Friday, April 12, 2024

Incessant school kidnappings in Nigeria: Where will be next?

Although Nigerians heaved a sigh of relief when they heard the news about the rescue of 137 schoolchildren kidnapped in Kaduna State, the trepidation about which school daredevil kidnappers will strike next in the country has continued to make stakeholders feel on edge.

On March 7, 2024, the nation received the unsettling news that hapless pupils and students of the Local Government Education Authority Primary School and Government Secondary School, Kuriga, Kaduna State, and their teachers, had been abducted by gunmen riding motorcycles.

Two days later, gunmen barged in on students in a boarding school in Gidan Bakuso town, Sokoto State, and took away 15 students. The brutal raid was carried out in the wee hours of the morning.

Kidnappers have indeed been running wild in the country and distraught Nigerians who are completely traumatized by the activities of these criminally-minded kleptomaniacs, stood united in their grief and urged security agencies and Nigeria’s president, Bola Tinubu, to rescue the children.

But accomplishing a complex rescue mission that would see to the release of the innocents was not going to be child’s play. It would be laborious, costly and dangerous, too, considering that the schoolchildren had been whisked off into the belly of mosquito infested forests in neighbouring Zamfara State.

So, when the children were miraculously rescued and reunited with their families, it was a mixed bag of emotions for Nigerians.

“How did the army pull it off?” “Who negotiated on behalf of the government?” “Was any ransom paid?” These were some of the questions Nigerians asked either in triumphant jubilation or in clear-cut suspicion of the government.

It did not take long before the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, came up with all the juicy answers. According to him, no ransom was paid to secure the release of the children and none of the children suffered any harm.

As cheery as Idris’ revelations were, some not so excited Nigerians, like members of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, did not buy the government’s “cock-and-bull story” and raised their brows to some of the minister’s claims.

“We have seen security breaches at every level of education and all of them point to the fact that these institutions are not properly secured. You cannot even see perimeter fencing in these institutions”

“We really cannot figure out why the government is inundating Nigerians with cock-and-bull stories of whether ransom was paid or not.

“If the government claims it didn’t pay ransom to get the children freed and if these children were rescued as we were told, were they abandoned in one corner of the Zamfara bush by the terrorists?

“Why were no single terrorists injured if this was a rescue operation? Why didn’t the soldiers or security agents arrest any of these terrorists?” Ben Onwubiko, the National Coordinator of HURIWA, asked in utter bafflement.

Nigeria has witnessed several mass abductions in recent years and the timeline of these school kidnapping incidents have indeed not been lost on Nigerians.

What started as an anomaly in 2014 when 276 schoolgirls of Chibok Secondary School in Borno State, has grown into a remarkable enterprise where ransom paid is the duly recognised language of marauding kidnappers.

Since the Chibok episode, which attracted international attention and condemnation, there have been about nine other high-profile kidnap occurrences in primary and secondary schools in Nigeria, including tertiary institutions, and considering the lapses in the country’s security architecture, the onslaught will likely not abate soon.

The Chibok incident was the tormentor-in-chief of the then president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, and it, in no small measure, contributed to his downfall in the 2015 presidential election.

Muhammadu Buhari who succeeded Jonathan had campaigned against Jonathan using Nigeria’s unpalatable security report to get into power.

However, on February 19, 2018, he got a dose of those things he criticised Jonathan about.

Under Buhari’s watch, 110 schoolgirls in Dapchi, Yobe State, were also abducted. There was bedlam in the country as Buhari was viewed to be unable to deliver on his campaign promise. When the girls were eventually released, five of them, sadly, lost their lives.

Buhari’s government was jolted again on December 11, 2020, when pupils of a public school in Kankara, Katsina State, were taken away against their will. The gunmen, by that time, had become emboldened and abducted about 300 schoolboys. Though they were released about six days later, Buhari’s aura continued to diminish.

There was an abduction on February 17, 2021, when 27 students in Kagara, Niger State were attacked and ferried to unknown locations. However, it paled in comparison with abduction that same month: on February 26, 300 schoolgirls in Jangebe, Zamfara State, were taken away but gained their freedom a few days later.

It seemed 2021 was the year of kidnappers. They reigned supreme and unleashed terror against the Nigerian state and even the military were helpless and could not rally any kind of meaningful fightback. The ineffectiveness of the military led to the calls for the sacking of the service chiefs.

The Jangebe incident was quickly followed on March 11, 2021, by the abduction of 39 students of the Federal College of Forestry Mechanization, Afaka, Kaduna State. The terrorists had obviously grown wings by then and begun targeting higher institutions of learning.

The Greenfield University in Kaduna State was the next port of call of kidnappers. After the students were kidnapped, their parents relentlessly harangued the immediate past former Governor of the state, Nasir El-Rufai, for his inability to secure the release of the students. And even though some of the parents also publicly stated that they did not have enough cash in their possession to pay ransom money, five of the students were nonetheless killed.

The kidnap on July 5 of more than 100 students of Bethel Baptist High School in Chikun, Kaduna State, was the last in the series of major school abductions in 2021 before the double whammy of Kuriga and Gidan Bakuso incidents in 2024.

A senior lecturer, Anderson Ezeibe, told The Point, “This type of kidnapping is likely to happen again if security is not beefed up around public education institutions, whether basic, post-basic or tertiary level.

“There is no way you can rule out a reoccurrence of such in any part of the country, as a matter of fact.

“So, it is all about the security architecture of the country. I also think that by now the government, through their respective security structures, would have known that public spaces are more attractive for terrorists’ activity of this nature.

“We have seen security breaches at every level of education and all of them point to the fact that these institutions are not properly secured. You cannot even see perimeter fencing in these institutions.”

Ezeibe, who is the immediate past president of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, also added that basic education was under the purview of state governments and that the security of schools there should be taken seriously, even if it was done through Universal Basic Education Scheme.

A public affairs commentator, Ben Njoku, in his own submission said, “It is true the children have been released and we are supposed to be happy.

But the truth is that we cannot be happy.

“These mass kidnappings of students can happen anywhere in the country, even in the South – there is always a first time for everything.

“News will soon trickle in again about another mass kidnapping if we don’t address the failure of intelligence and our slow security responses.

“I learnt that the president said that kidnappers had to be treated as terrorists. Well, saying this is not enough. The president should help put laws in place to that effect so that his assertions will not be all bark and no
bite.”

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