Bandits In Northwest Nigeria Release 15 Students After Parents Raise Ransom

Kidnappers who abducted more than 100 children on 5 July finally released 15 more students for a large ransom that their parents had to raise on their own. The alleged price they paid is around 1 million nairas ($2,430) per student. Earlier, at least 28 students were released after the overnight raid on the Bethel Baptist High School that occurred on 5 July. Meanwhile, more than 60 students remain in captivity with limited access to food, water, and good hygiene.

“[T]he students are already being released and would be handed over to their parents any moment from now,” school administrator Reverend John Hayab told Reuters. The confirmation about the release came from the Kaduna state’s commissioner for internal security, Samuel Aruwan, but with no further comments on the ransom payment.

Amongst the most recent abductions, the Bethel one was already the 10th school kidnapping that happened since December 2020. Around 1,000 students have been forced to stay in captivity since then, although negotiations helped to get most students out of their abductors’ hands. However, many children remain in captivity, including about 136 students in Tegina in Niger state who were kidnapped from an Islamic seminary in June. The armed groups have no intention of providing children with any essentials, as they recently asked the seminary to send them clothing and parents to provide them with food if they are willing to see their children alive.

While news of more students being released is promising, humanitarian agencies warn about the risk of further disruption of education for thousands of Nigerian students due to the increased kidnappings. According to UNICEF, around 1,125 schools are currently shut down in northwest Nigeria, while more children are out of school due to the widespread fear of kidnapping even in the places where schools are open.”[T]here is a risk of losing an entire generation due to lack of education,” said Isa Sanusi, spokesman for rights group Amnesty International in Nigeria. Sanusi commented on the fact that three to four hundred thousand students are out of school in the country.

In addition, this humanitarian crisis exacerbates the risk of going hungry that extends to at least 2.3 million children. Farmers whose houses were continuously subjected to looting and stealing have been forced to leave their fields. International humanitarian group “Save the Children” calculated that around 700,000 among the 2.3 million children affected are under 5. Edward Kallon, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Nigeria told Al-Jazeera that “[P]arents are taking their children out of school to beg to survive,” adding that “[W]omen have shared that they resort to eating grass.” He also added that humanitarian assistance is highly needed in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe states to relieve the struggle of locals to feed themselves.

The rise of abductions and overall escalating violence across the states can be attributed to the terrorizing activity of local gangs or armed groups primarily located in northwest Nigeria. These armed groups are associated with a terrorist organization called Boko Haram that, despite the decade-long war against its activity, was not defeated and continues attacks in Chad, Niger, Cameroon as well as Nigeria. This long-lasting conflict killed hundreds of thousands and sparked a refugee crisis, hindering any possibility for the region’s development.

President Muhammadu Buhari advised state governments to stop any monetary transactions with the bandits following Kaduna Governor Nasir El-Rufai’s decisive refusal to pay them. But parents of abducted children are desperate to find any way to get their children back as they continue to pay high ransoms themselves. The decision to cut on cooperation with the armed groups is on its own not the most effective way to combat violence. The factor of cooperation between the Nigerian government and international peacekeeping organizations should bring the situation under control. It is crucial that this cooperation, as well as urgent actions against violence, are implemented as soon as possible.

Maya Belova