Since kidnapping has remained part of the modus operandi of Boko Haram terrorists, the northeastern Nigeria and some part of Cameroon and Niger in the throes of the insecurity have never been more frightened.
And that is due to the rising instances of school children kidnap.
It was a global incident that emphasised the homegrown terrorists’ resistance to western education in northern Nigeria. And many had thought the worldwide attention the pressure group BBOG attracted to it was enough to make it a one-off incident as nothing of such happened again. Until four years later.
The last two years have witnessed a rise in the threat-level across secondary schools in the region.
So far, no fewer than 1,057 schoolboys and girls have been kidnapped in five incidents—between 2014 and 2021. Other criminal groups have joined in the enterprise of abducting school pupils. And it has spread from Borno, Yobe, Adamawa to Niger in the north-central; and Katsina and Zamfara in the northwest.
Apart from the 2018 incident at Dapchi, Borno, where Boko Haram abducted 110 school girls and one boy, Katsina, Niger, and Zamfara have recorded one incident each: 344 schoolboys, 27 schoolboys, and 300 schoolgirls respectively. All these happened between last December and February 26.
Security analysts and some state governors believe the kidnappers are terrorists turfed out of the Sambisa forest, fanning out across the entire north.
Many Nigerians, however, believe the kidnappers are armed Fulani herdsmen—or ex-herdsmen—mostly from other countries.
An Islamic scholar intervening in de-escalating the incident said they are Nigerians, largely frustrated and violated herdsmen who lost livestock and families to state oppression. And they are determined.
“What I saw in Zamfara is insurgency, not banditry,” said Sheikh Gumi who met with the Zamfara kidnap ring recently.
If they are insurgents, their own insurrection then is far removed from Boko Haram’s anti-West ideology. The bandits are merely attacking collateral targets whose ordeal can amplify their demands: ransom and justice.
Gumi has insisted the bandits he met want justice and social wellbeing, including education, health, employment, and others.
Perhaps that is why they hardly harm or hold on to their hostages for too long. All of the 671 they kidnapped so far have been released, including the 300 girls abducted at a government college in Jangebe, Zamfara, on Feb. 26.
This is unlike Boko Haram.
Of the 276 schoolgirls the mainline terrorists kidnapped at Chibok in 2014, 57 escaped and 107 were released when the APC government began negotiating with the terrorists. Nothing more since then. Of the 110 Dapchi hostages, 106 were released after negotiation. The terrorists have held unto the remaining four, including a Christian girl Leah Sharibu.
In all, 941 hostages have been released. One hundred and sixteen remain in captivity—of Boko Harma/ISAWP.
The speed of response of the kidnappers to negotiation with the state governments involved is outlining a pattern—of settlement and release with no harm.
Gumi believes an end to this cycle is amnesty. And he’s advocating it. Luckily, it’s catching on.
Zamfara Gov Bello Matawalle started it before Gumi. He has buttered up as many of the bandits willing to surrender their arms. As of late February, no fewer than 500 bandits embraced peace and turned in their AK-47 rifles in Zamfara.
But the federal government has kicked against that.
“The President appealed to state governments to review their policy of rewarding bandits with money and vehicles, warning that the policy might boomerang disastrously,” said Garba Sheu, media adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Feb. 26.
The policy review, in case the governors consider it, should, analysts say, focus on the safe-school initiative floated after the Chibok incident.
Without that, basic education, as poor as the region having the highest number of out-of-school children, will get worse if bandits join the anti-education campaign—even if it’s for ransoms.
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