Nigerian Schoolchildren in Imminent Danger

By Emily Thompson

Can you imagine sending your child to school only to find out they’ve been kidnapped by a criminal gang demanding a ransom? This is the unbelievable and devastating reality for Nigerian parents as they try to convince the government to do more to return their children and crack down on kidnapping gangs. These groups often engage in kidnapping both as a terror tactic and a source of funding through ransoms.

Gunmen who kidnapped at least 287 school children in Nigeria last Thursday have demanded a ransom of 1 billion naira ($621,848) and threatened to kill all of the students if their demands are not met, according to a CNN report.

More than 300 students were taken by armed bandits on motorcycles who stormed the LEA Primary and Secondary School in Kuriga village, in Kaduna’s Chikun district, according to police.

Some of the students were rescued but 287 of them remain with the kidnappers.

Kaduna state, which borders the Nigerian capital Abuja to the southwest, seen recurring incidents of kidnappings for ransom by bandits and has witnessed several mass abductions in recent years.

Armed men kidnapped 15 students from a boarding school in northwestern Nigeria days after the Kuriga students were abducted.

The gangs broke into the Islamic seminary in the village of Gidan Bakuso in Sokoto state on Saturday and seized 15 children, ages 8-14, from the hostel as they slept, police said.

In 2021, at least 140 students were kidnapped by armed men from a private secondary school.

The incident came just months after around 20 students from a private university in Chikun’s Kasarami village were abducted by gunmen. Five of those students were killed after a ransom deadline was not met.

According to a Bloomberg report, the kidnapping-for-ransom crisis that has long plagued Africa’s most-populous nation first made international headlines when 276 schoolgirls were seized by the jihadist group Boko Haram in the northeastern town of Chibok in 2014.

Since then, criminal gangs have turned kidnapping into a thriving industry, seizing thousands of Nigerians on rural highways and from boarding schools and hospitals in cities and villages around the country. Some main roads have become too dangerous to use and successive governments have failed to properly deal with the issue.

Experts point to poverty as the driving cause behind the kidnappings. About 80 million Nigerians live in extreme deprivation as the economy staggers along, unable to support a population that is growing faster than almost anywhere else on earth.

The kidnapping crisis began in the north where insecurity and unemployment are rife, and development has been sorely neglected. Gangs found eager and willing recruits among the unemployed.

Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu has directed the country’s security forces to intensify their efforts in apprehending the perpetrators. However, the military’s capacity to effectively address this directive is significantly constrained given the threats posed by heavily armed criminal factions.

The regions of northwestern and central Nigeria are particularly afflicted by the activities of these criminal gangs. Operating from vast and secluded forests, these gangs have instilled fear among local populations through a relentless campaign of violence and intimidation. Their modus operandi includes the looting of villages and the perpetration of acts of violence, including murder. But the most distressing aspect of their operations is, of course, kidnapping.

This pattern of criminality underscores the profound security challenges facing Nigeria, highlighting the urgent need for a comprehensive and effective response to restore peace and order in the affected regions.

Part of the problem is that in regions where educational and employment opportunities are scarce, especially among the youth, there is a higher risk of individuals being drawn into criminal networks, including kidnapping gangs.

Nigeria’s extensive and poorly monitored borders allow for the easy movement of arms and criminals across countries. This facilitates the operation of transnational kidnapping syndicates and complicates efforts to combat them.

Resolving the kidnapping crisis in Nigeria requires a comprehensive and multi-pronged strategy that involves immediate security measures, long-term socio-economic reforms, and regional cooperation.

To tackle the kidnapping crisis in Nigeria effectively, the government must adopt a comprehensive strategy that encompasses both immediate and long-term measures. Enhancing the capabilities of security forces through increased funding, training, and the integration of modern technology is crucial for improving response times and surveillance.

Legal reforms, including the introduction of stricter penalties for kidnapping and the establishment of fast-track courts, are needed to ensure swift justice.

Addressing the socio-economic root causes is equally important; this involves investing in underdeveloped areas to create job opportunities, promoting educational initiatives, and engaging the youth in positive activities to deter them from criminal paths.

The government should also engage in dialogue and reconciliation efforts to address underlying grievances, enhance border security, and seek international cooperation to combat the issue.

At the same time, the government must use a heavy hand and arrest and imprison those responsible. Dedicated efforts to enforce the law will help deter gangs from resorting to such inhumane tactics.

Implementing these multidimensional strategies would help ensure Nigeria can make significant progress toward resolving the kidnapping crisis, and will ensure the safety and well-being of its citizens.

Image: Pixabay

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