More than 800 school children have been kidnapped in Nigeria in the last six months in five separate incidents, in the latest kidnap-for-ransom business operations in the country’s northwest.
In late February, 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped by unidentified gunmen from a school in Zamfara state.
The following day, kidnappers released a video in which the children were begging the government to pay a ransom that amounted to about $1.2 million, Bloomberg reported.
Previously, in February, 42 children and their teachers were also taken from a school in the state of Niger and released after a few days. In December, more than 300 boys were kidnapped from a school state of Katsina and released a week later after lengthy negotiations.
Kidnapping in Nigeria is not a new phenomenon but the mass kidnapping of schoolchildren is a relatively new phenomenon that has emerged as a very profitable business involving multiple actors across religious and political agendas that have combined efforts to some extent over the past six months.
The most notorious kidnapping in recent years was when Boko Haram militants abducted 276 schoolgirls in Borno state in April 2014. Boko Haram has since carried out more high-profile attacks and abductions.
In 2018, Islamic State’s West Africa branch kidnapped more than 100 schoolgirls in northeast Nigeria, all but one of whom - the only Christian - were released.
The tactic has now been adopted by other militants, or any armed group really, whose agenda beside money is unclear.
The authorities claim that armed robbers, cattle rustlers, herdsmen and armed militia operating in the region latch onto mass abductions as a lucrative source of income.
Up until recently, kidnap victims in the country’s north-west have generally been road travelers, with the price tag anywhere between $20 and $200,000 for freedom.
Lately, the kidnapping has moved in the direction of poor people and schoolchildren in the impoverished and nominally lawless northwest.
The Nigerian government has pledged a significant deployment of troops to the northwest with some 6,000 soldiers.
Dozens of schools were closed earlier this month, while the military has built posts close to some schools, but many are left unprotected.
Some schools have employed local armed vigilantes, though they have proved ineffective against the heavily armed bandits. It all caused a lower net attendance rate of just 53% in primary schools.
Still, the federal government denies making payouts to the kidnappers. President Muhammadu Buhari stressed recently that the authorities will not succumb to blackmail. Yet, he accused local states’ of fueling the crisis with their policy of rewarding bandits with money and vehicles.
Truth is that the local governments are signing various “peace agreements”, offering money and amnesties with some of the many bandit groups, including a “two cows for a rifle” deal.
In fact, the mastermind of the abduction of students in Katsina state Auwalu Daudawa was recently pardoned after he "repented" and handed over his weapons to the government.