Nigerian Kidnappers Release 28 Schoolchildren

Nigerian kidnappers have released 28 of the 121 schoolchildren captured on 5 July from Bethel Baptist High School located in Damishi in Northern Nigeria. The Canberra Times reported that the kidnappers demanded a ransom of 500,000 nairas (AUD $1600) per student.

Mohammed Jalige, a spokesman for the Nigerian Police, said that during a routine rescue patrol near the village of Tsohon Gaya on 12 July, security forces and civilian defense forces found three of the exhausted victims roaming the forest. A further two students escaped on 20 July when they were sent to collect firewood. Joseph Hayab, one of the senior officials at Bethel Baptist High School, said that the bandits also released a student on health grounds. So far, 34 of the students have been released or have escaped, with 87 remaining in captivity. However, it is unclear when the kidnappers will free the rest of the students.

Reverend Israel Akanji, president of the Baptist Convention, said that the church did not pay ransoms because it opposes paying criminals. However, the church cannot prevent families from taking the actions they see fit to secure the release of their children.

These differing responses to ransom payments reveal different facets of a shared desire to protect human life.  The church is concerned that ransom payments encourage kidnapping and lead to escalating demands, thereby creating more victims in the long term. On the other hand, individuals focus on protecting the lives and well-being of their family members. Rather than trying to adjudicate between these different motivations, they should be understood as a reflection of rampant insecurity and unaddressed root issues.

Mass kidnappings have plagued Nigeria since the 2009 Boko Haram insurgency. The abduction rate has continued to rise after the well-documented 2014 Chibok incident in which Boko Haram abducted 276 schoolgirls from their dormitories in the northeast Nigerian town of Chibok. Nigerian political risk analysis group SB Morgen (SBM) Intelligence estimated that between June 2011 and March 2020, $18.34 million was paid to kidnappers, of which $11 million was paid between January 2016 and March 2020. Furthermore, humanitarian agencies indicate that numbers have soared this year, with approximately 1,000 students kidnapped since December. These figures indicate that kidnapping is becoming an increasingly profitable business in Nigeria. A complex web of factors underpins the popularity of this business. The leading causes include a combination of abject poverty, weak security infrastructure, high youth unemployment, and political extremism.

Kidnapping has devastating short and long-term implications for Nigerian peace and security. It poses threats to human life and forces people to live in fear in the short term. It also undercuts faith in the government, which has had little success in curbing the practice despite its promises. Thousands of children are also missing out on their education due to school closures associated with kidnappings. However, in the long term, this lack of education restricts job opportunities and traps youth in a cycle of poverty. These conditions also increase the likelihood of radicalisation.

The Nigerian government should consider better training for security forces, improved relationships with local communities, and stricter penalties as avenues to combat kidnapping itself. However, this alone is insufficient. The government must also address the root causes of kidnapping to achieve sustainable results. It should therefore examine economic and political reforms aimed at poverty alleviation, employment creation, and access to education.