In the early morning of February 26, 317 girls were kidnapped in the Zamfara state of northwestern Nigeria. The girls were taken by their captors from the Government Girls Secondary School in the town of Jangebe and marched into the forest at gunpoint. The kidnappers had entered Jangebe with an explosion of gunfire, scaring off residents while conducting the abduction and killing a police officer in the process. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack but criminal gangs, known locally as bandits, are increasingly using mass kidnappings in attempts to extort ransom and are the expected culprit. A heavily armed search and rescue operation ensued, with both ground and aerial units deployed, and the kidnapped girls have since been released. This event is the latest in a string of kidnappings of schoolchildren in Nigeria.
Among others, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres denounced the kidnapping. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari also condemned the action, calling it “inhumane,” according to the BBC. Buhari has gone on record stating that his administration will not give in to blackmail by groups that target innocent school children. Despite his repeated condemnations, however, many have criticized his government’s continued inability to prevent these incidents. Although authorities deny any negotiation with militants, a variety of armed groups have been conducting more and more mass kidnappings for ransom. That the mass abduction of children is seen as a way to secure payment is evidenced by the increased targeting of schoolchildren.
The kidnapping in Zamfara state was Nigeria’s second mass abduction of schoolchildren in under two weeks. Nine days prior, 42 people, including 27 students, were kidnapped in Niger state in north-central Nigeria and one student was killed in the process. Only a few months ago, in December 2020, more than 300 schoolboys were kidnapped by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram in the northern state of Katsina. The boys were rescued by security forces and the 27 recently kidnapped students were released a day after the Zamfara abduction.
Overall, security in northern Nigeria has been worsened by the heightened activity of armed groups, including the increased frequency of mass abductions. Kidnappings such as these have become especially common in the region, making families extremely fearful for the safety of their children in schools. Boko Haram has been widely acknowledged to carry out school kidnappings, including the example of the 276 girls abducted from Chibok in 2014, which captured worldwide attention. However, the practice has been increasingly adopted by other militant groups, conveying a worrying trend. According to Al Jazeera, in Zamfara state, abductions for ransom and village raids by gunmen are a regular occurrence.
Not only do these attacks risk the lives of children but, even if returned, their quality of life may be forever affected. Kidnappings put children at risk of never returning to school out of fear that school is too dangerous. The three mass abductions since December are a worrying sign for the safety of schoolchildren and for the region’s security, leading to many calls on the state and federal governments to make repressing armed groups and ensuring the safety of children in schools a top priority.
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