In less than three months, armed bandits have attacked three boarding schools in Nigeria’s northern region and in the process abducted over 600 students.
In December, it was Government Science Secondary School Kankara, Katsina State, where over 300 students were kidnapped. On February 17, it was Government Science Secondary School Kagara, Niger State, where 27 students were abducted alongside some staff and their family members, and on Friday, February 26, over 300 students were kidnapped from Government Girls’ Secondary School Jangebe, Zamfara State.
These are not isolated cases as kidnapping has been on the rise in Nigeria in recent years. Security experts say this is part of the general anarchy that seems to have descended on the country.
To buttress this point, cost of violence in Nigeria, calculated as security expenditure to manage violence as well as its economic impact, has risen every year since 2007, almost doubling from $69.3 billion to $132.6 billion in 2019, according to data from the 2021 Economic Value of Peace report by the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP). Between June 2011 and the end of March 2020, at least $18.3 million has been paid to kidnappers as ransom, according to a report by SBM Intelligence.
Now armed bandits, who hitherto focused on attacking remote communities, appear to have turned their attention on school children, leaving a trail of sorrow, tears and blood.
BusinessDay asked security experts what could be responsible for bandits suddenly turning their gaze on schools. Here’s what they say.
Children are easy and soft targets
Terrorist groups often choose to strike soft targets. A “soft target” is a person, thing, or location that is easily accessible to the general public and relatively unprotected, making it vulnerable to military or terrorist attack as opposed to a hard target who is heavily defended or not accessible to the general public.
For instance, an Institute for Security Studies April 2018 publication titled ‘Refugees are Boko Haram’s latest soft target’ said that after Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari declared Boko Haram ‘technically defeated’ in December 2015, the terrorist group’s attacks became more indiscriminate and it was responsible for most attacks on internally displaced people or refugees. The report said “attacks have included explosive devices left in refugee camps, and suicide bombings of markets, schools and transport”.
“Children are the most defenceless and vulnerable people you would ever meet. They are powerless when they are attacked,” said Achike Chude, a public affairs analyst.
Security experts say kidnappers often go to ungoverned spaces far away from government presence. Such locations give them the opportunity to carry out large-scale mass abductions with minimal resistance.
Onyekachi Adekoya, a fellow of Nigeria Institute of Industrial Security, said that most schools that the bandits have attacked and carted away their students are located in communities that are poorly protected.
In order to prevent another attack, Adekoya advised that the government needs to go back to the communities.
“Governors must take responsibilities to organise their people and local communities. And the state and federal government must begin to hold the local government chairmen responsible for incidents of insecurity in their areas. Most local government chairmen do not stay in their areas of responsibility, making them sometimes unable to provide local leadership,” he said.
Experts say kidnappers usually get quick ransom in exchange for the rescue of children. No parent wants to see their child go through torture in the hands of terrorists. This emotional attachment of parents to children is what the bandits exploit.
The government has also shown itself to be responsive when it comes to rescuing abducted school children. Even though the details are not known, reports suggest that the government pays ransom to secure the release of kidnapped school children.
For instance, “in the case of Kankara, the state (not federal) government secured the release of the victims, likely by paying ransom,” John Campbell, a CFR expert, wrote in December 2020 article “What’s Behind the Recent Student Abductions in Nigeria?” published on the website of Council for Foreign Relations.
So, the bandits see abducting school children as an easy way to raise funds.
“These large-scale abductions are fund-raising activities for them so that they can reinforce themselves and buy more weapons,” Confidence MacHarry, resident security expert at SBM Intelligence, told BusinessDay.
Lack of deterrence
Because the government has not shown the capacity or willingness to go after, arrest and prosecute kidnappers, the crime has continued to fester, according to security experts.
Davidson Akhimien, a Lagos-based security expert, told BusinessDay that the way to go “is for the government to condemn in clear language the actions of the perpetrators, act justifiably by going after them and bringing them to book”.
“Thus far, the Nigerian public has not seen this happen. The state is endowed with the monopoly of the machinery of violence and non-state actors should not be seen to overwhelm the state in this regard,” he said.
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