President Buhari’s backyard now hunting ground for child kidnappers

March 2, 2021
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With Nigeria’s economy in crisis, kidnapping has become a growth industry with President Muhammadu Buhari’s home region, the North, being the hunting ground for roving kidnappers.

Katsina, the home state of the president, is plagued by violent bandits who regularly attack local people and kidnap for ransom. Attacks by Islamist militants are common in north-eastern parts of the country.

Barely hours after arriving in his home state in 2020 for a visit, bandits armed with assault rifles attacked a secondary school in the state and carted away close to hundred students.

“I will never forget the day of the abduction,” said Abubakar Mansur, a civil servant whose 13-year-old son, Garba, was held hostage in December. “My whole life almost came crashing down.”

The boys were released after six days, paraded in front of the television cameras and told by Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, to put the incident behind them and concentrate on their studies.

The victims are now not just the rich, powerful or famous, but also the poor — and increasingly, school children who are rounded up en masse from their boarding schools.

Boarding schools, which are common in Nigeria’s northwest, are often located outside of cities and towns, where there is often no security.

Since last December, mass kidnappings of girls and boys at boarding schools in northwest Nigeria have been happening more and more frequently — at least one every three weeks.

Just last Friday, more than 300 girls were taken from their school in Zamfara state. They were released this week. The week before, more than 40 children and adults were abducted from a boarding school in Niger state. They were freed on Saturday.

Each kidnapping seems to inspire another as perpetrators are often gangs of bandits, who are taking advantage of a dearth of effective policing and the easy availability of guns

“If government is not serious about it, I don’t see the end of this thing,” said Babuor Habib, an expert in education and security based in Maiduguri. “Kidnappers have now found a very creative and easy way of getting millions of naira

As abductions have become more indiscriminate, there has been a sharp rise in the number of deaths associated with them, with perpetrators viewing their victims’ lives as expendable, according to the recent report on the economics of abductions, conducted by SBM Intelligence, a Nigerian intelligence platform.

“When you have such large-scale abduction of children, especially defenseless, harmless children, the ransom value will be high because of the international pressure to rescue them,” said Confidence McHarry, a security analyst who worked on the SBM Intelligence report. “As the abductor, everything is in your favor.”

At least $18 million was paid to kidnappers from June 2011 to March 2020, the report said.

“Kidnapping of schoolchildren for ransom is fast becoming lucrative for criminals and for officials involved in the rescue process as well,” Mr. Habib, the analyst in Maiduguri, said in an interview over WhatsApp.

“The secrecy involved in rescuing the children makes it easier for officials to pocket millions of naira supposedly paid in rescuing the children.”

Many Nigerians say they wish that the government would protect them from abductions in the first place, rather than paying ransoms it can ill afford or authorizing dangerous and expensive rescues.

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