Would You Call This A Victory? More Than 300 Students Released By Boko Haram

Hundreds of students from the Kankara Government Science Secondary School have been rescued by Nigerian authorities. The students were kidnapped in Nigeria’s north-western state of Katsina on Friday, 11 December. Governor Aminu Bello Masari explained that the state security agencies had located the hostages in the Rugu forest, in neighbouring Zamfara state. However, as reported by Al Jazeera, it is not yet clear whether all kidnapped were released and how. Indeed, there is no accurate information on the amount of the ramson, with some arguing that it might not have been paid at all.

On Thursday, 300 of them left the forest; some were wrapped in blankets and had no shoes, and others were still wearing their school uniform. Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s leader, claimed responsibility for the attack in a message last week. “Our brothers are behind the kidnapping in Katsina” he said. Boko Haram is not a new nor ordinary gang. It established close ties with ISIS in 2002 and grew exponentially over the years, counting on a full-size army composed of more than 10.000 extremist Salafist-jihadists. With the recent kidnapping, they followed the same modus operandi used in Chibok in 2014: bandits dressed as soldiers assault a targeted school in a rural area, kidnapped its students and disappeared in the near forest. At least, this time the ending was different: the kidnapping “only” lasted six days.

Analysts believe this kidnapping marks a shift in Boko Haram’s geopolitical interests because it is inserted in a context of indigenous banditry, fueled by Fulani herdsmen and Hausa farmers competing for land and water, each assisted by their own militias. Moreover, a report by Amnesty International states that, in the first six months of 2020, at least 1,100 people were killed in this region alone. Experts fear jihadists may support smaller militias and organized gangs with the intention to establish an organized crime network in Northern Nigeria. However, it is far more likely that Boko Haram’s objective is simply exploiting ethnocultural differences and military interests of the different sides for its own benefit, as in an updated version of the Latin divide et impera.

Over the years, this Islamic fundamentalist Sunni sect claimed over 36 thousand victims and displaced more than 2 million refugees. This resilience and growing influence demonstrate that Boko Haram benefits from the lack of international attention and a proper plan for long-term regional stability. It also demonstrates that Nigeria has failed in pursuing a feasible security strategy. The government is well behind schedule in carrying out the commitment it took when ratifying the Safe School Declaration in 2019, as it has to repeatedly close schools in Northern Nigeria for fear of new attacks.

According to Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, “the Nigerian government has a duty to ensure that the country’s educational sector is not further threatened by Boko Haram”. If it truly wishes to safeguard its next generation’s future, and presents itself as the true hub of Africa, Nigeria needs to regain some credibility. This should be done ahead of the fourth international conference on safe schools, to be held in 2021 in Nigeria. One way it could do so is by joining forces with the military to reform the army, finally addressing the problem of corrupted officials who have directly sold national weapons to Boko Haram’s affiliates.

Luca Giulini