Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 614, 15 March 2024

Continuing Kidnappings in Nigeria
Narmatha S and Vetriselvi Baskaran

In the news
On 3 March, at least 200 internally displaced people (IDP), predominantly women and children, were taken hostage by suspected Boko Haram from the Babban Sansani, Zulum, and Arabic IDP camps in Borno state. 

On 7 March, armed men, locally known as bandits, attacked the Local Government Education Authority School in Kuriga town. According to the Chikun Local Government, quoted by BBC, more than 280 students were abducted by the gunmen. The kidnappers have demanded a ransom of NGN one billion within 20 days.

On 10 March, Al Jazeera reported on the abduction of 15 students from a boarding school in northwestern Nigeria. They were kidnapped from the hostel in Sokoto state. 

On 8 March, Nigerian President Bola Tinubu commissioned the security and intelligence agencies to review the rescue process, stating that he would ensure “justice is served against the perpetrators of these abominable acts.”

On the same day, UNICEF condemned the attack. UNICEF Nigeria’s director, Christian Munduate, stated: “Schools are supposed to be sanctuaries of learning and growth, not sites of fear and violence,” and urged the government for immediate action.

He added: “This latest abduction, as any previously, is highly condemnable and part of a worrying trend of attacks on educational institutions in Nigeria, particularly in the northwest, where armed groups have intensified their campaign of violence and kidnappings.”

Issues at large
First, the abductors and abductees. Across Nigeria’s six geographical zones, ransom kidnappings are increasingly common. The hotspots are the states of Zamfara, Kaduna, Borno and Niger. These regions are isolated from government control and most of them are under the control of either local chiefdoms or insurgent groups. Groups, including Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa Provinces (ISWAP), active in the Northwest and Northeast of Nigeria, began the kidnapping culture in 2014. Currently, it is adopted by the bandits who come in motorcycles and carry out mass abductions for ransom. The abductees are predominantly vulnerable sections of society, including the IDPs staying in camps, women, and school girls. 

Second, a brief note of abductions in Nigeria during the last decade.  The first major incident took place in 2014 when 276 girls were abducted from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Borno state, by Islamic militants belonging to the Boko Haram. Their objective was to institute an Islamic Caliphate in Nigeria. Later, 57 students escaped, some were rescued by Nigeria’s security forces, and some returned two years later. In 2021, in a series of abductions, the bandits kidnapped nearly 500 children from different schools and colleges in the states of Zamfara, Kaduna, and Borno. Many of the abductees escaped from the trucks and camps, a few were killed, some were released once the ransom was paid, some were rescued through government negotiations, and several of them remain missing to date. From July 2022 to July 2023, around 3620 people were abducted, with a demand of USD 6.4 million. 

Third, the state response. About 4,500 people have been kidnapped since President Tinubu took office in May 2023. Nigeria has criminalised paying ransoms in 2022 to not encourage further abductions. However, the effectiveness of the law is debated as the Nigerian military forces struggle to fight the kidnappings. Additionally, there are several cases of abductees being released but no cases of abductors being arrested. In terms of local response, the military forces are backed up by the local policemen and the state’s vigilance services. Amnesty International claims that the inefficacy of the Nigerian authorities in preventing the perpetrators through security lapses is the main reason for the rise in abductions. The economic recession, which is accompanied by poverty, the increasing cost of living and unemployment, are additional causes of an increase in the number of bandits and abductions. According to BBC, the annual average inflation rate has reached 30 per cent. The cost of food has risen by 35 per cent.

In perspective
First, the government’s inability to address the issue. The government has failed to address and tackle the situation due to corruption and inadequate law enforcement. It is unequipped to provide military training. 

Second, the abductions in Nigeria have become a trend since 2014. This trend is being picked up by neighbouring countries, implying a spillover effect. In neighbouring Cameroon, during the first week of March, separatist fighters abducted and killed four government workers. In December 2023, eight boys were kidnapped by separatists from a school in the conflict-hit northwest region. On 8 March, in Chad, a Polish doctor was kidnapped and rescued later. In Mali, on 27 February, three Italian citizens, who were kidnapped in 2022 by an Islamic militant group affiliated with Al-Qaeda, Jama'at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM), were released.

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