Conflict Alerts # 336, 4 March 2021
In the news
On 26 February, as many as 317 girls were reported to have been abducted from the school by 100-odd gunmen who stormed the school in the wee hours of the day. However, the Governor clarified that some of the girls escaped and hid in the bushes. Therefore, the total number of girls abducted was 279, all of whom the government managed to release after negotiations with the “repentant bandits.” He denied paying any ransom to the bandits but termed the whole incident politically motivated. He said, “While the state was in negotiation with (the) abductors for the release of the schoolgirls, other persons offered money to the armed bandits to keep the girls in captivity.”
On 27 February, 42 people, including 27 students, who had been previously abducted on 17 February, were released.
On 2 March, the Governor of Zamfara State announced the release of all 279 girls. President Muhammadu Buhari tweeted that he was happy “that their ordeal has come to a happy end without any incident.”
On 3 March, three people were shot by security forces. The security forces opened fire when parents started attacking government officials with stones during the handover ceremony of the abducted children.
Issues at large
First, the recurring mass abductions. In 2014, Boko Haram abducted 276 girls from a school in Chibok and this generated international outrage. However, numerous other instances of the abduction of school children have taken place. For example, in 2018, as many as 110 girls were abducted by the group. Similarly, in December 2020, more than 300 schoolboys were abducted allegedly by Boko Haram, who were later released after negotiations. From December 2020 to February 2021, three mass abductions took place in schools.
Second, expansion in kidnapping groups. Mass abductions from school were a strategy adopted by Boko Haram which opposed any form of western education. However, over time, local armed groups, generally known as bandits, have also adopted a similar strategy. In the case of bandits, the abducted people were released after what the government calls “peaceful negotiations.” Further, casualties in many cases involving bandits have been minimal as kidnappers also aim for money in the form of ransoms.
Third, failure of the state and lack of transparency from the government. The recurrence of mass abductions reflects a state failure as it has not been able to deploy the necessary forces and technology to trace the kidnappers. However, it could also be the state’s lack of willingness to act on the issue. Further, the government reaches out to the kidnappers for negotiations citing that military actions might result in casualties. However, the said negotiations have never been made public. Though the government has in all cases denied paying ransoms to the kidnappers, doubts have arisen over the same.
The curious case of kidnappings raises more questions than answers. First, if one goes by the government’s words that it does not pay ransoms to the kidnappers, then the larger question at play is: What is the endgame of the kidnappers? If the kidnappings are politically motivated, as the Governor says, then who is trying to send a message to the government and what is the message they are aiming to convey?
Second, repeated instances of abductions from schools create a sense of insecurity not just among students, but also parents. This could result in parents preventing their children, especially girls, from going to schools thereby impacting the social-economic conditions of different sections of Nigerian society.