Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 204, 17 December 2020

Nigeria: Mass abduction of schoolboys, fear grips as Boko Haram strikes again
Apoorva Sudhakar

In the news
On 15 December, an individual claiming himself as the leader of Boko Haram said the group was responsible for the mass abduction from a government school in Nigeria's northwestern state of Katsina. While the exact number of abducted students remains unclear, more than 300 are yet to be accounted for out of the 500-odd students kidnapped. Several students managed to escape.

On 13 December, the UN Chief condemned the act and called for the immediate release of the children. The UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa emphasized that the attack "is a grim reminder that abductions of children and widespread grave violations of children's rights continue to take place in northern Nigeria."

Earlier, on 11 December, more than 500 were kidnapped by hundreds of unidentified gunmen who stormed an all-boys senior secondary Katsina state. The State Governor blamed 'bandits' (a term used for unorganized crime groups in the region) for the incident. As soon as the news broke out, social media was abuzz with #BringBackOurBoys and criticism against the government.

Issues at large
First, Boko Haram's kidnapping strategy. According to the UN, more than 1000 children have been kidnapped by the Boko Haram since 2013. In 2014, Boko Haram abducted 276 girls from a school in Chibok; more than 100 are still missing. In 2018, the group kidnapped 110 girls from a parking school in northeastern Nigeria. Apart from the terrorist group, many armed bandits carry out abductions for ransoms. The abductions were a way to extort; besides the rich, farmers and herders have also been targeted. Most often, these targets are unable to pay ransoms, leading to their death. 

Second, state failure. This is the second large-scale attack by Boko Haram in less than a month. The state has failed to announce any concrete measure against the insurgency which has been going on since 2009 and has increased since ISWAP split from Boko haram. President Muhammadu Buhari was elected in 2015 on his promises that he would improve the security. However, apart from a few statements on the inefficiency of the security forces, Buhari has not introduced any substantial change in the security system. 

Third, Boko Haram's anti-west rhetoric. According to the UN, "at least 2,295 teachers have been killed and more than 1,400 schools have been destroyed" from 2009 to 2018. The literal translation of 'Boko Haram' is 'western education is forbidden.' While claiming the latest mass abduction, the group said: "What happened in Katsina was done to promote Islam and discourage un-Islamic practices such as Western education." 

In perspective
The unaccountability of the State after the #EndSARS protests, Maiduguri massacre and the latest abductions will increase the insecurity in the minds of the civilians. Further, the #BringBackOurBoys is derived from #BringBackOurGirls which was used by Nigerians after the 2014 Chibok incident. 

The boys' abduction is a reminder that mere statements by the President will not improve the security. Recently, the Chief of Army Staff said that terrorism in Nigeria is likely to persist for 20 years. However, it is unlikely that the Nigerian population will resist the threat of terrorism for the decades to come.

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