Around 200 schoolchildren have been reportedly abducted by armed men on motorbikes in Central Nigeria on the 30th of May. The pupils, who attended the Salihu Tanko Islamic School in Tegina town, Rafi, in the north-central Nigerian state of Niger, were abducted by men who fired their weapons indiscriminately at those nearby, state police spokesman, Wasiu Abiodun commented.
“Armed bandits on board motorcycles in their numbers invaded Tegina town, Rafi LGA, shooting indiscriminately and abducted a yet to be ascertained number of children at Salihu Tanko Islamic school,” Abiodun, also stating that ‘the bandits shot one person dead in the process.’ “The Command calls for calm as the Police and other security agencies shall do everything humanly possible to ensure that the children are rescued unhurt,” state police have said.
11 children have been released by the armed group since the raid occurred yesterday, a spokesperson from the Niger government, Mary Noel-Berje has also confirmed that, “11 children were released because of their tenderness…the very little ones that couldn’t go through the bush path, the kidnappers’ escape route, were released,” Noel-Berje further commented. “The government is working to ascertain the number of children kidnapped. A house-to-house count is ongoing,” she added.
The school in question was described to be composed of kindergarten, elementary and middle-school aged children.
These attacks are becoming increasingly commonplace. Last February, 42 school children were kidnapped by gunmen in Kagara, only 18 miles from Tegina. Only a few days prior to this most recent attack, students from Greenfield University in Kaduna were freed by their captors, although five students were killed while in captivity to force the government into paying the bandit’s ransom. In the same month, nearly 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped in Jangebe, Zamfara state, but nearly all were released later.
The kidnapping of schoolchildren in Nigeria, once limited to Islamic fundamentalist groups such as Boko Haram, has now been adopted en masse by organized bandit groups. These criminal gangs maintain camps in the Rugu forest which intersects with Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna and Niger states, and organize raids on rural areas and Nigeria’s road networks. Nearly 800 children have been kidnapped since December last year by bandit groups, with some state governors regularly paying ransoms to secure the safety of these victims. An estimated $18.34 million of these ransoms were paid to bandits, according to Lagos-based SBM Intelligence in a 2020 report titled; “The economics of the kidnap industry in Nigeria.”
The region has been fractured by violence fuelled by disputes over access to land and resources, among other factors. Bandit groups have taken full advantage of the underfunded police force, and a weak criminal justice system which facilitates a lack of accountability to continue their reign of terror on villages and schools. Increasing abductions have been estimated to have had a significant impact on school enrollment this year and is quickly becoming a major challenge to education within the region. According to the United Nations, nearly 10.5 million children in Nigeria are not in school—one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children, with the majority of them are in northern Nigeria. Trust in the government to keep Nigeria’s women and children safe is at an all-time low.
Nigeria has bargained with these bandit groups for far too long, rewarding them with money, resources and vehicles. In any functioning nation, criminality must be eliminated and not mitigated, and yet it seems that Nigeria’s current government lacks the political strength and unity to facilitate such a change. A significant change and strategy within the Nigerian government must now happen before these seemingly endless attacks make the coffers of the Nigerian government and the hearts of the Nigerian citizens bleed dry.