Kidnapping: Northern Nigeria’s Most Lucrative Industry

The international attention of kidnappings labelled #BringBackOurGirls in 2014 and #BringBackOurBoys in 2020 may have started a chain reaction in northern Nigeria

Boko Haram shook the world in 2014 when they abducted 276 schoolgirls from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Borno state. The international outcry for these girls prompted protests worldwide, with citizens demanding their governments to take action. Despite this, 112 girls remain missing.

Then again, in 2020, 344 schoolboys from the Government Science Secondary School in Kankara, Katsina state, were abducted, prompting another international outcry, only this time it was not as pronounced. Again, there was not enough security present at the school, and the students were easy targets. All of the boys were released after being held hostage for a week.

The financial successes of Boko Haram have inspired bandits in northern Nigeria. So much so that kidnapping is now the most lucrative industry there. SB Morgen’s research found that between June 2011 and March 2020, over $18.34 million ransom had been paid out to kidnappers. Since this report has come out, kidnappings have increased dramatically, with over 2,000 people being abducted in the first half of 2021. This figure is more than the total between June 2011 and March 2020.

Not only have these kidnappings become more frequent, but also more dangerous and indiscriminate. Although schools are still the main target, poor villagers and social workers are also becoming victims. Jariel Arvin from Vox News reported that in the first half of 2021, $4.9 million had been paid out as ransom to bandits. That is almost a 400% increase from the previous decade. Not only is this trend extremely alarming, but it is also having a significant impact on the people who are affected by these raids.

Parents, already living on the brink of poverty, are being forced to come up with ransom money if their child is abducted since the government has discouraged ransom payments, citing that it promotes this behaviour. However, as the government condemns paying out a ransom, governors have been found to pay in secret, or local villagers are plagued to come up with amounts that they can not afford. Even so, the bandits continue with their demands and parents are left with little choice but to sell all of their belongings to bring their children back home.

The Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram started the kidnapping trend. Still, as northern Nigeria is plagued with criminal activity, bandits have resorted to this method to fund their operations. Not only does this make investigations into kidnappings much harder, but it also broadens the scope of the fight beyond Boko Haram. It increases the need for police and the army to focus on smaller, individually run gangs. Bello Matawalle, the governor of Zamfara state, says that there are around 30,000 bandits present in northern Nigeria.

Northern Nigeria is divided up into nineteen states: Benue, Borno, Bauchi, Kano, Katsina, Plateau, Taraba, Niger, Adamawa, Kaduna, Sokoto, Gombe, Jigawa, Kebbi, Nassarawa, Yobe, Zamfara, and Kwara. All population data was taken from the World Population Review, which has limited statistics on certain areas in Nigeria. With the population available of Nigeria recorded online (212 million) and considering the number of bandits present, it would make sense that they take up 0.014% of Nigeria’s population. As most of this population lives in rural villages spread across vast areas, this makes banditry extremely difficult to tackle.

Over 600 schools remain closed in northern Nigeria as the government scrambles to figure out how to protect students. The lack of security and continued closures of schools has only helped Boko Haram’s mission, which translates to “Western education is forbidden.” Thus, although they may not know it, the bandits are indirectly helping Boko Haram at an already perilous period in Nigeria.

Along with the rest of the world, Nigeria was struck with the COVID-19 pandemic, putting an already fragile security system in a worse position. It has been seven years since the Chibok kidnapping, and the government still does not know how to protect its students. Tens of thousands of children are currently missing out on their education due to security threats. Continued kidnappings may mean that some of these children will never return to school, and may associate the institution of education with fear for the rest of their lives.

Perhaps the biggest liability here is that no one has been arrested or prosecuted for the Chibok abductions nor any kidnappings since. As the authorities’ resources are spread thin, it seems as though as long as no one is getting punished for the kidnappings, they will continue. Furthermore, the lack of transparency from the government on ransom payments and investigations puts further pressure on the issue, as the government’s only current solution is to close schools.

The lack of accountability towards these abductions is frightening, and with the recent uptick in kidnappings, it seems to be only the beginning. The government is scrambling to find a solution. At the same time, ransoms are being paid out to bandits, who are using that money to conduct further criminal activity, which puts even more strain on the authorities. As the government is indirectly funding criminal activities in its own country, it is hard to see an end to the turmoil. As Boko Haram has been conducting operations since 2009, generations are being born and raised in conflict.

Their ideology will have lasting effects for years to come, even when the dust has settled. It would be extremely helpful if the government were to put together a defense strategy so that these attacks would cease to continue. International help is required to help remedy the situation. It would be helpful if countries with business interests in Nigeria could help remedy this problem. For example, the U.S. or U.K. could send in investigators to train investigators in Nigeria or contribute to the existing task force. As an already struggling nation, conflict is pushing the northern region into further poverty, which will inevitably require more aid in the upcoming years.

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