- I am from Orjinmo
- BBC News, Abuya
Since December, more than 600 students have been abducted from schools in northwestern Nigeria, highlighting the serious crisis in the country, in which a large number of abductions take place in exchange for money.
The kidnapping a few days ago of almost 300 minors at the Government Secondary School of Sciences for Girls, a boarding school in Jangebe, in the state of Zamfara, was the second massive kidnapping of schoolchildren in the country in less than 10 days.
On February 17, 27 children and their teachers were also taken from a school in Kagara, in the state of Niger, being released after a few days.
Authorities say recent attacks on schools in the northwest of the country have been carried out by “bandits,” a vague term for kidnappers, armed robbers, cattle thieves, herders from the F regionulani and other armed militias operating in the region and primarily motivated by money.
Many here believe that a weak security infrastructure and governors who have little control over security in their states (the police and military are controlled by the federal government) and who have agreed to pay ransom have made the mass kidnappings a lucrative source of income.
It is an accusation that the governors deny.
Zamfara Governor Bello Matawalle, who in the past promised “repentant” bandits that he would give them houses, money and cars, said that people “who were not comfortable” with his “peace initiative” were sabotaging his efforts. to end the crisis.
Up to now, kidnapping victims were generally travelers who used the roads in northwestern Nigeria, and paid between US $ 20 and US $ 200,000 for their freedom.
But since the highly publicized 2014 kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok high school in Borno state by Islamist militants from Boko Haram, more armed groups have turned to violence. massive kidnapping of students.
Car and money rewards
Kidnapping hundreds of students rather than road travelers guarantees publicity and government involvement in the negotiations, which could mean millions of dollars in ransom payments.
Security expert Kemi Okenyodo believes this has made school kidnappings lucrative for criminal gangs.
“The decision to pay the ransoms must be reviewed. What are the best steps to follow to prevent kidnappings and thus avoid paying the ransom?”
President Muhammadu Buhari has also hinted that state governors are fueling the crisis.
“State governments should review their policy of rewarding bandits with money and vehicles. Such a policy has the potential to be counterproductive, with disastrous consequences,” he said through his Twitter account.
The mastermind behind the kidnapping of more than 300 students in Katsina state in December was recently pardoned in nearby Zamfara state, after “repenting” and handing over his weapons to the government.
Governor Matawalle promised Auwalu Daudawa and his gang accommodation in the city, along with assistance to improve their livelihoods.
In July of last year, Matawalle promised the bandits two cows for every AK-47 they delivered.
Unlike his predecessor, who was severely criticized for his handling of the kidnapping of Chibok girls, Buhari has received no major public convictions because of the kidnapping crisis.
This is in large part because he successfully negotiated the release of some of the Chibok girls in his early days in office.
His supporters also say his government has been more receptive to securing the release of the kidnapped students, although dozens of them, including Leah Sharibu, a Christian who was kidnapped when Boko Haram attacked her school in Dapchi in 2018, remain in captivity.
Lhe security in Nigeria has deteriorated under Buhari: Four mass kidnappings of students have been reported since he took office in 2015.
The fact that three of them have occurred in the northwest of the country highlights the increase in insecurity in that area, while much of the international attention is focused on the Boko Haram insurgency hundreds of kilometers away in the country. northeast.
Although the army is carrying out an operation against bandits in the region, communities have been looted and most of the forest reserves in the region are under the control of criminals.
Protection of schools
After the Chibok girls were kidnapped, the Safe Schools Initiative to reinforce security in schools in northeast Nigeria by building fences around them.
At least $ 14 million was pledged for the three-year project, which was supported by the United Nations’ Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, a former prime minister of the United Kingdom.
Many schools were built as temporary learning spaces as part of the plan, but it is not known whether fences were built in the affected communities.
Although most of the recent kidnappings occurred in the northwest of the country, an area not covered by the Safe Schools Initiative, the 2018 abduction of 110 girls from a school in Dapchi, in the northeastern state of Yobe, raised doubts about the success of the proposal.
The Nigerian Army has established detachments near some schools, But the number of educational institutions in the north of the country means that many are left unprotected.
Some schools have employed armed guards, but this has often been ineffective against heavily armed bandits.
How have Nigerians reacted?
Unlike the kidnapping of the Chibok girls, which attracted worldwide attention, there hasn’t been much reaction to the subsequent kidnappings.
There have been no hashtags like #BringBackOurGirls (# Give BackOurGirls) that garnered global attention at the time and helped pressure President Goodluck Jonathan to act, nor have there been any demonstrations in Nigeria.
Bukky Shonibare, co-founder of the Group Bring Back Our Girls, who participated in the protests in the capital Abuja when the Chibok incident occurred, said Nigerians were exhausted by the frequency of mass kidnappings.
“There is a limit to what the heart can bear. Nigerians went through a lot after the kidnapping of the Chibok girls … people are really after draining“he told the BBC.
Shonibare noted that despite the lack of street demonstrations following the subsequent kidnappings, his group worked behind the scenes to lobby.
Nigerians on social media have mocked the president’s handling of the kidnapping crisis using the hashtag #ThingsMustChange (#LasCosasDebenCambiar), employed by Buhari while campaigning for the position in 2015.
This tweet from 2015, when he said: “How can there be 219 missing girls in our country and our leader seems incapable of acting? #ThingsMustChange“, has been highlighted by critics.
The effect on education
Kano and Yobe State Authorities ordered the closure of more than 20 schools in recent days due to insecurity.
Some schools also recently closed in the states of Zamfara and Niger.
In Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, dozens of schools have been closed for years due to the Boko Haram insurgency.
For a region with a high rate of children out of school, this is a massive halt to the achievements that had been recorded in recent years, compounded by restrictions imposed last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
According to Unicef, there is a net rate of only 53% attendance in elementary schools Northern Nigeria, although education at that level is free and compulsory.
The attendance percentages for girls are even lower due to socio-cultural norms and practices that discourage attendance at formal education for women, the agency said.
“The implication of these [secuestros] it is that parents or guardians are afraid to allow children to go to school, “said Shonibare.
“This literally makes us back down in the progress we have made [especialmente] when it comes to girls’ education, “she said.
The series of attacks on schools in the Northwest represents a double whammy for education in the region.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.