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Understanding Nigeria’s northern region kidnappings

WARNING: This article discusses acts of violence and sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised. Across Northern Nigeria, kidnappings have become a source of income for local criminal gangs targeting school children for huge ransoms.

At the beginning of this year, a number of hostages, mostly women and children, were released after two months of abduction by bandits.

Kidnappings have become a worrying trend in Nigeria, mostly in the north-western region of the country. Over the years, reports kidnapped victims have mounted. According to UNICEF, over 1 million school children stopped going to school due to abduction fears.

It has become one of the biggest national Nigerian security challenges. In 2021, thousands of school children from both boarding and day schools were abducted by gunmen. While others managed to escape, teachers were also taken. The victims were kept for months for ransom and others killed.

Breaking the abduction numbers down

Northern Nigeria leads in abductions and Islamist groups such as Boko Haram have continuously taken control of the remote areas.

The kidnappings began as politically motivated in the Niger Delta region. Since then, it has evolved into a quick business for local gangs who target school children, women, and other workers.

Over the years, terrorist groups such as Boko Haram have mass kidnapped students and demanded huge ransoms from parents, or the government.

Some young victims have been brainwashed into joining the group and committing suicidal attacks and kidnaps as well. Some girls have been forced into early marriage or rape and have given birth during their release after months of abduction.

A number of these militia groups are against Western education and outright condemn it.

Zamfara State, one of the most affected, has had more attacks in the recent past than any other. In early February 2021, approximately 279 female students aged 10-17 were abducted from their boarding school and later released the following month upon negotiations with the government.

The state known for mining, Zamfara had its economic activity suspended and all boarding schools closed following a government directive. By the end of October, reports indicated 73 students had been abducted from a public school.

This forced the government to close all schools in the region and imposed a curfew from 6pm to 6am in most government areas.

According to the UN children welfare agency, in 2021, Nigeria saw an estimated 1,500 schoolchildren abducted and 16 lost their lives.

Earlier this month, Zamfara State reopened 115 schools to resume learning while 85 remained closed due to security reasons according to the state’s education ministry report.

During this month’s recent release, police reports indicated seven pregnant women were rescued, 16 children from ages 2-7 years old and two to seven months old babies more than 12 in number rescued.

State and international response

The country’s military has led operations to disarm the various gang groups. The Zamfara region stretches to more than 40,000 square kilometres and its neighbouring states are a target of these attacks as well.

This has made military intervention more challenging despite some successful rescue missions.

Government negotiations have done little to change the situation as more groups kidnap villagers and demand ransoms.

The country’s military has continuously built stations near various schools to curb the situation and increase vigilance. However, more schools remain unsafe for learning more so in remote villages in the northern regions.

The UN committed to helping the country fence schools in the region by committing a $14 million 3-year project for fencing the schools and increasing security in the schools. The UN Human Rights among other groups have voiced their concerns over the constant abductions.

Nigeria’s government has a limited time to secure its citizens’ safety and ensure the education of tomorrow’s workforce – which is currently highly at risk.


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