Nigeria: Why are School Children Increasingly Targeted?

Dozens of school children including teachers and family members are again been abducted in the Northwestern part of Nigeria; an area living under the terror of student abductions for decades; one student is reported killed in the attack.

The growing kidnappings are pointing questions to the Nigerian government about their security system and why the government is not able to keep the children safe. Why are school children being increasingly abducted in the country?

Increasing school abductions in Nigeria

Empty schools and students being kept captive for the month is becoming increasingly normal in Nigeria. Many of the previous abduction has been blamed on local arsonist groups who kidnapped the students for ransom. But the small militant groups are not the only security challenge faced by the Nigerian government. Boko Haram is an insurgency group whose terror ripples throughout the northeastern region of the country for more than a decade. Niger state government has ordered the closure of schools nearby the incident area.

344 Boys abduction in 2020

This is the second major school kidnapping in the few last months. Gunmen stormed into a boy’s school in December 2020 abducting 344 students in the north-western region of Katsina state.

276 School girls’ kidnapping in 2014

In 2014, six years before this incident, 276 school girls (Chibok girls) were kidnapped by Boko Haram. The kidnapping sparked a rage, especially in the international media. The US’s then-first lady Michelle Obama became part of the international camping #BringBackOurGirls. Out of the abducted girls, about a hundred girls are still unaccounted for.

110 School girls’ abduction, 2018

In 2018, four years post the Chibok abduction, 110 more school girls were kidnapped from a small town of Dapchi by Boko Haram.

Why are school students targeted?

Kidnapping for ransom has become a huge business in the country. Every week hundreds of Nigerians are being kept hostages for ransom. Despite military and security forces’ advancement, the cases are surging every year. While traveling, this week about 18 passengers were hijacked not far from the latest school kidnapping.

In the past few decades schools have become an easy target for armed groups. State and central governments are accused of not tightening the security measures despite numerous hijackings in the past. According to unofficial data, about 20million dollars were paid to kidnappers as ransom in just 2020 and all this is happening in Africa’s largest economic country.

Bandits are taking advantage of isolated villages, glooming poverty, and loose security to prey children, the most vulnerable. Killings, mass kidnappings and sexual violence is sharply rising especially with the school students for sake of ransom.

In the past few decades, the Nigerian government has done a great deal of progress in almost completely blocking all the loopholes from where these bandit groups used to get their funding. Therefore some experts believe that the militia groups see these school children as an easy target to build pressure on the government and therefore getting money in return which they use to sustain themselves. According to a study more than 36,000 people have been killed in armed conflicts since 2009.

Soon after this abduction, President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the attack and directed armed and police forces for ensuring the safe return of the captive students. By now no group has claimed any responsibility for the kidnapping.

Nigeria: Urgent actions are required!

The Nigerian police forces are known for being notoriously corrupt, in-efficient, and for using brutal tactics against their own people. In the recent past, huge areas of Nigeria have become un-governable with armed groups in the north, bandits in the northwestern part, clashes between different tribesmen. Urgent and strict actions are needed to be taken to stop the country from degenerating into chaos

Nigeria needs to change the ways security forces work to prevent such mass abductions from happening. A rigid security structure is needed. Experts believe de-centralizing the security architecture might help in strengthening the structure. Local intelligent mechanisms and agents are being neglected thus putting all the pressure on the central security forces which often fail to comprehend the upcoming attack.

According to Chukwuemeka Eze, Executive director of the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding; police and security forces are pushed to the localities of abduction, where they can not work to their full potential because of a lack of local knowledge which local intelligent agents can provide them. This lack of chain of communication is another big factor behind the increasing kidnappings.

Earlier this week, Nigerian state government secretary, Ibrahim Matane said that the Government Science College of Kagara was attacked by armed groups which are just 260km away from Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria. The growing attacks on school students are a great security concern for the country. It is high time for the government to change its tactic of tackling these abductions and strengthen its security architecture.