‘Fear of kidnapping keeps million Nigerian school students at home’

At least 1 million Nigerian children miss the beginning of the school year for fear of kidnapping. That human rights organization Unicef estimates. Especially in northern Nigeria, groups of schoolchildren are regularly abducted by armed groups.

This year, there have been twenty attacks on Nigerian schools where 1436 children were abducted. At least sixteen of them were killed, Unicef reports. More than two hundred children are missing.

This month, around 37 million children would return to school in Nigeria. โ€œA first day of school should be a happy event for parents and their children,โ€ said Peter Hawkins, representative of Unicef in the country. โ€œThis moment is being taken away from about a million Nigerian children this year because uncertainty threatens their safety and education.โ€

The abductions in Nigeria were initially mainly carried out by terror groups Boko Haram and Islamic State in West Africa. But now schoolchildren are increasingly being kidnapped by criminal gangs, who are hoping to make money on the kidnappings in particular.

The abductions by groups of criminals have emerged in the last two years, says Nigeria expert and associate professor at Leiden University David Ehrhardt. โ€œBoko Haram mainly kidnapped people for recruitment, but criminals saw that the group was getting a lot of attention and a lot of ransom paid.โ€

Not only are schoolchildren kidnapped, says the associate professor. โ€œThere‘s a kidnapping epidemic going on across the country. You can also see adults being kidnapped for ransom.โ€

How much ransom is being asked is hard to determine, says Ehrhardt. The national government does not want ransom payments, but in practice it often happens by local authorities, he says. โ€œActually, you shouldn’t do that, but you should refuse that if children have been kidnapped.โ€

Confront

That ransom is a profitable venture in a country where many young people are poor, unemployed and hungry, said Ernest Ereke, a Nigerian political science professor against AP news agency. โ€œThe state, which should confront criminals, is actually helping them by meeting their demands. Criminals should be afraid of the state, but in this case the state is afraid of the criminals.โ€

The federal states also walk around citizens who have armed themselves to protect children from kidnappings. According to Nigeria expert Ehrhardt, that‘s not a solution. โ€œSometimes they manage to stop abductions, but sometimes they don’t. And there‘s a big drawback: how do you disband an armed vigilante when the immediate threat of the kidnapping is over again? You saw this problem as early as Boko Haram’s time.โ€

Hard to stop

According to the associate professor, it is difficult to put an end to the abductions in the short term. โ€œThe police in Nigeria are federal. It‘s the first move, but there’s a big shortage of cops. That needs to be invested in. In some states where million people live there are only a few thousand agents.โ€

Security services should also work more closely with churches and mosques, for example. According to Ehrhardt, they have a better knowledge of the situation in certain areas. โ€œYou need a lot of local information to deal with these criminals.โ€