The 279 girls who were taken by armed men from their boarding school in Nigeria last Friday, are back. Still dressed in their light blue school uniform, the girls posed in a conference hall a little uncomfortable for the world press.
“ Hamdullulilah”, tweeted the governor of the state of Zamfara when he announced the news: “Thank God”. But no matter how favorable the outcome is for these girls, the problem of kidnappings is not off the track. In fact, every kidnapping seems to be an encouragement for the next one. Thus, going to school in the West African country is becoming increasingly risky.
When 276 girls were abducted in the village of Chibok in 2014 by terror group Boko Haram, the news was spread across the globe. Michelle Obama posed with a #BringBackOurGirls banner, and international pressure was high for Nigerian government to find the girls.
As exceptional as the abduction seemed at the time, the school abductions are now established in parts of Nigeria. The kidnapping of the girls who returned this morning followed only a week after the abduction of 40 boys and their teachers in a nearby state. In December last year, more than 300 boys were taken after an armed raid into their boarding school.
More ransom for children
Kidnappings are a growing industry in Nigeria, according to a recent report by the Nigerian Security Institute SBM. The fact that school children are increasingly victims of it is primarily a financial issue. While Boko Haram terrorists had some ideological motive for their abduction in 2014, gangs have mainly financial interests today.
“ It is a profitable business in a country where many young people are poor, unemployed and hungry,” says Nigerian Professor of Political Science Ernest Ereke to press agency AP. “The state, which should confront criminals, actually helps them by meeting their demands.”
And indeed: despite the official Nigerian government policy not to pay ransom, in practice there seems to be some money for kidnappers. After the disappearance of the girls in Chibok, a Nigerian minister admitted that millions of euros had been paid to get some of the girls out. And a leaked phone call showed that the gang that led the mass abduction of schoolboys at the end of last year had received more than 65 thousand euros for their release.
After the release of the 279 girls in Zamfara this morning, the governor did not respond to the question of whether ransom had been paid. “We have negotiated with the kidnappers since Friday, and now we have reached an agreement,” he said. His spokesman later said nothing was paid, but the perpetrators were promised amnesty.
The return of the girls was followed early this morning by the Nigerian press:
Although by far the majority of children who were abducted at school are now justified again, this is not true for everyone. Some children died in shelling, others are still missing. Of the girls who were taken in 2014 by Boko Haram, according to UNICEF, 173 have not yet been found.
The fear of abductions frightens Nigerian parents from sending their children to school. Although primary school in Nigeria is free, and even compulsory, according to UNICEF, only 53 percent of children go there. Among girls, that percentage is even lower.
Lawal Abdullahi, the father of seven girls found this morning, told Reuters news agency that the kidnapping would not prevent him from sending his children to school.
“ We should not give in to blackmail,” he said. “My advice to the government is that they take measures to prevent further abductions.” UNICEF also urges the Nigerian government to improve the security of schools.