• Saturday, May 25, 2024
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BusinessDay

Nigeria’s school kidnapping crisis: A decade after Chibok

Gunmen kidnap five in Dutse Makaranta Abuja

Ten years ago, the world watched in horror as Boko Haram abducted 276 schoolgirls from Chibok, Nigeria. Sadly, this was just the beginning. Since then, kidnappings, particularly of schoolchildren, have become a terrifying norm in Nigeria. Over 1,680 students have been snatched from their classrooms, with the northern regions bearing the brunt of this violence.

This surge in kidnappings has had a devastating impact. Amina Ali, one of the Chibok girls who escaped, speaks for countless others when she describes the stolen education and shattered lives. UNICEF data paints a grim picture: one in three Nigerian children is already out of school, and kidnappings exacerbate this crisis. The fear of abduction forces many parents to keep their children home, further hindering education, a crucial pathway out of poverty.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), one in three children in Nigeria is out of school, totaling 10.2 million at the primary level and 8.1 million at the junior secondary school (JSS) level.

The UN education body also indicated that 12.4 million children have never attended school, and 5.9 million left school prematurely, contributing to Nigeria’s out-of-school population, which accounts for 15 percent of the global total.

Boye Ogundele, an educationist, sees no immediate end to the business of kidnapping, especially that of schoolchildren, because of the calibre of the people behind it and the fact that the federal government lacks the political will to tackle the menace.

“Until there is capital punishment for the culprits of kidnapping, banditry, and organised crimes in Nigeria, the perpetrators of the act will never stop,” he said.

“There is nothing the law enforcement officers can do; those behind the act will keep frustrating the efforts of law enforcement groups because the system itself is corrupt,” he added.

“The fear of abduction forces many parents to keep their children home, further hindering education, a crucial pathway out of poverty.”

Ajibade Ayodeji, director of the entrepreneurship development centre at Babcock University, believes that the key to curbing kidnapping is the government’s readiness to tackle the issue headlong.

“This can be curbed by fishing out those in charge and all accomplices. Obviously, with their mode of operation, it would not be difficult to identify those in charge, but the question remains: Is our government ready to do the right thing in favour of the masses and not for some cabals?” he queried.

Nubi Achebo, the director of academics at the Nigerian University of Technology and Management (NUTM), believes that the surge in school-child kidnapping is driven by a combination of factors, including the profitability of ransom payments.

“Kidnapping is a new growth industry and the fastest route to becoming a millionaire. The breakdown of security infrastructure in certain regions has facilitated the incidence of kidnapping because these kidnappers are able to move across vast landscapes unchallenged. There are also political and/or ideological motives for the kidnappings,” he said.

To curb the menace of schoolchildren kidnapped in Nigeria, Achebo said that the federal government should invest in improving security measures around schools, enhance intelligence gathering, collaborate with international partners, and address underlying socio-economic factors that contribute to insecurity.

“Ensuring swift and decisive action against perpetrators can serve as a deterrent, but this has been a big problem because there is a suspicion that there is collusion between kidnappers and security forces.

“Many of the perpetrators have been absorbed into Nigerian society after a so-called repentance program. The loyalty of these repentant terrorists is questionable,” he adds.

Experts believe that the failure of the federal government to apprehend and punish kidnappers is the foundation of the surging rate of kidnappings in the country.

Ayodeji lamented that the Nigerian government seems not to pay attention to issues as sensitive as this. He wondered how those in authority would fold their hands while gradually crippling the educational system in the country.

Nigeria has been plagued by insecurity for decades. In the northeast, Boko Haram has waged a violent insurgency since 2009; in the north-central region, clashes between farmers and herders have escalated in recent years; and acts of banditry by gunmen in the northwest are terrorising citizens.

The southeast is battling with the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), who, apart from the killings and kidnapping, have introduced a sit-at-home order, which is seen as affecting education in the region.

Across the country, the targeting of vulnerable populations has been widespread, including kidnappings for ransom or to pressure the government to meet the aggressors’ demands.

Furthermore, Nigeria’s weak security infrastructure, as evidenced by the lack of early warning systems in schools (per UNICEF’s report), creates a breeding ground for these crimes. Perhaps most concerning is the perception of a lack of political will to address this crisis.

Sources and activists like Aisha Yesufu, the co-convener of the #BringBackOurGirls movement that agitated for the release of the kidnapped Chibok students, decried the government’s inaction, questioning its commitment to protecting its citizens.

“I cannot believe that it has been 10 years, and we have not really done anything about stopping it.“ At the end of the day, it comes down to the fact that there is no political will,” Yesufu said.

Amina Ali, one of the kidnapped schoolgirls from Chibok, speaking about her ordeal at the hands of the kidnappers, bemoaned the fact that the government seems helpless over the ugly development.

“It is beyond time that the Nigerian authorities took meaningful action to counter armed groups like Boko Haram and gunmen. Nigeria must implement safeguards to protect all children, and the lack of accountability for these callous crimes is fueling impunity.

“The missing Chibok school girls should be returned home to their families, and all those responsible for committing grave violations must face justice,” she said.

Amina recalled how Boko Haram raided their school in 2014 as she and her classmates were preparing for the Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (SSCE) and took them away into the infamous Sambisa jungle, where they were imprisoned by their kidnappers.

The consequences of these kidnappings extend far beyond the immediate trauma. School closures due to attacks create a climate of fear and disrupt education, a cornerstone of a nation’s development. As Cristian Munduate of UNICEF emphasises, continued abductions threaten Nigerian children’s right to learn and escape poverty.

To break this cycle, Nigeria needs a multi-pronged approach. Increased security measures around schools, improved intelligence gathering, and cooperation with international partners are crucial.

Additionally, addressing the socio-economic factors that breed insecurity is essential.

Most importantly, the government must demonstrate a genuine commitment to holding perpetrators accountable. Only then can Nigerians hope for a future where children can attend school without fear.