Two daughters of Humaira Mustapha were kidnapped when gunmen attacked a girls’ school in Zamfara state
Since December, more than 600 students have been abducted from schools in north-west Nigeria, highlighting a worrying development in the country’s kidnap-for-ransom crisis.
Friday’s kidnapping of 317 students from the Government Girls Science Secondary School in Jangebe, Zamfara state, was the second mass kidnap from schools in less than 10 days. Twenty-seven boys and their teachers who were taken from a school in Kagara, Niger state on 17 February were released on Saturday.
The authorities say recent attacks on schools in the north-west have been carried out by “bandits”, a loose term for kidnappers, armed robbers, cattle rustlers, Fulani herdsmen and other armed militia operating in the region who are largely 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 army are controlled by the federal government – and have resorted to paying ransoms, have made mass abductions a lucrative source of income.
It is an accusation the governors deny. Zamfara governor Bello Matawalle, who in the past has promised “repentant” bandits with houses, money and cars, said people “not comfortable [with his] peace initiative” were sabotaging his efforts to end the crisis.
- 1,030 students at least, kidnapped from schools in northern Nigeria since 2014
- 276 girlskidnapped in Chibok by Boko Haram on 14 April 2014. Most freed
- 110 girlskidnapped by Boko Haram in Dapchi on 18 February 2018. One still in captivity
- 300 boysat least, kidnapped by bandits in Kankara on 11 December 2020. All freed
- 27 boyskidnapped by bandits in Kagara on 17 February 2020. All freed
- 317 girlskidnapped by bandits in Jangebe on 26 February 2020
Until now, kidnap victims have generally been road travellers in Nigeria’s north-west, who pay between $20 and $200,000 for their freedom, but since the well-publicised abduction in 2014 of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok secondary school by Boko Haram Islamist militants in Borno state, more armed groups have resorted to mass abduction of students.
Kidnapping hundreds of students rather than road travellers, guarantees publicity and government involvement in negotiations, which could mean millions of dollars in ransom payments.
Security expert Kemi Okenyodo believes that this has made the abductions lucrative for criminal gangs.
“The decision on payment of ransom should be reviewed. What are the best steps to take in preventing the abductions so we avoid the payment of ransom?” she asked.
President Muhammadu Buhari has also insinuated that state governors were fuelling the crisis.
“State governments must review their policy of rewarding bandits with money and vehicles. Such a policy has the potential to backfire with disastrous consequences,” he said.