In Nigeria, mass kidnappings mainly target schools.

Dozens of students abducted in early September were released by their abductors in the northern Nigerian state of Zamfara. The kidnapping of students and students has become a scourge. Criminal gangs are spreading terror in the northwestern and central states of the country, where mass kidnappings for ransom are increasing. More than 1,000 young Nigerians have been abducted since the beginning of the year and dozens of them remain undetected. We take stock of this serious phenomenon that the authorities are unable to contain.

What exactly is going on?

Schools are a target in northern and central Nigeria. Boarding schools, colleges and high schools are regularly attacked by armed men who kidnap students and students of all ages and demand ransom in exchange for their release. Since December 2021, more than a thousand young people have been victims of mass kidnappings and dozens of them are still in the hands of the kidnappers. This practice began in 2014 with the kidnapping of more than 200 teenagers in Chibok by the Islamic group Boko Haram. Since then, mass kidnappings have spread with impunity.

Who is behind these kidnappings?

If the first mass kidnapping was claimed by the Islamic group Boko Haram, the perpetrators of the kidnappings have not been identified. Nigerian authorities talk about “bandits”. Criminal gangs that have proliferated in recent years in the northwest of the country in a context of growing insecurity, as explained International Crisis Group (ICG) (link in English). These former cattle thieves don’t look like “motivated by an anti-state ideology”, according to Think Tank, even though some of them have established links with jihadist groups. They are installed in fields in the Rugu Forest, which spans the states of Kaduna, Katsina, Zamfara and Niger, where most mass kidnappings have been taking place for two years.

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What is the response from the authorities?

After another mass kidnapping, a new military offensive was launched in early September in northwestern Nigeria. Hundreds of soldiers, aided by helicopters and the Air Force, tried to track down these gangs. Underfunded and poorly equipped, the army seems unable to contain crime and stop kidnappings. So far, most of the hostages have been released after payment of ransoms, negotiations or agreements made with the kidnappers. More than 220 million naira, or the equivalent of 4 million euros, has been paid in ransom since March 2020, according to an estimate by Nigerian security company SBM Intelligence.

Massive kidnappings against schools pose a serious threat to education, as highlighted Unicef. Due to lack of protection, several schools or boarding schools had to close their doors in the North region. “Even when schools reopen, it discourages parents from sending their children to school and leaves children traumatized and afraid to go to class to learn, “ underlines Peter Hawkins, UNICEF representative in Nigeria.

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