration in 2019. Many are directly accusing Buhari’s government of failing to address the situation, especially when kidnappers are not even bothered “to conceal their identities to victims, calling families from registered telephone lines, calling radio stations where children have been put on air to plea for their lives, and operating from forest camps known to security officials”, the Guardian’s West Africa correspondent Emmanuel Akinwotu describes.

Also, the military and security services are under strain because they are being deployed at least in 30 of 36 Nigeria’s states trying to catch the kidnappers in the northwest, Islamist insurgents in the northeast, separatists in the southeast, and piracy in the Delta, Reuters further adds.

Moreover, on August 24, Nigeria’s top military academy at the campus in the city of Kaduna was attacked. “The security architecture of the Nigerian Defence Academy was compromised early this morning by unknown gunmen,” said Major Bashir Muhammad Jajira, spokesman for the academy.

At least two people have been killed and another abducted. As BBC’s Ishaq Khalid says, the Nigerian Defence Academy trains elite officers from Nigeria and other African countries and the latest attacks represent how terrible the security situation is.

Particularly striking is that some local governments are offering amnesty, peace deals, or direct payments to the criminals to free the children. Bandits find that local governments will do anything to save the children and they know that they will benefit from negotiating with them.

Ordinary life in Nigeria is immersed in utter fear. Mass attacks in towns and rural areas by heavily armed men are a daily event. Apart from the human rights violations, money theft, and the endangerment of life, this crisis is also affecting the overall education of the younger generations. Schools are closing, and parents are afraid to send their children back to class. Now there are 10 million girls and boys already out of school, and these mass kidnappings can increase the problem of illiteracy.

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