Infants, school children and now hospital workers are among the thousands of people being kidnapped for ransom in Nigeria. According to one analyst, more than 1,300 Nigerians were abducted in June. That’s about 45 people a day. And ransom kidnappings by heavily armed criminal gangs have become an industry, especially in the country’s northwest. Authorities are overwhelmed and have told Nigerians that they need to protect themselves.
Seven years ago Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group, took schoolgirls in the northeast part of the country. This is not the same kind of kidnapping, but they’re related.
Anyone who’s been paying attention over the last six months will have seen this huge surge in kidnappings in the northwest of Nigeria – , something like 3,000 people since the beginning of the year and half of them are school children. Immediately, what comes to mind is the abduction in Chibok seven years ago, which ignited the global Bring Back Our Girls campaign. Now, that was conducted by Boko Haram, the jihadist group. What’s happening now is actually different. It’s in a slightly different part of the country and Boko Haram tended to kidnap children and also adults for ideological reasons. They wanted to recruit. They wanted to indoctrinate. In some cases, with young women, they wanted to force them into marriage. What’s happening now is much more about money. It’s much more mercenary, and it’s much more transactional.
Although they’re being kidnapped for different reasons, the same thing is happening now – 11 high school kidnappings since the beginning of the year.
The targets have been vulnerable people – schools, hospitals and children in particular.
The targets are widening. In recent days we’ve seen babies kidnapped from hospitals. We’ve seen traditional rulers. We’ve seen high-profile targets, celebrities. What these groups are doing is basically moving into a political vacuum, a power vacuum, where the government has lost control over law and order in a huge part of the country. This is just one of the many different conflicts and insurgencies the Nigerian government is trying to fight simultaneously. It’s clearly being overwhelmed. What clearer metric can you have for state failure than the mass kidnapping of children from schools, a place where they should be safe. It’s very clear now that the government is losing control and that this has become such a growing business that it’s going to be very, very difficult to stop.
The government is basically telling citizens they need to protect themselves and keep their kids from school.
Nigeria now has more children out of school than any other country on Earth. And that’s partly to do with the kidnapping epidemic, partly to do with longer-term insecurity across the northeast. What communities are doing is trying to get organised. They are trying to get hold of weapons. And several of the state governors in the north of the country have actually encouraged this. This is kind of the rise of more and more sort of civilian militias and vigilantism because communities have no choice but to defend themselves.
There is a long-term impact that people aren’t understanding the bigger picture. The concern now really is that there will be a lost generation in Nigeria. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country – 200 million people. Millions of children are now out of school with no chance of getting back. The concern is that there will be a whole generation of children without the means to escape the poverty, without the means to escape the security crisis in their region and possibly even more susceptible to radicalisation or extreme ideas. You get into this vicious cycle, which will be very, very difficult to turn around.
Nigeria boasts of the largest economy in Africa. It is projected to rank among the world’s top ten economies by 2050. Nigeria has an abundance of resources including oil and gas. The Country holds the largest natural gas reserves on the continent, and is Africa’s largest oil and gas producer.
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