Why mass kidnapping is still a problem in Nigeria 10 years after the Chibok abduction | Military Issues

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Lagos, Nigeria Ten years after the Boko Haram militant group abducted nearly 300 students from an all-girls school in Chibok town, abductions have become the norm in Nigeria, especially in the northern region.

Last month, on March 7, a terrorist group kidnapped 287 students from a public secondary school in Kuriga, Kaduna town. Two days later, an armed group broke into a dormitory at a boarding school in Gidan Bakuso, Sokoto state, and kidnapped 17 students.

The Victims of Sokoto and more than 130 of the victims from Kaduna released, but no word on the abductees.

Currently, of the hundreds taken from Chibok in April 2014, more than 90 are still missing, according to the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF.

“I can’t believe it’s been 10 years and nothing has been done [stopping] that,” said Aisha Yesufu, co-founder of the #BringBackOurGirls group that wants the release of the kidnapped Chibok students.

Nigeria has a problem of insecurity. In the northeast, Boko Haram has been active in violence since 2009; in the north-central region the conflicts between farmers and herdsmen have increased in recent years; and gunmen’s gangs in the northwest are threatening citizens.

Across the country, the struggle against vulnerable people has become widespread, including kidnapping for ransom or forcing the government to comply with the demands of the insurgents. Experts also say that the worsening economy has led to more kidnappings for ransom in the past four years.

But as Africa’s largest economy and the country with the world’s most powerful military, many question why Nigeria has failed to address its growing insecurity.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to the realization that there is no political will,” Yesufu said.

Bring back our young campaigners chanting slogans at demonstrations asking the government to rescue the girls who were abducted in 2014. [File: Sunday Alamba/AP]

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Last year, the charity Save The Children reported that more than 1,680 students have been abducted in Nigeria since 2014. This has contributed significantly to the number of people who are out of school, with one in three Nigerian children not in school according to UNICEF.

But it is not only schoolchildren who have this problem because travelers, businessmen, priests, and those who are considered rich are also targets. Kidnapping has become a small business, as kidnappers make millions of dollars in ransom payments. Social media is also flooded with requests from people seeking money to buy the rights of family members and friends who have been kidnapped.

Since 2019, 735 people have been abducted in Nigeria, according to the Political Disaster Management Agency, SBM Intelligence. It said that between July 2022 and June 2023, 3,620 people were robbed in 582 cases of robbery and about 5 billion naira ($3,878,390) were paid. ransom.

This year alone, SBM Intelligence said there have already been 68 kidnappings.

Kidnapping is not confined to the north, where bandits and armed religious groups are common, but has also been seen in the south and southeast. Even Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, was not spared, and in Emure Ekiti, a peaceful state in the south-west, five students, three teachers and a driver were kidnapped on January 29.

The roots of expropriation in Nigeria can be traced back to the 1990s in the Niger Delta, where the country receives most of its oil; at that time, the armed forces began to take over foreign oil majors as a way to pressure the government to address their concerns about oil pollution in their territories.

But in recent times, hostage-taking has become an increasingly common practice, said Olajumoke (Jumo) Ayandele, Nigeria’s senior adviser to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED). Terrorists now target vulnerable groups such as children and women, he said, to anger people and force people to pay ransom or release arrested criminals.

When a ransom is demanded, the payment must be paid by the victim’s relatives, or in some cases government – and late or non-payment can sometimes be fatal. One of the five sisters abducted in Abuja in January was brutally murdered to be killed after the last day of the ransom passed, which caused a national outcry.

“Groups that have used this method can gain national and international attention to show their power and expand their demands to the authorities,” Ayandele told Al Jazeera.

Although the Nigerian government has said it is not negotiating with the insurgents to deal with the growing security crisis, experts say this may not be true.

“We have heard and seen some governments negotiating with some of these groups and some of these bandits,” said Ayandele. In many cases, this has only strengthened the rebels.

A security official walks alongside the families of kidnapped children in Nigeria
A security guard holds a weapon as people await the arrival of abducted schoolgirls in Jangebe, Zamfara. [File: Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters]

Why can’t Nigeria stop the kidnapping of schoolchildren?

Experts say that complex, multifaceted issues are at the heart of the problem of insecurity. These include social events, corruption and lack of cooperation in the security system – where there is no quick response to attacks and ineffective cooperation between the police and the military.

Over the past decade, Nigeria’s economic situation has deteriorated as the country grapples with inflation, rising youth unemployment, and inflation. The economy of citizens has not improved, and 63 percent of the population is in it poverty of all kinds. Experts say this has led many people to become criminals.

“The economic crisis at this time has only increased and different policies are driving different policies. As a result, this has made extortion appear to be a profitable and profitable activity,” said Afolabi Adekaiyaoja, a researcher at the Abuja-based Center for Democracy and Development.

The security infrastructure in Nigeria is also centralized, with authority in the hands of the government and no real police force or autonomous regions. Experts say this has made it difficult for security personnel to work easily. It has also led to calls for state police, especially in the criticism that the security agencies are not working properly.

In the army, soldiers have complained of low pay and inadequate equipment. The Nigerian military has been accused of corruption, extortion, collusion and brutality in the past, and this has strained relations with the public and intelligence sources.

“This failure is not just for the military – there are governments that are failing to respond to security,” Adekaiyaoja told Al Jazeera.

“There needs to be a strong partnership in buying security and developing the necessary intelligence… There needs to be a refocus on the much needed and overdue police reform and a strong partnership between security professionals and security agencies.”

Nigeria’s insecurity is plaguing all six regions of the country, and each of them faces one or more of the following: armed insurgents, farmers’ conflicts, bandits or unknown terrorists, separatists of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), extortion oil and crime. This has kept the armed forces busy.

“Our security forces are limited. We have six geopolitical zones in Nigeria and there is always something going on,” ACLED’s Ayandele said.

Kidnapped children returned to Nigeria
Nigerian students and workers who were abducted in March have arrived in Kaduna after being released [File: Abdullahi Alhassan/Reuters]

What are these problems?

Abductees who have been released say they are in captivity. They are often threatened with death and malnourished because they have to endure filthy, disgusting conditions, including sleeping outside and walking long distances in the forest where they are kept.

These girls are at risk of being raped and even forced into marriage. The testimonies of the authorities say that they are constantly beaten and tortured until the demands of the hostages are met.

Experts say the incidents leave victims with deep psychological and emotional scars.

Fear of their children being abducted has led many parents in the tropical north-east and north-west to take their children out of school to avoid danger. This is despite the government’s introduction of free and compulsory education in schools.

According to UNICEF, 66 percent of children who are out of school in Nigeria are from the North-East and North-West, which are also the poorest regions in the country.

“No parent should be put in a situation where they have to choose between their children’s lives and their children’s education,” said Yesufu of the #BringBackOurGirls group, adding that education is under attack in Nigeria.

As a result, he said illiteracy is controlled by the political class, which uses the lack of knowledge and information of the people to confuse the voters during the elections.

But for some girls, the consequences are more dangerous than just losing education, Yesufu said, some parents choose to marry off their daughters early to prevent them from being stolen or worse. More than half of the girls in Nigeria are now not present school at the elementary level, and 48 percent of it picture and from the northeast and northwest.

Education is important for the growth and development of a country. But the ongoing crisis in Nigeria is causing problems for schools in the worst-hit areas of the north-east and north-west – and experts fear it could have a major impact on the country in the near future.

“This is an unprecedented bombshell because when you don’t have educated people, they can be easily recruited or recruited into non-government armed groups,” Ayandele said.

“We don’t know what will happen in the next 20 years if we don’t solve this problem soon.”

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