On Thursday, June 17th, the Birnin Yauri Public University in the Kebbi State of Nigeria was attacked by armed bandits. Three teachers and several students have gone missing following the attacks. According to Kebbi State Governor Abubakar Bagudu, one policeman was killed during the ambush. During the attack, at least one student and one staff member were also injured. Residents, however, report that the gunmen killed five people. These reports have yet to be confirmed by local authorities. Police say the gunmen were able to overpower the school’s security guards and enter the campus. But they are unable to confirm a definitive number of abducted students because many students went home during and immediately following the attack, making it hard to figure out who is missing and who is safe in another location.
This attack follows a series of student kidnappings in recent months throughout central and northwestern Nigeria. A major incident earlier on in June saw 136 children kidnapped from a Quranic school in Niger, a state in central Nigeria. In Nigeria, nearly 900 children have been abducted in school attacks since December 2020. Bandits and armed gangs have been operating in these regions throughout the last decade, stealing farm stock, looting villages, and executing mass kidnappings for ransom.
Mass kidnappings have increased throughout Nigeria in recent years, and some analysts point to the economic problems the country is facing as a motivating factor. Nearly 40% of Nigerians live below the poverty line, and ransoms for kidnapped people have proven to be profitable. A Nigerian consulting firm estimated nearly 11 million dollars in ransom has been paid between 2016 and March 2020. Local and federal governments have paid ransoms to get children back and while this typically leads to the children returning home, it does not discourage groups from abducting more children. In 2014, 276 schoolgirls were kidnapped by the extremist group, Boko Haram. The huge international pressure to get those girls back led the Nigerian government to pay millions of dollars in ransom to the group. This marked an uptick in attacks on schools and the kidnapping of children by various groups throughout the country. The local groups in central and northwestern Nigeria most likely responsible for this attack do not appear to have ties to Boko Haram, however, the increasing attacks on schools are concerning.
President Buhari will face increasing pressure from citizens to find the missing students and stop the groups from attacking again. Security forces are stretched thin throughout the country and unable to provide enough protection for all schoolchildren. It is important that President Buhari and the Nigerian government take a strong stance against these groups. Nigerian authorities recently said that they would not pay ransoms for the return of the children. This decision, while standing against the pressure of militant groups, puts over 200 children at risk. Failure to bring these children back safely could lead to unrest amongst citizens and a lack of trust in the government, thus making it harder to establish long-term stability.