Conflict Alerts # 386, 2 June 2021
In the news
On 30 May, gunmen kidnapped hundreds of students from the above-mentioned school. The exact number of children kidnapped has not been confirmed. Aljazeera cites the Niger government's tweet, which said around 200 had been kidnapped; similarly, BBC quotes a school teacher who said 150 to 200 were kidnapped.
On 31 May, Premium Times reported that 11 of the total children abducted from an Islamic school in Niger state were released. The news report quoted Niger Governor's Chief Press Secretary said that the 11 were released because they "were too small and couldn't walk." Further, according to reports, "about 70 motorcycles, attacked 17 communities in Wushishi local Government Area where they shot several people while some women and children drowned as they tried to escape across River Kaduna."
On 29 May, the Kaduna Commissioner for Home Affairs and Internal Security confirmed that 14 students who had been abducted from the Greenfield University in April, were released; two others who had been kidnapped along with the students were also released.
Issues at large
First, the increasing frequency of kidnappings. According to an Aljazeera news report, more than 700 students have been abducted since December 2020. Further, in several of the recent mass abductions, the kidnappers have kept the victims captive for more than a month, a change from the earlier abductions of recent times, which would last no more than two weeks.
Second, lack of clarity on ransoms. The state governments, on several occasions, have reiterated their policy to not pay ransoms. However, parents of some students pay ransoms by themselves. For example, Premium Times reported that for the release of the Greenfield University students in Kaduna, parents paid more than 40 million Naira.
Third, kidnapping as an industry. The Council on Foreign Relations explains that in the past, kidnappers targeted wealthy personalities in order to extract maximum money. However, the CFR cites data from an intelligence firm that shows that the targets now include those from the poorer sections of the society. In such cases, the victim's families may not be able to pay the ransom, "and victims are much more likely to be killed."
Fourth, failure of the government's response. Apart from claiming to not pay ransoms, various governments have also said they would not negotiate with the kidnappers. However, this strategy has backfired. In the Greenfield University abductions, the kidnappers had killed five students and had threatened to kill more if ransoms were not paid. This had led to protests across cities but with no avail.
First, the uptick in the number of mass abductions indicates that the government failed to see the trend and prepare itself to prevent such incidents. Further, while the government has denied paying ransoms or negotiating, it does not seem to have any other strategy to address the issue. It also reflects the lack of urgency and willingness on the part of the government.
Second, parents resort to paying ransoms as they have no other choice to bring their children back to safety. However, this has emboldened the kidnappers to detain students for longer periods as well as demand more.