Schoolchildren Appear In Ransom Video After Nigerian Kidnappings

On March 11, over 35 students were abducted by bandits in the north Nigerian state of Kaduna. These students were attending the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation and ranged in age from the late teens to the early 20s. After a distress call, the army rescued 180 people in the early hours of Friday, but a combination of males and female students had yet to be accounted for.

The ransom video showed graphic images, with the captured students yelling at their kidnappers while being whipped. Other students pleaded for help from the government. A boy named Benson Emmanuel was seen yelling in the video “They surrounded us, they said anybody that comes from anywhere to come and rescue us or do anything by force they are going to take our lives.”

Over the last few weeks, 279 schoolgirls have been released after being abducted from their boarding school in Jangebe, in the north-western state of Zamfara, Nigeria. In the north-central state of Niger, 27 teenage boys were released after being abducted from their school, along with three staff members and 12 family members; one student sustained a fatal gunshot wound in this attack.

The problem of mass school abductions has been catapulted since the abduction of Chibok schoolgirls in 2014, where more than 100 of the girls are still missing, which has attracted global attention. Nigeria has also been fighting to overcome its security problems against armed groups in recent years. On Saturday, an Islamic State-aligned group attacked a Nigerian military convoy, killing 15 soldiers and four militia fighters in Borno State.

Authorities described the kidnappers as a gang of “armed bandits.”  These gangs have often abducted school children in Nigeria for financial gain. The incident in Kaduna was at least the fourth time schoolchildren have been kidnapped since December. Complicating the situation even further, The Islamist group Boko Haram has been the culprit of numerous abductions of students across Nigeria.

In addition to students, criminal groups have also been targeting people who can pay larger ransoms, including members of Nigeria’s affluent business community and individuals travelling from abroad. However, it’s also been a common tactic to conduct a higher volume of attacks on common citizens and demand less ransom per victim.

Attempts by security forces to combat gangs have had little impact, although many were worried that state authorities would make the situation worse by having kidnappers go unpunished, accepting bribes and rewards in exchange of administering justice. The kidnapping has become a political issue for the Nigerian head of state, a retired general, and a former military ruler who has been confronted with mounting criticism in the wake of increases in violent crime.

In a statement on Saturday, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari vowed to react quickly to the kidnapping, saying that he would not allow the country’s education system to be ruined by the bandits. He ordered the army to return the students to their families.  “Our army may be efficient and well-armed, but it requires good efforts to defend the country, and the local population must rise to the point,” Buhari said, vowing “an early end to the ordeal.”

Mia Heaphy