Kidnappers in Nigeria released 28 schoolchildren on 26 July, nearly 21 days after gunmen raided the Bethel Baptist boarding school in the state of Kaduna in northwest Nigeria. Reverend Ite Joseph Hayab, school pastor involved in negotiations with the kidnappers, reported to Reuters that another 81 children remain in captivity. A total of 140 students were missing following the 5 July siege in Kaduna during which armed men, known locally as bandits, overpowered the boarding school’s security forces, pushed into the student hostel and abducted the students into a nearby forest. The attackers do not appear to be ideologically affiliated with any larger organization; however, this attack adds to a growing trend of kidnappings for ransom in the region.
Two days after the attack, the parents of the missing students received contact from the kidnappers who warned that the children would starve if their parents did not supply them with food and supplies. Kidnappers allegedly promised that the students would remain unharmed if their parents delivered “rice, beans, palm oil, salt and stock cubes” and said that “a ransom demand would follow,” according to Reuters.
This attack on Bethel Baptist High School marks the 10th mass school kidnapping since December in Nigeria’s northwestern region, a phenomenon local authorities have ascribed as a tactic of criminal gangs seeking to collect ransom payments. In the past few months, kidnappers have additionally targeted private residences, roads, and hospitals in Kaduna state. The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) estimates that more than 1,120 schools have been closed across the northwestern region of Nigeria due to security concerns following the 5 July attack. According to a UNICEF report, between 300,000 and 400,000 students in northwestern Nigeria are currently out of school because of chronic insecurity and violence in the region. “There is a risk of losing an entire generation due to lack of education,” said Isa Sanusi, a spokesperson for Amnesty International.
School kidnappings remain an all-too-familiar issue in Nigeria as Boko Haram, an extremist group, and the Islamic State West Africa Province, have utilized this tactic of terror for the past decade. Perhaps most infamously, Boko Haram kidnapped 276 mostly Christian female students in April of 2014 from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State. The Chibok kidnapping drew a large international response from France, Canada, Israel, the United Kingdom and the United States, all sending experts to Nigeria to assist in the search for the students. Large-scale protests broke out in criticism of the Nigerian government’s slow and weak response to the kidnapping and the social media hashtag #BringBackOurGirls served to spur an international movement that included activists, celebrities, and former First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama.
According to a report by Al Jazeera, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler, has been facing increasing criticism and backlash as prominent kidnappings and attacks by gangs continue across the country. Recent violence and unrest have posed a political obstacle for the leader, whose public support has waned due to instability in the country. For-ransom kidnappings underline a broader economic trend in 2021, Nigeria’s unemployment rate rose to 33% according to the World Bank. The Northwest region of Nigeria has been hit particularly hard by this economic downturn. More adults are out of work and, as a result of the kidnappings, more children are out of school than ever before. According to Reuters, a UNICEF report estimates that “13.2 million children are out of school across Nigeria—more than in India, a country six times its size.”
As the crisis of school kidnappings and violence reaches a zenith, the central and local governments of Nigeria must act with more urgency against organized crime. Local officials must refuse to capitulate to the demands of kidnappers. In conjunction with this local-scale action, international actors, such as the U.S. and the U.K. must enact more than hashtags in order to establish a stable infrastructure able to support the education of all children in the country.
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