A parent and an administrator from Bethel Baptist High School (BBHS) in Nigeria’s Kaduna state reported about 150 students missing after armed men raided the premises. At around two o’clock in the morning on 5 July, gunmen reportedly stormed the school, shooting their guns sporadically as they abducted students. This attack marks the 10th mass school kidnapping in Nigeria’s northwestern region since December. Authorities suspected it was committed by “bandits,” a broad term for criminal gangs, seeking ransom payments. Following the kidnappings, Kaduna authorities ordered the immediate suspension of BBHS and 12 other high schools for three weeks.
The Nigerian police department released a statement, saying the bandits “overpowered” school security and “made their way into the student’s hostel, where they abducted an unspecified number of students into the forest.” However, police did not receive demands regarding the BBHS attack. Still, spokesman for Amnesty International Isa Sanusi told The Washington Post how the increased kidnappings led parents to believe schools are unsafe. “[M]any parents decided to withdraw their kids from school after the kidnappings,” he said.
As of 25 July, the kidnappers released 28 students. Despite police reports of receiving no ransom demands, The Associated Press said the gunmen demanded 500,000 Nairas, equivalent to $1,200 U.S. for each student. Reverend John Hayab, a founder of BBHS, told Reuters about 25 students escaped, but that the rest remained missing. When discussing parents withdrawing their children from schools, Isa Sunasi also said it was ”a devastating setback for education- worst of all for girls.” In 2010, Nigeria’s adult female literacy rate was 59.4%, compared to 74.4% for adult males. With the extended school closures, there are concerns this disparity will expand.
Along with schools, the bandits have targeted roads, private citizens, and hospitals. The day before the BBHS kidnappings, gunmen abducted six people and an infant from a Kaduna hospital. Bandits initially focused on wealthy Nigerians or foreigners, but have increasingly pursued poorer communities, especially boarding schools with questionable security. Isa Susani informed The Washington Post of their realization that “authorities cannot protect the people.” Attacking “ordinary people” is lucrative, as they “will give up all they have to save their families,” Susani continued.
Talking with Audie Cornish from NPR, Africa Bureau Chief for The Wall Street Journal Joe Parkinson differentiated between abductions committed years ago by Jihadist group Boko Haram, and those recently by the bandits. He highlighted how Boko Haram’s attacks were ideologically motivated, “[T]hey wanted to recruit…to indoctrinate,” and “in some cases,” force young women into marriage. However, the recent attacks were committed for “mercenary,” or monetary incentives. Bandits began these attacks in 2011, demonstrating “violent competition for scarce resources” among farmers and herders. Environmental changes have led to land and water increasing in value. As the situation has worsened over the last 10 years, communal tensions over resources have evolved into “lethal militia groups.”
The school suspension expired on Sunday, but Kaduna’s commissioner of education Mohammed Makarfi requested that students “stay away” for three more weeks. In the final week, he promised that “we will review the situation and get across to the public and the students.” Some Nigerian governors tried unsuccessfully to negotiate with the bandits, who broke previous terms of agreements. Bandits often inhabit areas with heavy youth unemployment, poverty, and inequality, causing many to find banditry as a substantial means of income. This should be remembered in negotiations, as such struggles may influence the extent to which they embrace negotiations and obey provisions of agreements.
Perhaps, if strategies can be devised for helping the bandits improve their living conditions, they will be more likely to embrace negotiations. Any solution that may help mitigate the frequency of kidnappings should be embraced. Since 2018, over 3,000 people have been killed amid this “new humanitarian crisis” in six Nigerian states- Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto, Kaduna, Niger, and Kebbi. The attacks also displaced more than 247,000 people. Given these statistics, and that the fifth of July’s kidnapping is the 10th in about eight months, abduction is a serious issue for Nigeria that remains unresolved.
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